‘I felt like a loner’ - what it's like to be the Token Man at an industry event

What’s it like to be a ‘token’ minority at the table? For Daniele Fiandaca, co-founder of Creative Social, the revelation was enough to prompt him to become the co-founder of The Token Man, to help men understand the experience.

Ali Hanan Creative Equals

Here’s what happened on that night. Invited to a dinner by the legendary Laura Jordan-Bambach, creative partner of Mr President, ex-D&AD president and co-founder of SheSays, Daniele sat down to dine with 12 female creative directors. Over the course of the dinner, what he discovered shocked him. He suddenly felt he had little affinity with the conversations around him. As the meal progressed, he lost his confidence. He felt he had nothing to say. He was talked over. The less he said, the less he had to say.

This is what it’s like to be in a minority.

For International Women’s Day, Podge Events, a 23-year-old institution for the good and great of the digital industry, decided to give someone else this experience to highlight what many women experience, at StodgePodge in Manchester.

Phil Jones, founder of Podge, and his team made sure they had a gender-balanced room and all the tables were diverse.

Except one.

Without knowing Jonathan Sands, OBE, from Elmwood, was seated as the ‘Token Man’ at a table, flanked by Diane Young, founder of The Drum and Bridget Beale, managing director of BIMA and 10 other women. After dinner I asked him ‘What was it like to be the minority today?’

This is what he said: ‘Initially, my excitement at sitting with some exceptionally interesting women turned to intimidation, then I had this feeling I wouldn’t be able to contribute to the conversation around me. I felt like a loner. I felt very self-conscious. I really ‘got’ what this must feel like for many women, every day. I also became very conscious of ‘saying the right thing’.’

But, has the experiment had a lasting impact?

The day has given him a heightened sense of awareness’ at work and in the wider industry. Over the last month – and inspired by International Women’s Day, Sands has designated a task force within his own organisation to pull together a diversity policy so Elmwood becomes an ‘exemplar of equality in the workplace’.

With his ‘radar on’, just last week he found himself at a business award show, where the jury was five men. ‘I pointed this out to the organisers, who agreed they would make sure it was representative next year. As we were all men, we agreed as we judged we’d keep a keen eye out for nominations from women and those from ethnic minority groups. If the judging came to a ‘toss of the coin’ moment, we made sure we awarded work from those of a different community. ‘We know they’ll have overcome professional adversity, personally and professionally, to pitch in with the best, and this needs to be celebrated.’

For Sands, equality cuts both ways. ‘I wore a kilt to a work event a couple of months ago. I had so many women wanting to lift up my kilt to find out if I was wearing it in a ‘traditional way’. Of course, I took in all in good heart, but there’s something about the balance here. Equality needs an even hand, a sense of fairness for all.’

This is just one example of personal change from Daniele’s ‘The Token Man’ series, where senior women his team interview and challenge men on what they’re doing to change the story. As a result of the interviews, some of the men have reviewed their businesses and implemented immediate with gender pay reviews, and promotions and policy changes, like Sands.

StodgePodge was glorious, uproarious day. This one, however, made many think. As Sands says: ‘Businesses are more capable, stable and balanced with better work when they are equal. So I’m going to make sure we champion this in our workplaces.’

And this is how change happens.

One ‘token man’ wiser, one speech acted on, one lunch with a purpose, one Drum article read.

Like to host a Token Man event? Then contact me through tokenmanproject@gmail.com.

AH

Ali Hanan

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