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‘Build the plane while you’re flying’

Jul 23, 2018
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Marion McDonald has led client consulting and training in health and wellness, communications strategy, marketing effectiveness, media coaching and storytelling/presentation skills for 10 years in the Asia Pacific region at global PR group Ogilvy and is now transferring to London for a global client leader role. Her passions include diversity and inclusion; she founded Ogilvy Pride in Hong Kong, the agency’s first LGBT+ professional network in Asia.

In 2017, Marion was named a top 100 global LGBT+ business leader in the OUTstanding FT100 honours. She has also earned a global AMEC Lifetime Fellowship in 2015 for communications effectiveness education.

Prior to Ogilvy, Marion grew sales and market share for global brands at Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Revlon and Allergan/Botox.

Australian-born, she became an ‘Asian stir-fry’ with 19 years in Asia, based in Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok and Myanmar, utilising her masters in international marketing across cultures and market development stages. She is excited to be working in London from July 2018.

Outside of work, Marion has gained a diploma in canine behaviour and trained shelter dogs at SPCA Hong Kong for several years. She is also an occasional musical theatre director and performer.

We spoke to Marion after a recent Pride in the City event and she told us about growing a diversity and inclusion network in the least promising soil.


What Pride in the City theme did you cover at July’s event?

The power of networks to help you grow personally and professionally and benefit the LGBT+ community.


What made you feel you wanted to support this event?

Having had the honour of launching Ogilvy’s first LGBT+ network in Asia two years ago, I felt I could share my experience with other leaders seeking to either start or grow a smaller scale network in their own work environment. Starting an LGBT+ network in Asia is a very different challenge to leveraging networks within large firms in London, where awareness and acceptance of diversity and inclusion is years ahead. D&I is still a young concept in Asia; in Hong Kong you can still surprisingly be fired (legally!) for your sexual orientation. I hope my perspective can help London talent in smaller firms with no existing D&I networks to see how they can effect change or leverage other networks for support.


Have you been involved with Pride in London before?

First time, and such great timing that it came in my first few weeks in the city.


What impact do you feel your theme has in the business world?

The privilege of getting to start an LGBT+ network in a country that allows discrimination under the law is an excellent education and opportunity. I knew from the outset how much I didn’t know so I bought many coffees (and a few martinis) for LGBT+ diversity experts whom I contacted for advice. I am indebted to dozens of people for their kind counsel, including HSBC’s brilliant head of D&I in Asia, Jack Guest, and Michael Vidler, the celebrated human rights lawyer and LGBT+ ally who just won a legal case forcing the Hong Kong government to grant immigration visas for same-sex partners of foreign talent working in Hong Kong. These experts have all become my network of advisors. Every single person was so generous in answering very basic start up questions and sharing their successes and challenges. They have taught me that this is a journey requiring patience. There will be small celebrations of impact that you may not even recognise as a milestone until much later, in hindsight. I have huge admiration for the people who manage a “day job” and a “gay job” as many describe it. It brings you increased profile and a huge responsibility to speak up and make a difference for your people.


If you were to give one bit of advice to future business leaders, what would it be?

Don’t wait till you gain expertise in LGBT+ networks to start making a difference. Build the plane while you’re flying. I was the embodiment of the Kobi Yamada quote: “She took a leap and found her wings on the way down.” You have one coffee meeting with a colleague who quietly says they now feel more comfortable being themselves at work cause you spoke out and every moment of scrambling to learn on your feet was worth it!


We’re Pride in London – any stories you would like to share about falling in love (with anything/one) in the city?

I’m Australian but my wife is British and she proposed to me in London 15 years ago. We had a civil ceremony in the British Embassy in Vietnam in 2010 then did the ‘business class upgrade’ to full marriage in London in the summer of 2016. So it’s very special to be moving to this great city together now.


Are there any other comments you would like to provide?

I have immense admiration not only for the leaders of LGBT+ networks but also the allies who ask me how to make a difference in small companies where discriminatory behaviour is still practised and networks are a distant dream. Only by having the courage to speak out and encourage colleagues to reconsider behaviours can you slowly drive acceptance of change. But remember that it’s called diversity AND inclusion. We’re not here to convert everyone to our point of view, but to make space for acceptance of different views and lifestyles to ensure we can all contribute in an accepting and supportive environment.

Learn more about Pride in the City and how you can get involved here.

Anthony Warlow
Article Author
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