Lead With Love: Rebecca Robins, Chief Learning and Culture Officer, Interbrand

Culture is the glue that holds us together and allows us to thrive from within.

Rebecca Robins, Chief Learning and Culture Officer, Interbrand Group

How would you describe the overall culture at your agency and would you say that there is a separate female culture?

Interbrand is all about change and learning. Whether that means changing ourselves as individuals, the way we challenge bias or prejudice, or campaigning for a fresh look at a subject, that concept is central to our workplace culture. This flows very much into the way we embrace and empower our colleagues: we encourage a mindful approach to self-improvement and growth, with the motivation to build on how far we have come as a company and as individuals.

I really love this and it’s so important that we cultivate it further. We are also in the midst of some fundamental change at Interbrand, including evolving from a values-based business to a behaviours-driven business. Culture is the glue that holds us together and allows us to thrive from within. Our behaviours represent who we are, shape how we act, and inspire us all, as individuals, as teams, as a whole Interbrand. From ‘Lead with love’ to ‘Make it happen’, we are on a mission!

We are encouraged to confront problems and prejudices as a team, irrespective of whether they are affecting us personally or not. Our IWD campaign this year, I’mbalanced is all about a strong confrontation of real challenges. International Women’s Day is often a day of celebration – of amazing women, of progress made – and rightly so. But on the 9th March, it’s all too easy to slip back into the same old ways of working, and not take the time to discuss how we can continue to work towards a better and more equal world.

This year, we wanted to push the status quo and move away from the usual spike of celebration on social media. We wanted to inspire our people and give everyone, in every office around our network, the opportunity to make suggestions for how we, they and the world could do and be better. Together with C Space, we asked all of our people globally, to take part in a true drive for meaningful change. We took the official theme, Balance for Better, built on it and created the I’mbalanced campaign. Over the last few days, everyone has been given the opportunity to make a suggestion for a better, more balanced 2019 and beyond. Already suggestions and provocations are going up in every C Space and Interbrand office around the world, for all to read and learn from. As we think about how we can build a more diverse and inclusive business, we’re committed to working with our teams to move from conversation to real action and change for good.

In your opinion, what do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?

Thankfully we’ve come a long way, and yet we have serious room for growth. Many women are brought up to be highly critical of themselves and to suppress voicing their achievements in fear of looking ‘arrogant’. We have to tackle this culture of accepting what holds you back. If we can unlearn this taught insecurity, I see that glass ceiling taking a serious thump in the next few years. There are so many extremely talented and brilliant women in the world of brands and business, and we must cultivate self-belief and the courage to take risks. One of the biggest changes comes with champions – how we go to bat for each other, and how we support each other is what makes a real difference day to day. A lot of that amazing work happens invisibly, but it’s the good stuff that is helping others to rise up, to make the quieter voices heard and rising talent more visible.


What are some of the challenges that women still face in the industry?

Some of the big ones certainly aren’t unique to branding: sky-high childcare costs, unequal workload demands in terms of balancing domestic and workplace duties, poor support and mentorship in career progression, subconscious bias and prejudice...the list goes on. I’m making a real effort to challenge that where I can, and I know my team at Interbrand are making huge steps in bulldozing those hurdles as much as possible. We run extensive training and education programmes that allow women to reach the next tiers of their careers and offer mentorship for younger women entering our workforce. Change can happen and it will: but you have to action it. It’s not enough to assume that everything is fine now it’s possible to have a woman running marketing firm!


What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?

I’m lucky in the fact that I love what I do, in my roles across learning, culture and luxury. No matter what I’m doing or where I’m going, I’m always creating, thinking, communicating or learning. Self-care is essential in order to counteract the possibility of burnout. What do I love doing? What helps me switch the world off? It’s often a combination of travel, art, photography, poetry and music. I’d also strongly advise that you get enough sleep and know when it’s time to turn off and seriously disconnect. There’s an enchanting few minutes in the Vogue documentary, The September Edition, with Grace Coddington, speeding through Paris in a taxi, her eyes fixed magnetically on the city. I hold that image as a constant reminder of the value of looking up and out. Art and beauty are all around us, if we take time to appreciate it all.


What professional achievement are you most proud of?

My book! Writing Meta-luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence was such an incredibly powerful, joyful and inspiring experience for me. I come from an academic background so being able to combine my creative flair with my professional knowledge of the sector was so important to me. At Interbrand what we do, we do together, and writing in collaboration with my wonderful co-author and friend transformed the experience into a shared journey – one that hopefully shines through for all readers out there!  Combining learning, academia and creativity with business is so central to what I do and putting that all into one book embodied that. So yes, it something that makes me happy, it makes me smile. It’s the stuff that we do in life that reminds us of being deeply human!


Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career. What made them so special?

My mother. She should be running a company! I’m incredibly close to her: she’s always there for me no matter what and offers such wonderful advice. It’s so powerful to have an older female role model who has navigated the storms that lie ahead and can pass down that learned wisdom to the next generation. She is as feisty and wise as they come and she’s my 7-year-old niece’s favourite person!


How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?

Wow, how kind of you! Humbled! I really, truly believe that the next generation of women can and will do incredible things, not just in branding but across the world. We stand at the forefront of the most educated, literate and informed generation entering our workforces that has ever been and that’s so exciting. I will always be there to listen, support and advice whenever I can: I strongly believe that to be a mentor you need to be a friend and tap into your own journey to where you are now. It’s a privilege to be the leader of the Interbrand Academy (Interbrand’s global learning platform) and Interbrand Masterclass (an annual training program that brings employees from our global network together to solve a real-world challenge) and I hope I can show the women of the next generation that through growth, taking risks and an active learner, you will always be capable of doing incredible things.