Yaron Farizon is CEO of MediaCom Australia & New Zealand.
I must be brutally honest here: I wasn’t born in a country where diversity and inclusion were part of the cultural narrative. It was never a part of my “born” DNA. And while searching for belonging was a part of my growing up, the journey to become more inclusive leader (and person) was thorny and complex. The best I can do is to openly share my journey, my struggles, and the learnings I’ve gained along the way.
My world was turned upside down when my family and I moved from Kiev (Ukraine) to Tel Aviv (Israel) in the early 90s.
After finishing university and army as a recruitment officer, I found myself working in a multicultural ad agency. It was a unique world where Jewish, Arab, and Orthodox colleagues all worked and created together. I quickly found myself learning new habits, new language, new cultural codes – and learning to accept and respect the differences.
My colleagues and I didn’t have a lot in common at first, beside our shared love for advertising, great ideas, and creativity. Over time, we really got to know each other’s cultural quirks. We built a strong bond and created some excellent campaigns for our clients.
After two years of working together, we won our first Cannes Lion, for an Orthodox campaign, with the help of a ‘Russian Jewish’ copywriter, a brilliant Arab strategist, and ultra-Orthodox client lead. It was life changing. I worked on overcoming my bias, opened up, learned and accepted it wasn’t ever going to be a smooth process. In that moment, it is where I felt belonging for the first time among this group of amazing people, despite our diverse backgrounds.
The common ground for all of us – our passion for craft – truly helped to overcome cultural and other barriers, creating something unforgettable.
(Quite) a few years later, I worked in London in MediaCom’s global team, leading the European business for one of our key clients. Leading a multicultural team and working with different markets was a fantastic experience. I was more skilled and adept in dealing with cultural diversity, building well-integrated and high-performing teams.
Working in the global team and living in places as diverse as London, Israel and Russia, I learned how listening to the way people speak and use language can unlock a lot of barriers. It is such a unifying power – when you realise that people around the table literally and figuratively speak the same language, yet very different English, it becomes easier to understand. The accents, the choice of words, so effortlessly uncovering the complex fabric of us, highlighting individual diversity while bonding us together as a team. This is where I truly wanted to belong, and it pushed me further on the journey to become more inclusive and accepting as a leader and as a person.
My quest for belonging has very personal roots. So, what did I learn (and still learning) along the way to help me become an inclusive leader?
- Recognise and acknowledge your bias. It doesn’t mean I’m a ‘bad’ person. But I do have bias, and coming to Australia, into new culture and new circumstances, re-ignites some of that, like a survival-defence mechanism. Being self aware allows me to start unpacking this more effectively.
- Educate yourself. All the time. A few years ago, as a team we recognised our lack of education when it came to dealing and even talking to people with disability. We learnt and gained a proper understanding, eventually changing our recruitment process. Nowadays, I’m a part of MediaCom’s Global Belonging council, with the purpose of creating awareness and education on how to drive DE&I in different markets across our global network. Here in Australia, I welcome the recently established MFA DE&I Advisory Council, which aims to provide guidance to the industry across all facets of diversity and inclusion.
- Set targets and clear actions, not quotas. As an example, to create strong senior female leadership, it is not enough to set a target. You need to create ways of working and environments where women are empowered and enabled to participate equally and fully, regardless of whether they are working parents. Particularly in the space of D&I, looking at the data, working systemically and relentlessly to activate appropriate programs, set KPIs and being accountable for the results, is absolutely crucial to make any scalable difference.
Now living and working in Australia, I am still learning, still finding a place to belong, understanding cultural codes and discovering local nuances. The journey is full-on. There will be some mistakes, there’ll be successes and there will be an ongoing effort to create more diverse, a more inclusive place to live and work.
You know, it may not have been a part of my “born” DNA, but this is now a quest for life.