PHD Marketing & the Marginalized Lowe Open

The Token Man: Daren Rubins, CEO of PHD talks to Emma Perkins, ECD at Lowe Open about gender diversity, feminine values and organisational responsibility


By The Drum Team | Editorial

July 22, 2015 | 18 min read

In a new initiative from the founder of Creative Social, Daniele Fiandaca, a series of prominent women from across the marketing industry interview male figures about their views on gender imbalance and diversity in the industry.

In the second interview in the gender diversity series, Token Man, Emma Perkins, executive creative director at Lowe Open interviews Daren Rubins, chief executive PHD.

Emma Perkins: Thanks Daren for agreeing to be a Token Man. We met at the 3% conference in London but given how fraught the topic can be, why were you keen to do an interview for Token Man?

Daren Rubins: Firstly when I heard you guys present at the 3% conference I thought it was a fantastic initiative. I’m also a firm believer in gender equality and the role women and feminine values have to play in the workplace. Its something that I’m actively pursuing as an area of interest. I’ve worked in a very male dominated industry for so long and its undergone a huge transition in the past few years and I personally think the media industry is a lot better off for it.

So I’ve started to become quite interested in the dynamics of more senior women at the top of organisations and imbedded right throughout as well as the role that they play in making the workplace more nurturing, welcoming and a more creative environment.

EP: So your title is chief executive. What is ultimately your role in the businessor the industry?

DR: I look after PHD in the UK, and I’ve been at PHD for fifteen years. I look at my role, if its not too grandiose, I want to leave the business in a better shape than it was when I found it. I always say to people, we’re only here for a short period of time in our careers and it’s our duty to make sure the next wave of talent that comes through is stronger than the last.

EP: Why do you think gender diversity at a senior management level and across the organisation as a whole is important?

DR: I will go on record to say that I think women are just as valuable to this industry than men, if not more so – they are better team builders, better managers and are better for our clients for those reasons.

EP: What do you think the biggest challenge is for women currently sitting in a minority at a senior management level?

DR: It’s very hard for me to walk in those shoes, but I would say certainly in media agencies a number of years ago it was incredibly tough because men were very patronizing. I think men found senior women a novelty, which meant they weren’t taken seriously.

I do think the only way for women to have succeeded in previous years was to act more like men than the men did. Which doesn’t do anyone any good, because what you really want is diversity and all you end up with is people bringing the same behaviours to the table. I think it’s important for a company to have feminine values because that way you create a culture where women can thrive. I don’t think most advertising cultures are set up for women to succeed, the men are too powerful and people are too terrified to question them.

Women then feel belittled in these organisations and that they’re not able to challenge. By creating a culture that allows people to challenge openly, with respect and empathy, whatever level they are, all of that gets flushed out. There are too many senior men in our business who wont be questioned.

EP: What do you mean by feminine values?

DR: So this is quite a contentious area. If I think about the role a mother and father play, and I am stereotyping now, women and mothers are warmer, more nurturing and they have instincts that give them greater self awareness and they are more in-tune with those around them and the requirements of others.

That is not to say that women are soft and men are hard, I’m not saying that. But I have found that those qualities mean that women make better bosses and managers and are better at developing and running teams of people. As a business this is hugely significant, if we create an environment where people feel more cared for and supported then I think you get a more engaged, committed and productive workforce.

EP: What is the current split (as a percentage) in your current senior management team between men and women? And what is the split at the executive level?

DR: We’re 40 per cent female on our board and at Exec level there are four of us and two of those are women. So a 50/50 split exec team.

EP: Is that something that you have consciously been the architect of? Have you found you’ve had to positively discriminate to get to that 50/50 split, or did it happen organically?

Daren: It’s a bit of both. What I would say is I’ve strived to create an atmosphere of warmth and collaboration so naturally the people who have those qualities tend to do better in our company.

So if that’s positively discriminating, then absolutely that’s what I do. It’s not a surprise that the two senior women at the top of our organisation have got those values. Equally I’d like to think that myself and Hugh my male counterpart also have those values. It’s not something that only exists in women.

