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Meet the woman making the world of advertising more human

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Hannah Keegan
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Sereena Abbassi, head of culture and inclusion M&C Saatchi

Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, Sereena Abbassi from creative agency M&C Saatchi talks us through her one day diary, from morning latte to lights out.

Sereena Abbassi, 34, is the global head of culture and inclusion at creative agency M&C Saatchi. She lives in Bristol with her friend, Lily.

MY ALARM GOES OFF…

At about 6.30am, but I’m up before that. I hate sleeping with curtains – strange, I know – so the sun will wake me up. The first thing I do is reach for my phone to check my emails and sometimes I answer them. I know it’s bad, but it’s easier.

I wear lots of colour. I love vintage clothes and will usually pair them with something from Arket or Urban Outfitters. Breakfast is a Human Food nutrition bar that I eat once I get to work.

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I’M RESPONSIBLE FOR…

Making sure that M&C Saatchi’s employee-led networks run smoothly; helping CEOs across the company pin down a diversity and inclusion strategy that works for their local market. I also look after programming, finding speakers for our ‘lunch and learn’ initiative, for example. I wasn’t given a job specification, but I see it as making the organisation more human.

I GOT THE JOB…

By already working on improving diversity in the industry. I had my own agency, where I was doing diversity training for the advertising world. M&C Saatchi was looking to hire someone in early 2018, my friend put me forward and they said, “We want her”. I jumped at the chance, as I wanted to disrupt from within. 

MY TYPICAL DAY…

Begins on the train to London – it’s an hour and 40 minutes and I work on the journey. I do this three days a week and work remotely the rest of the time. I am a big advocate for remote working; I don’t see how you can feel creative in the same seat every day. My days are back-to-back meetings, yesterday I had 12 and it’s usually at least eight.

A big part of my job is sharing my network with the company. Take Black Girl Festival, for instance [the UK’s first festival celebrating black British women], that’s an example of a business I’d love us to partner with. Another is the photographer Francis Augusto, who I suggested for a project we did; he dazzled so many people in the organisation that they want to work with him on lots of different things off the back of that.

Lunch is usually a meeting with an industry colleague. I love the Peruvian restaurant Señor Ceviche.

In the afternoon, I tend to check in with the people I report to, then I’ll see how our employee networks are doing. These include BAME, LGBTQ+, parents’ and women’s groups and encompass mentoring and events. I try to leave at 6pm.

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MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT…

Was having [theatre director] Jude Kelly speak at a board meeting about how we need to use our power and privilege to amplify the voices of underrepresented communities. She was phenomenal.

THE WORST PART OF MY JOB…

Is feeling like I never have enough time. It never stops. That’s why I’ve moved to Bristol, to create some space for myself.

THE BEST PART OF MY JOB…

Is when I see people have ‘aha’ moments. Not just understanding intellectually that it’s good to have diversity, but on an emotional level, too. You see their hearts expand.

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AFTER WORK…

I’m out most nights, either at networking events or speaking engagements. I enjoy being busy. When I get a chance, I listen to audiobooks like Slay In Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke. I’m asleep by midnight.

My Plan B: Lawyer

I’m fighting for a fairer, kinder, more loving world in my current role and that’s what lawyers do, too. I have always believed that you have to fight for people who don’t have the means or the tools to fight for themselves.

Photography: Holly McGlynn