There’s been a lot of focus on mentoring the next generation in the media industry thanks to organisations like Rise. But, for those already established in a company, it’s just as important to receive that kind of encouragement.
UpliftHER aims to achieve gender equality and inclusion within the media industry by partnering with businesses who understand the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Social (ESG) responsibility.
TVBEurope caught up with co-founders Amy Mercer and Christina Graham to find out more.
Can you start by telling us about your background?
Christina Graham: I began my journey in the VFX industry 18 years ago, immersing myself in a world where creativity meets technology. Throughout this extensive period, I have orchestrated and steered the post production of numerous blockbuster films, skillfully managing budgets exceeding £300 million and leading teams of 6,500 seasoned professionals. In this dynamic environment, I had the privilege of driving the post production efforts for two distinguished films that secured both Oscar and Bafta accolades, a testament to our collective dedication and passion. Presently, I am spearheading the establishment of a cutting-edge visual effects studio in London, a venture propelled by a prominent entity based in India.
Amy Mercer: I’m a mum, and I have 19 years of experience leading the talent growth of fast-paced creative tech companies. Previously, I led the talent strategy for seven brands and 10,000 people, drove large-scale growth of over 120 per cent, and built Technicolor’s 2000-person global training academies and renowned recruitment brand, The Focus. More recently, I’ve been working independently, helping companies set up HR and recruitment teams and working with leaders on organisational design, change management and corporate and social responsibility.
What inspired you to start Uplift Her?
Amy: Earlier this year, on March 14th, Christina asked me to help her plan and host an event for women working in visual effects. It was evident from speaking to the women that things haven’t changed, and as many statistics show, the working world and women’s experience have worsened since Covid.
We have both been in senior positions and been active in creating access and supporting organisations building better workplaces. However, in my previous roles, I often found myself up against brick walls as organisations tend to be siloed in their approach and too focused on short-term operational needs, making it difficult to make the long-term changes needed regarding inequality, inclusion and business sustainability.
I’ve had first-hand experience navigating chronic talent shortages in the creative industry, costing organisations revenue, clients and reputation and stunting growth. Still, I often found companies needing to address or do some of the basics to retain women. Although we are now seeing more women entering the industry than ever, with statistics like half of women will leave tech-based businesses by age 35 and all the concerns around AI disproportionately impacting women, we are seeing women leave workplaces in droves.
Things have to change. So, shortly after the event in March, we decided to create a platform where women help empower and uplift other women. Then in June 2023, we started to develop programmes that help organisations address and take down the inherent walls for the betterment of all.
How does UpliftHer differ from some of the other female-focused organisations in the media and entertainment industry (Rise, GalsNGear etc)?
Christina: Our approach is centred around cultivating a supportive community through events and resources, providing a platform for women to connect and navigate their careers with confidence. Simultaneously, we collaborate closely with companies to refine and enhance their internal programmes, making them effective in fostering the growth and advancement of women, allies, and those who have been historically underrepresented.
Within our internal company programmes, our primary focus is on empowering organisations to develop robust mentoring initiatives, inclusive workshops, and thorough audits. Research demonstrates that mentorship significantly amplifies opportunities for promotion, with individuals being 5-6 times more likely to progress. Furthermore, it enhances retention rates for women and minorities by up to 38 per cent, boosts overall productivity by 67 per cent, and substantially improves the well-being and job satisfaction of participants, with 9 out of 10 expressing increased happiness.
Despite being in 2023, persistent gender bias and inequalities persist in our society. We acknowledge the multifaceted nature of achieving gender equality and inclusion within organisations. Therefore, we actively engage with companies, offering our expertise to guide them in fostering a culture of equality. At the same time, we are committed to building a supportive community, recognising that progress is best achieved through collaborative efforts.
What is the goal of UpliftHer?
Amy: We have two missions
- Build a community of women who support each other and themselves to do better
- Work with companies who need expert guidance so everyone can do better
Obtaining gender equality, diversity, and inclusion is complex. Societal challenges impact how we see ourselves and affect our actions, and organisational walls, directly and indirectly, limit certain people.