EP: Clearly you haven’t found championing empathetic behaviours, or those skills deemed ‘soft’ as being bad for business?

DR: Completely the opposite. I’m lucky enough to be part of a programmecalled Omnicom University. You’re taken away by Harvard Professors to Babson in Boston and you spend a lot of time talking about the relationship between trying to achieve hard numbers and creating change and a progressive culture.

Ultimately it’s been proven time and time again that if you create the right culture and environment for people to succeed the numbers will follow. I’ve seen that over the years at PHD. It is absolutely true, if you focus purely on the numbers you create bad habits and bad cultures. We’ve seen it in other industries like Banking.

EP: It’s often said, that as a service industry we’re at the beck and call of clients, therefore we’re expected to be ‘always on’. How do you then create a people focused culture?

DR: It’s a very, very hard balance. We are a service business and I think if anyone says that at 5.30pm my work stops it is not realistic.

That’s why I try and create an understanding with our people that there are things we have to do but I’m also conscious that when I need things doing I need to be careful who I’m asking and when I’m asking, to ensure I manage their time best. So if I send emails that aren’t urgent past 5.30/6.00pm to people I don’t expect a response until the next day.

EP: What have you done personally as a leader to help solve the issue of gender equality?

Daren: The first thing I’ll come back to is creating an environment where women can thrive, creating an atmosphere where you don’t tolerate any kind of prejudice of any description. It’s really important that you not only believe it but that you communicate it strongly. So something that I do is talk to every new starter in the organisation about what the company expects of them.

The first thing I talk about is mutual respect, respect for yourself and others. The second thing is to champion female development in the organisation. When I’m talking to the company about promotions I make a point of championing the fact that we’re promoting women into senior positions.

The third thing is that I make sure there is no gender pay gap in our company. That is absolutely unacceptable.

The fourth thing is that you create an environment where returning mothers don’t just feel like they are returning because they need the money. But actively want to come back to work. I make sure we stay in touch with mothers, that we make it very easy for them to return and that they are genuinely welcomed back, so they never feel like we’re having them back because we’re doing them a favour.

EP: When I ask about what the barriers are, in particular for mothers, in reaching senior positions I’m often told the competing factors that they have in their lives for their time. What are your thoughts about the role of parents, and the support companies give them?

DR: If you create a culture of warmth and support it should be absolutely normal for any new parent to ask for flexibility and that includes Fathers. Whether that’s that they’d like to drop their kids at school, or be home for bath time. It’s a conversation I have with new fathers all the time, its something I personally feel quite strongly about because I was a very active father and played a very active role, certainly when my children were born, so I think the culture should support those conversations.

EP: Do men ask you? Do you encourage it?

DR: I encourage it. Because if you create trust and support in the workplace you get better results. Full stop. So I say to parents it’s important for you to be home for your family, and for you to play an active role. People then feel supported and more loyal. Then when work does require them to go above and beyond they don’t mind doing it. People want to be treated like adults.

EP: Is this approach to flexibility normal in the media industry?

DR: Its difficult for me to say because I’ve been at PHD for 15 years. But it’sdefinitely the way the industry is going. More and more of the leaders are female, some of them mothers. I just see the media industry workplace becoming much more accepting of the need for flexibility and of parents both male and female.

EP: The UK has the second highest cost of childcare in the world, second only to Switzerland. I’ve heard that one of the big media company gives returning women a 10 per cent bonus to help towards the cost of childcare. Are you doing anything to help with this key barrier?

DR: Media is more progressive and we recognize the need to do more to help women reach senior exec roles. We have a return to work bonus at PHD, we have coaching that’s readily available to women. We don’t do ‘keeping in touch’ days because we have to, we do it because we want people to be as comfortable as they can be when returning. We ensure no one is discriminated against while they’re on maternity leave, if there is a round of pay rises a woman on maternity leave is included in the same process in exactly the same way.

EP: If you could do one thing differently during your career to support diversity further, what would it be?

DR: I don’t think there is a wide enough ethnic mix in our business. At PHD I think we’re pretty good on gender equality now, but we’re behind on ethnic diversity.

