Profile: why PR whizz Amelia-Eve Warden games through lunch, hates tick box tokenism & would quit if you asked her to wear a skirt

Amelia-Eve Warden is an established PR director and freelance journalist, working with some of the world’s biggest brands, and she was formerly the artist manager to USA rap artist, Brooke Candy, and indie acoustic UK artist Lucy Spraggan, as well as many other creatives.

She’s also Diversity Champion 2017 and Entrepreneur of Excellence nominee in 2020 & 2021, regularly talking to the media about LGBTQ+ issues and female empowerment.

One creative sector magazine has even described her as a “bullshit-smashing entrepreneur”, so we thought we’d ask her for her no-nonsense views on mental health at work (she’s very open about personally suffering from anxiety), about what annoys her about the workplace, how to manage creative talent and what she thinks the future holds…

You caught my attention recently with your LinkedIn post about how you spend your lunch hour gaming because it’s such a good mental health break and reset for you. Why is gaming such a good reset?

I’ve been gaming from a young age and it’s made me fall in love with, not just gaming, but the tech industry in general and it’s why I’ve spent most of my career in tech. My job means I’m sat at my desk constantly writing articles and press releases. I love gaming because it’s something completely different to my work and I really need that break from work in the day, not just for food, but to get away from my desk. And gaming is totally different from just watching TV, which I don’t think is a good lunchtime reset.

Why do you think gaming is a better reset than TV?

Because you’re focusing on something, whereas with TV you’re not doing anything. You’re just sat there passively, you’re also probably thinking about stuff that you need to do when you get back to your desk. Whereas with gaming, you can’t think about anything else other that the game and your focus is completely on that activity.

I often find that I come back to my desk with a fresh, energised perspective and often look at what I’ve written in the morning and can see clearly what needs to change.

So, you’re saying it’s kind of like mindfulness on steroids?

Yeah, completely. It’s like meditating for me! It’s also really fun. If I’m having a terrible day and things are going wrong, it makes me feel better. I come to afternoon meetings more positive.

You mentioned in your LinkedIn post that gaming is proven to help people with ADHD, anxiety, and depression, is that right?

Yes – I quoted the National Institute of Health’s report about gaming. I have quite a few friends with ADHD and they often struggle to focus and, with gaming, you’re just focused on one thing – usually a challenge that you need to complete, so it’s really good for narrowing the noise.

You work in a creative industry – PR – and you are responsible for a team and keeping creative people thriving amid quite a challenging economic and geopolitical situation at the moment. What’s your advice on that?

Creative energy comes from bouncing ideas off each other. It’s massively important to be in a room with other people if you’re working on creative projects. I think it’s important that we have face time with others and that we understand the value of face time.

That’s one thing I don’t think the creative industries have done well since Covid. It’s hugely pointless to say to people that they have to come in to the office for two days a week, for example,  and then they spend all that time in virtual meetings.

And it’s challenging to come up with ideas when you’re all sitting on screens at home because people have so many distractions. They can be messaging others while on the call, or have another screen open and continuing to work. So I think creative people need to make the effort and time to have a creative workspace in an office, or even do something different – like we’ve gone to sit in a park on a sunny day to bounce ideas around and get  people together in a relaxed space.

So the environment for creative meetings really matters?

Yes. Creatives need to be in an environment that allows their creativity to thrive. For me, that environment is definitely not a glass walled boardroom… I hate meetings in boardrooms, they are hugely anxiety provoking for me. I feel boxed in and like I can’t be myself. I prefer to be in a place that’s open, maybe with a couple of sofas and tea and coffee!

I guess with everything going on in the world at the moment – from a cost of living crisis to a war in Ukraine – that it’s harder to get creative people to feel relaxed?

Yes, and forced relaxation is then inauthentic. I think the thing that makes people relax the most is understanding: like when line managers acknowledge that the situation currently is tough and say that, amid the difficulty, we are committed to making you feel as comfortable as we can. Asking people what helps them feel relaxed is the best way to help someone feel relaxed! In order to improve wellbeing within the workplace you really have to understand the employees that you are tailoring your workplace for.

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I’ve managed many people who’ve suffered with depression and anxiety and other health issues and they’ve often said to me things like ‘I’m really anxious, I don’t feel like I can come in today’. My first response is ‘what can I do for you? What do you need?’. They might say, for example, I just need to focus on my work today and not do meetings. So, often, I’ll take on those meetings, or move them.

You’ve also done a lot of campaigning around gender and LGBT issues. You’ve written articles in the past on how it’s hard to be who we really are at work. Do you still feel that way?

Yes, although it has got better. But it sometimes feels like a tick box situation. You know, ‘ah we’ve got heavy white male leadership, so let’s get a Black woman in to look like we’re diverse and they can be the person that helps HR with DEI’.

At pretty much every place I’ve worked, I get brought into the DEI team. I’ve even had one employer say to me ‘you’re gay, and you’ve got quite a few mental health problems’ as if that automatically means I fit the DEI box. That’s just tokenism. That’s not how you do it.

How do you do it?

There are so many companies out there that can help. Like DICE, which stands for diversity and inclusion at conference and events.

I’m personally a big advocate of blind recruitment. All you have to do is have no name and no picture on CVs and if the candidate is good, you bring them in. It’s all about experience, not about ticking a box. It’s not about judging them on their name and trying to work out if they’re from a diverse background or not. Employers can see the person for who they are, in terms of their skills, not for what they identify as or what hair they’ve got or their sexual orientation.

Is there anything else that frustrates you about the workplace?

Yes – the idea that I have to gender my clothes. Why? I should be able to wear what I like. If I walk into a clothes shop, I am more drawn to the men’s section, which is more gender neutral than the women’s, which is fully of frilly floral stuff that is just not me.

Recently Virgin Atlantic has allowed people that are trans and identify as women to wear heels, and if a guy who identifies as a man wants to wear a skirt, he can. They are basically saying ‘we don’t care what you wear as long as you’re good at your job’. They just want their employees to be comfortable, and that’s all they care about. But, really sadly, that blew up on the media with everyone saying ‘this is amazing’ but this, to me, is something that should be already happening everywhere. Why aren’t companies making their workplaces comfortable to everyone? If an employer asked me to wear a skirt to a pitch, for example, rather than the suit I’m comfortable in, I’d quit.

What’s your vision of the future workplace, what do you think it’s going to look like?

It wouldn’t surprise me if workplaces went 100% remote and faces were taken away from screens and replaced by avatars. That’s the way tech is going. Everything’s going towards a metaverse and everyone will meet via a VR headset. And that will allow people who feel socially anxious to be themselves more.

What’s definitely going to happen, though, is that employers will have to accept employees as their whole selves or their entire business is not going to work. That’ll be a challenge for people from the baby booming generation but they’re going to have to get over that – in the nicest possible way – because Gen Zs are coming and they’re coming on their unicorns and they’re ready to take the jobs. They are the generation that are the most woke and probably most creative because they don’t care, they are going to bring so much good and so much openness.

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