Together We Can Do Great Things

Last week at the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction awards party, in the Southbank Centre’s Clore Ballroom, Syl Saller, Diageo Chief Marketing Officer, gave a rousing speech at the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction awards party. Read on for Syl’s wonderful words of solidarity, achievement and collaboration.

Let me start by saying I am thrilled with the new structure for the prize, and delighted that Baileys will form part of the new family of sponsors.

At the heart of this new structure is collaboration.   Collaboration to make the prize, its support for women, books, and most importantly, writers — even more powerful.

Our short list authors are all individually gifted, tremendously talented women.  By bringing them together the Prize shines a spotlight on the beauty of their work for millions to see.

The benefits for sponsors, are just as powerful.  In the last 12 months, we’ve connected with 250m people, who share our passion for both books and Baileys.  Within Diageo, the prize is a beacon for our commitment to diversity. Our internal comms network lights up around prize announcements with stories of people who love the books, and who are proud of Diageo’s leadership in gender diversity.

Almost 1/2 of our Executive committee and plc Board are women.

Now, if we’ve seen these benefits on our own, imagine – what a family of sponsors can do to promote and celebrate truly great books.  The Women’s Prize for Fiction creates an open platform for the sharpest, smartest, most compelling women’s writing in the English language.  It honours those who delight us with their novels, but who also provoke us to think differently by taking us to places that are beyond our personal experience.

Fiction helps us stand in other people’s shoes.   And that, has never been more needed.  For many people today, the world is a scary, uncertain place.  Divisiveness, fuelled by a lack of empathy and understanding is increasing.  Sometimes, the conversation out there feels like an endless twitter feed of siloed people shouting at each other from behind their smart phones.

As simple as it sounds, books are a powerful antidote to division, hate and fear.

It is therefore fitting that this new partnership structure is rooted in collaboration, perfectly in tune with the feminine voice at the heart of the Prize, but recognising, that in the current climate we must increase the power and reach of our message.

In the world I’m from – the business world – a hot topic is, the rise of feminine leadership.  And by that I mean, the qualities traditionally embodied by women, collaboration, compassion, and generosity, – qualities found in many women and many men.  This kind of leadership isn’t about gender – it’s about unlocking our emotional intelligence, embracing empathy and bringing people together.

The thing that unites us, here tonight is that we care about the prize, and the profound impact it has on readers, writers, and the world.   Barriers are torn down by understanding.  They are torn down by people coming together to do important things that matter.

Against a backdrop of instability and uncertainty, the Women’s Prize for Fiction stands as a beacon of equality, creativity, and purpose.   Tonight we celebrate this, and the inspiring work of our winner and our short list – who truly bring us hope with their words.

Watch Syl’s speech in full below:

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