Part of the problem is that we haven’t been as attractive to diverse groups as we should be, we’re not appealing to them in the first place. So I would want to make our business more appealing. At the moment it just doesn’t appearlike a professional choice. I’ve worked hard with the IPA to develop more of a curriculum of qualifications so it feels like a worthwhile profession.

Too many people fall into this industry because they know someone, and so then you end up hiring in your own image, which is a bad thing.

EP: Ultimately whose responsibility do you think it should be in an organisation to help drive more balanced gender equality? The chief executive? HR? Senior management team?

DR: Its mine. I mean it’s everyone’s responsibility, but it always starts at the top. I need to make clear to my board and the entire organisation how we view gender equality.

I spoke to the entire agency a few weeks ago about an article I’d seen in Campaign about the gender pay gap and I wanted to reassure the entire agency that there was no pay gap at PHD, and I wanted to be very public about that.

Its really important to me that everyone understands what type of business we are. What I would say is that as long as my competitors aren’t paying their women as much as men that leaves it wide open for me to attract the best talent!

EP: What is your company’s current maternity leave policy?

DR: We have an enhanced package, where we pay 100 per cent at six weeks, 50 per cent at 12 weeks and 25 per cent at 21 weeks. We give a return to work bonus too, as well as a baby bonus for mothers and fathers.

New fathers receive two weeks paternity leaveat full pay. The law has recently changed regarding shared parental leave, which offers more flexibility to both parents. We’ll definitely be encouraging this. We need to be flexible for both men and women, we have a lot of new fathers too who say, I need to be home for bath time and so have to leave at 5pm each day.

That’s fine. Because I know if I create that level of trust and I need something doing early one morning or at a weekend, they’ll do it.

EP: I’ve heard male leaders say that a woman can’t come back into the industry after maternity leave expecting to be able to pick up where they left off. What’s your view on that?

DR: I’d like to offer an alternative view. If you consider what its like to be a new mum, you have to multi-task you have to think quickly and on your feet, develop a whole host of new skills and you develop new levels of compassion that is unrivalled.

To bring that into the workplace is hugely valuable. I actually think returning mums are the best workers we have in our business.

They know how to get stuff done, and they get it done in good time as they want to go home to their child. We’ve come from a time when people thought the longer you spent at your desk the more productive you are, the opposite is true. The people we need to attract are the smart ones who use their time wisely.

EP: As I am sure you know, women only represent 3 per cent of the creative directors in the advertising industry globally. What would be your advice for any aspiring female creative, aspiring to become a creative director?

DR: Having said it’s all about feminine values, I’d say build your confidence, be a little more aggressive. I think the men need to be challenging that figure just as much as the women and saying we’re not diverse enough.

EP: Name me the one key behaviour change you think men can make in the workplace that will have the biggest impact on fostering gender diversity?

DR: Show more warmth to their team. We spend far too long at work for there to be politics, ego, aggressive behavior. Coming into work should feel like being part of a family, to feel supported by your colleagues and surrounded by people who want you to do well.

There are too many individuals who want to do well for themselves rather than for the greater good. I think we need to get leaders in our industry to think differently about the culture of their companies, then things will change. As a company we learnt a lot from the Myers Briggs process to better understand the motivations and centre of gravity of the individuals across the organisation. Ultimately we came to better understand ourselves and our colleagues.

EP: How do you think we can get more men involved in the discussion?

DR: Ask them. I was delighted to be asked to do this. There are more menthan you realise who feel this way, we just need to surface them.

EP: What’s the one thing (if any) you commit to doing as a result of this interview?

DR: I don’t say this smugly but I think we’re in quite a good place as a company, quite a good place as a media industry. But I think I should challenge more companies that I work with, whether they’re media owners or creative agencies, to ask them what their policies are. The more we can surface people’s views the better, to make it more open and transparent.

EP: Finally, who would you like to nominate for the next Token Man interview?

DR: Steve Hatch, managing director of Facebook would make a great Token man.

More information on the Token Man initiative can be found at the dedicated website.

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