The Token Man: Lowe Profero CEO Dale Gall tells Eloise Smith why agency leaders should 'hire their opposite, not their mirror'

Dale Gall, chief executive of Lowe Profero, talks to the agency's executive creative director Eloise Smith about why he doesn't want to hire "many more people like me" in the latest of a series of gender diversity interviews conducted by prominent women from across the marketing industries.

Eloise Smith: So Dale, given how fraught the topic can be, why were you so keen to do an interview for Token Man?

Dale Gall: Over the time I’ve been a father, a manager and a chief executive, I’ve taken more interest in how women get ahead in their careers. From the outset when becoming a manager many years ago, I was curious to observe how gender often led to different handling of salary reviews and career advice. Without over generalising, I found that men were far more assertive and expecting, and women were quite accommodating of management needs – wanting to find a shared solution.

As a leader of a business, that really started to bug me because I started to see that the best people weren’t always getting ahead or the correct reward. This meant change at a leadership level was then not manifesting fast enough through loss of talent.

ES: If your daughter were ever to go into the industry, what would you hope for her that a woman in the industry today might not experience?

DG: I would like her to have really good role models and a strong cohort set.

And to be a parent one day without feeling inhibited and confused about her loyalties between career and parenthood. We lose an enormous amount of talent in our industry because of this.

ES: What is the current gender split of the Lowe Profero UK team? Does it affect how the team works?

DG: It was until recently a 50:50 gender split at a board level (now 40:60 girl/boy) and 60:40 girl/boy in total. It wasn’t a conscious thing at a leadership level but it has changed the dynamic a lot. It’s very focused with less posturing, and we have a really effective, open, honest, action-orientated and respectful leadership team.

For a long time, I’ve felt that advertising agencies replicate the cultures of their leaders. I didn’t want that many more people like me in the business. I believe in complementary qualities rather than hiring your mirror. Don’t hire someone like yourself, try and hire your opposite. Someone you could imagine yourself coming to work with but someone who will make you more complete and challenge you in the things you’re comfortable in.

As a consequence of this, we have a lot of diversity in our business – gender and otherwise. It’s really helped and leads to a culture of openness and supportive challenge. This could not come about by blokes imagining what women need – it comes about by having diverse leadership.

ES: What do you think we are doing as Lowe Profero and as an industry to help women back into work?

DG: Not enough, though we have a strong representation on the leadership team – our UK board, until recently, included two mothers who had returned from maternity (one did not return from her second maternity leave).

We have several other mothers at the leadership level who have returned from maternity as well as dads from paternity. We have found this gives us a better sense of discipline in the time we have here so that actually people prioritise more and are more focused. We’ve been very open to part-time work and have a really great history of that over the past few years. We try to wrap around people’s needs in the belief that we would rather have that talent than the time. It improves our culture of accountability and effectiveness. People respect that they have been given flexible hours and want to get stuff done while they are here.

Could we do more? I’m sure we could. What’s your perspective?

ES: I think there’s a tipping point where the more working mothers and part-time workers you get back into the business shows there’s more of an expectation that this is normal and do-able. And, as we reduce the culture of being present and prove that this can work as a successful business model, then it becomes a virtuous circle.

Do you think the diversity of experience in a creative department affects the sort of work produced?

DG: Yes, 100 per cent. Life experience helps creativity and enables you to have a sense of what would really work. So it helps. But we need to be very careful about where we take that argument as some of the best work is purely imagined. It’s dangerous to say that you have to be of a certain gender to write/create for that gender.

ES: Do you think other people within our organisation respond differently to male and female leaders?

DG: We don’t have a blokey culture here. We’re 60 per cent women, so in that regard we’re against the norm. So I think the culture we have means that’s not the case here. But I have certainly felt this in my early career – where women felt that they had to compensate for the culture they were in, they fulfilled certain roles; acted in certain ways in response to the type of leader and culture they were confronted by. This is of course also true of men and means that both sorts of role-playing reinforce the stereotypes, which is partly why change has been slow coming.

ES: Does Lowe Profero have a policy on the gender pay gap?

DG: Our policy is that at certain senior levels, you should be on the same salary.

But what I have seen in my career is men being far more aggressive and threatening in their pursuit of an enhanced salary. That seems to be changing now because of the nature of the business we have – the 60:40 split, the confidence of women in asking for what should be theirs but as I say this, I am not confident we have the balance right and need to look further into it.

ES: Women only represent 11 per cent of creative directors in the ad industry in the UK. What would your advice be to any female creative aspiring to become a creative director?

DG: First, know your craft and obsess about being great at it. But sometimes that’s not enough. You have to be fairly ruthless about finding a culture that’s going to enable you to thrive. And that’s potentially even more important because of gender. This means a culture where you have a great role model/s, cohorts and are nurtured. But it is even more than that – they need to want to be great creatively.

So you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be nurtured, and here’s the really ruthless bit, you’ve got to want to be great. So you need to be in a place that wants to be great.

ES: At the recent 3% Conference, there was a discussion about how some male leaders fear that if they spend extra time mentoring young women it will be seen as inappropriate. Thus, they unintentionally exclude them from career advancement. Do you think this happens and if so, how can we mediate against it?

DG: I think that is bullshit. I think it’s probably true in that they feel it but they just need to get over themselves. Our job as leaders is to get young talented people to amaze us. That is the job.

ES: 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?

DG: Hire strong female leaders in your business and create the conditions for them to succeed (as described above: mentors, time management, do not hire your mirror etc.).

In doing so, create the role models for others but also if you listen, the ones who will change you and as a consequence, evolve the culture.

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

DG: Listen first, act second. Having a daughter and such a strong, diverse leadership team is teaching me not to rush into simply explaining what I think the answer/direction is (though I still fail at this often). This interview has reinforced that shift. It is key often just to listen. Maybe you need to help; maybe listening was the help. It is all about creating the conditions for others to succeed and working out what those conditions are starts with listening more.

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

DG: Nick Blunden, global managing director, client strategy at the Economist.

Token Man is an initiative from the founder of Creative Social, Daniele Fiandaca. Previous interviews have included Tribal Worldwide's Allan Blair in conversation with Bima's Bridget Beale, and a Q&A between Geometry Global's Georgia Barretta and Nils Leonard of Grey London.

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