Learn about Matt Foster’s journey as a DEI trailblazer, addressing barriers to intersectional representation and the challenges of societal acceptance.

Tell us about your accomplishments to date?

Branded by the creative industry’s Drum magazine as “adland’s activist”, I am a proudly queer, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic British Filipino and an accomplished and inclusive senior DEI leader. I am currently the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Ogilvy UK, and a Non Executive Director of Outvertising, which aims to ensure brands and their creative and media partners are fully LGBTQIA+ inclusive in their workplaces and in their communications.

I have nineteen years of experience working in the marketing, PR and advertising industries, in the UK market and globally, in-house and in creative agencies, with over a decade of that in healthcare communications with a focus on delivering HIV advocacy programmes that address health inequity and HIV stigma in vulnerable communities on behalf of ViiV Healthcare and Gilead Sciences.

As an award-winning and founding member of WPP’s LGBTQIA+ network Unite, I have front-line experience of developing successful employee networks that work together intersectionally to provide support for diverse communities and delivering DEI programmes that drive business growth through organisational change and cultural transformation. I am dedicated to eradicating workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment through advocacy and giving a voice to those who have historically had theirs taken from them. I have a specific interest in anti-misogyny and inclusive advocacy for all women and those who are female aligning in the queer community.

Beyond the day job(s), I currently sit on the European Association of Communications Agencies’ (EACA) DEI Task Force, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners’ (IPA) Talent Leadership Group (TLG), and the Brand Category judging panel for the British LGBT Awards. I am also a patron of Pinxy Creatives UK: an organisation set-up to support British Filipinos who work in the media, arts and creative industries. Please find out more here: https://pinxycreatives.org

What are the barriers in representing many intersectional identity groups?

Representing many intersectional identity groups can be challenging (assuming that these groups are currently underrepresented within a dominant culture) due to various barriers, including:

  1. Limited representation. Although progress has been made in recent years to show more diverse and underrepresented folk in media, the focus is still generally on highlighting people in the dominant culture. When there is diverse representation it is often not nuanced and does not express the breadth, depth and richness of those identities. This leads us on to:
  2. Persisting stereotypes, ‘binary’ identities and the use of tokenism. Again, less common than before, but we still see these emerge at all levels of society, whether in the workplace and the microaggressions such stereotyping creates or in the media. These need to be challenged so that identity groups are both scene as representing their cultures but also made up of complex individuals with multiple identity dimension.
  3. Lack of cultural intelligence and empathy. Change will be slow to take place without the support of the dominant group as allies, and a central part of allyship is building cultural intelligence and empathy. A higher level of cultural awareness and an increased ability to recognise, navigate and celebrate difference will help with removing barriers to better intersectional representation.
  4. Dismantling structural barriers. We cannot avoid the result of hundreds of years of patriarchy and colonialism and how they have dictated the design of power structures. It takes significant dismantling of ideas and dynamics that only serve to empower the dominant groups so that underrepresented folks across the intersectional identity spectrum can assume greater positions of power and authority so they can be seen and role modelled.
  5. Fear of getting it wrong. In a highly-charged world where the media plays out a frenzied culture war, people are afraid of getting things wrong. The fear of a backlash can make folks timid and so traditional narratives remain the norm. What needs to happen is for governments, corporates, brands and individuals who are part of the mainstream to realise that by fearing a backlash and doing nothing, they are doing more harm than good. We all have to get involved in the goal of true equality and diverse and nuances intersectional representation.

Addressing these barriers requires a concerted effort to amplify diverse voices, challenge stereotypes, provide resources for accurate representation, and foster inclusive environments within media and creative industries.

Do you think acceptance is improving?

Once I would have said yes. Growing up as a kid in the 80s and 90s, watching the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the cold war and seeing democracy proliferate throughout the world, I once felt that progress would always be linear. I think now that was a naive assumption and history has show us the cycles that societies go through. We are now living in hugely uncertain and troubling times, with a rise in global Populism where standards in public office have dropped, the meaning of truth has been lost and facts don’t matter. There is a massive polarisation of liberal and progressive thinking and autocratic conservative views. This is nowhere more apparent than in the current discussions around trans rights, and it is being used as a Trojan horse to hold back all women, their bodily autonomy and the rights of the wider queer community. In a world where Brianna Ghey is brutally murdered by kids she thought were her friends, I’d have to say that acceptance is not improving outside of my liberal bubble.

What does been nominated in your category mean to you?

The nomination feels like a culmination of my 20 year career in the market industry. Having spent the first half of it on the front line of creative agencies servicing clients, the second half saw me switch gears to take on a DE&I role as I wanted to give back to my sector and enrich the experience of the people who work in it.

Being multi-racial British Filipino and growing up in South-East Asia and East Africa, and growing up queer too meant that I was always aware of my difference and the difference of others. But I saw these differences as opportunities to share and celebrate them, or use them to navigate challenging and diverging perspectives, acting as a cultural mediator both in work and in my family life.

Although part of my work is focused on LGBTQ+ activism, I advocate for equity on behalf of all marginalised groups and have a particular interests in combatting misogyny, anti-racism, the multi-racial identity and trans rights. I do what I can in my day job to further these for our employees and I sit on various boards to help shape wider culture though pushing for better LGBTQ+ representation in advertising and the media.

The nomination means a great deal to me because it validates the risks I took to get here. The work is hard and takes a massive emotional toll. It can also get lonely and because progress can be slow, there is always some doubt about the impact I am having. But I wouldn’t be here without the opportunities those who believed in me have given me, and I hope to do the same and pave the way for the LGBTQ+ trailblazers of the future.