We have spent nearly all our careers managing large-scale teams, so we use our experience and expertise to build resources, create events, and spark much-needed conversations within our community. However, we collaborate with companies to design internal programmes and employee development. We believe we have found one of the keys that allows organisations to push their capabilities (something every organisation wants) but evolve their culture to be better, more sustainable and inclusive for everyone.
How do you hope to achieve that?
Amy: ‘Jobs are relationships and careers are networks’ is our philosophy, and through our community, we are helping women elevate their careers by learning together, connecting, sharing and having honest and powerful conversations.
On the company side, mentoring addresses many of the top concerns of leadership teams regarding their people (retention, productivity, development, learning attraction, etc). But, even with the best intentions, most in-house programmes fail, which is down to three things:
- They don’t have a matching methodology
- They don’t have a mapped-out journey for individuals
- And there is a limit on what internal teams can do
It is not enough to throw people together and expect magic to happen. You have to be intentional. We are not only a partner to companies, but we have spent a long time figuring out how to build the best programmes and tools; we use behavioural psychometrics and coaching to create safe spaces, set programmes up effectively and ensure we deliver a curated journey.
Is the organisation aimed at women who are just starting out in the industry, women who have risen to a senior level, or both?
Christina: Our initiative is inclusive and designed for individuals at every career level and stage. We firmly reject the traditional mentor-mentee (junior-senior) dynamic, recognising that everyone, regardless of their position, has unique experiences and valuable perspectives to offer. We understand the challenges women face in leadership roles—often feeling isolated—and those at the outset of their careers, who greatly benefit from supportive networks.
Many women we’ve engaged with express the overwhelming nature of career development, often facing a crisis in their professional journey. Concurrently, organisations witness an exodus of women and those who have been historically underrepresented despite having diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies in place. Bridging this gap is our mission at UpliftHER.
We believe in a better approach, one that provides the necessary support and resources to navigate career challenges effectively. UpliftHER steps in to guide organisations in delivering on their DEI strategies, ensuring a more inclusive and empowering environment for everyone.
What sort of events does UpliftHER plan to hold?
Amy: It’s said that 85 per cent of opportunities come through people networks, but networking is often given a bad name and can feel intimidating. We believe if you make an effort to attend an in-person event, the value lies with whom you can connect with. So, this is how we design our UpliftTOGETHER events.
In the same way we approach our in-house programmes, it’s all about the journey. Our USP to our TOGETHER events is that we connect women ahead of the event so they know who they will be meeting ahead of time, combined with focused conversations and stories that allow us all to share and learn.
Do you plan to hold events at trade shows such as NAB and IBC?
Christina: Absolutely, we have plans for that. Currently, though, it’s a goal on the horizon as we operate on self-funding and limited sponsorships. Rest assured, it’s a direction we’re actively pursuing.
What’s been the reaction from the industry so far?
Christina: Our core emphasis has been on nurturing a vibrant community, and within a short span of months, our exclusive group has thrived and is now exceeding 600 members. The women within our community have consistently expressed their appreciation for this platform, affirming how it has significantly contributed to their career growth. This grassroots movement has transcended borders, with women from around the world stepping forward to actively participate and give back to the UpliftHER community. They have assumed the role of Ambassadors for UpliftHER, directly engaging with women in their localities, enabling us to extend our reach beyond London to a global stage.
The impact of our TOGETHER events has been profound. Attendees have reported establishing valuable connections and forging informal mentoring relationships. Many have found the inspiration to take bold steps in their careers, engage in challenging conversations, and explore new avenues through training, even in areas they once deemed inaccessible.
Initial feedback from companies regarding our programs has been overwhelmingly positive. Inclusive workshops, in particular, have garnered a 100 per cent recommendation rate among participants, a testament to their effectiveness. As we gear up for our upcoming TOGETHER event on November 7th, we are thrilled to announce a competition that offers attendees a chance to win one of our mentoring programmes for their respective companies.
More details about UpliftHER can be found here.