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Management Prem Gill on fostering diversity in the media industry

Prem Gill, chief executive officer of Creative BC, in Vancouver, B.C., Nov. 21, 2017.

DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Prem Gill is chief executive officer of Creative BC, an agency that helps to expand British Columbia's movie, music and media industry. Before Creative BC, Ms. Gill spent eight years with Telus, most recently as director of production and original programming, and before that held on-camera and off-camera roles at Citytv Vancouver. She is also vice-chair of the National Screen Institute and sits on the board of the Push Festival and The Actors Fund of Canada.

I was born in Burnaby, B.C., not far from where my office is now in East Vancouver. My parents are immigrants from India. They came in the late 1960s. I am the eldest of four kids; I have two sisters and a brother. We all grew up in a house in Burnaby where my parents still live.

Growing up, I never saw myself reflected in the mass media. I could relate to certain aspects, but at that time I saw Monika Deol, the VJ on MuchMusic, as this brown woman doing something cool – and she wasn't on the multicultural channel. It doesn't seem that unusual now, but it was at the time.

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I developed a strong interest in media and storytelling while studying communications at Simon Fraser University. It also helped me look at mass media in a critical way and shaped my thinking around "Why am I not represented? Why isn't there a diversity of voices?" For me, that fuelled a lot. I wanted to become part of a system that could change things. The way I saw it, you could complain, or figure out ways to be proactively involved.

All of my past work experiences prepared me for this role at Creative BC. I was in a large organization, I was an independent producer and I championed programs that supported diversity and new talent. That's important to me. We always need to be thinking about who comes up next and how are we enabling them. How are we creating environments that support a diversity of perspective and voices?

Three pillars drive me: creativity, supporting entrepreneurship and diversity. It's hard work, especially in creative sectors where people really love what they do. There is a lot of passion. Passion can also sometimes be stubbornness because people care so much. I am inspired by the people around me. They like going to work every day. We are very lucky that we have that and that we're part of a sector that's growing.

Gender and diversity and support for Indigenous creators are also big priorities for me. I think they are for a lot of people in many organizations. It can be hard to be the person who speaks up all of the time, but it's important to have the courage to bring new perspectives to the table. It's not just being the naysayer or pounding the table, but actually trying to have a conversation around these issues and make commitments and come up with the tactics.

My role is also to make sure we're all staying healthy – both physically and spiritually – to be able to continue this work in challenging global times. A lot of those team exercises I used to think were so corporate I now embrace. I have a team huddle every Monday morning. We have organized touch points. I want to know what's happening with my staff both personally and professionally. I care about these people. They're not just robots that work here.

The connections you have with your team have to be authentic. You have to actually care. You have to enjoy it. If it's just about checking a box, people see through that. Community is also extremely important to me. If you're going to foster a culture of collaboration and openness and respect, you have to show that to everybody.

My outlook comes from trial and error in my professional career and maybe not always being as strong in some areas as I am now. I've also learned a lot from other leaders. I think I'm friends with all of my former bosses, even those with whom I've had extreme challenges. I learned different things from all of them – sometimes on what to do and sometimes on what not to do. I still do things wrong. As a leader, you're constantly learning, constantly trying things.

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To me, the creative economy we're living in today is a key driver not just for economic success, but also for society as a whole. I believe in investing in ideas, in people and in ideals in some cases. I also believe in being a mentor and always seeking out mentors.

The work is never done. They key is to always be challenging ourselves and to not be afraid to innovate. Change is scary, but it's a constant in this digital age we're living in.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

In our research, where we have interviewed over 150 CEOs, north of 30 per cent of senior executives are introverts Special to Globe and Mail Update
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