The Token Man: CDM's Phil Bartlett on his experience at Omniwomen and workplace equality

By Daniele Fiandaca | co-founder

October 15, 2018 | 14 min read

Ahead of its event exploring the issue of toxic masculinity in the marketing sector, The Token Man interview series returns with Roxanne Hobbs, founder of the Hobbs Consultancy and #HeANDShe, interviewing Phil Bartlett, managing director at CDM, part of the Omnicom Group.

Phil Bartlett

Phil Bartlett, managing director at CDM

Roxanne Hobbs (RH): Why do you think we’ve ended up talking to each other today?

Phil Bartlett (PB): I think due to my original stumble into Omniwomen. The first Omniwomen event was a day of workshops and talks here at Bankside and at the end, I was invited as an MD to hear all about it. I stood at the side with a load of other middle-aged white men wearing brogues and thought, 'This is weird.'

I heard people talking about female traits of compassion, openness and vulnerability, and I thought to myself, “I just don’t see those as male/female traits.” Perhaps they are on a good/bad continuum instead, or modern/old school? I spoke to Emma Sergeant (EU President of DAS) about how I really felt and she recruited me for the Omniwomen event the following year.

There I sat on a panel called Men as Change Agents, and we were the only men in a very female space. It was a bit hectic at the time but a year on, I was a keynote speaker. Since then, I’ve reprised my talk a couple of times for groups across Omnicom.

RH: I’m really interested in the debate about who gets to be part of this conversation (about gender, diversity and inclusion). Someone in my team (a white, straight guy) got called out publicly and told he didn’t have the right to be part of this conversation. What do you think about that?

PB: It’s interesting, right? I was the only male keynote speaker at the Omniwomen event on International Women’s Day this year, and I’m also the only man on the Omniwomen Committee. I am literally the Token Man in these situations, and I notice two points of view. Some people say, “We can’t do this on our own. We need like-minded people to come along and be part of the change.” And whilst it’s becoming less common, there are others who say, “Why on earth do we need a man on the committee?”

I think it comes down to why you’re doing it. I’m very clear that I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do – it’s not about getting column inches. I grew up with strong women around me; my granny did a chemistry degree in Scotland in the 1940s – that was unheard of! And conversely, I’ve always been an emotional person, and I’m comfortable with that side of it too.

RH: But what do you think? Does everyone get to be part of the conversation?

PB: Honestly, saying a white man is not allowed to be here? That’s lazy. I do this for personal reasons – it’s how my brain works – and I know it’s good for business. We’ve seen increased engagement, and we’re seen as a forward-thinking workplace. But I’m certainly not doing it for the glory.

RH: How do your beliefs about inclusion show up in the culture at CDM London?

PB: Well here’s a good, concrete example. We don’t agree to disagree. We never do that. We go towards problems with vulnerability and empathy. After all, nobody comes in to work wanting to do a bad job so ultimately, it’s about understanding other people’s worlds.

RH: I love that. Vulnerability is critical here, right? There are people who are doing things publicly in this space but I’m not sure of their motives. Some CEOs talk a good game in the press, but then I go into their agencies and see things are hard on the ground and action isn’t being taken. Am I being harsh?

PB: I see that. There’s stuff that’s happening at CEO level that is lip service rather than direct action.

RH: How are the forward-thinking CEOs really making a difference?

PB: One example is complete equality in maternity and paternity leave, and enhanced pay. I’ve had to really fight for this here. It’s such an important signal. One of the excuses for why there are less women in a senior position is maternity leave. And yes, there are obviously some women who want to take a full year off and who want to stay at home full-time with their families. But if the option isn’t there for a man to do the same thing, then there isn’t really a choice for women.

When my wife was pregnant, our own personal experience meant that this issue went from a belief to something I had direct experience of. There’s a guy in my team who is about to have a baby and I’m sitting down with him and helping him to structure what he wants to do.

We need to create change. I believe we’re supposed to be a modern workplace, creating a community for the people around us. People’s expectations of work are changing and we should be able to step up and provide that community for them.

RH: Our experience has been that even if the legal and financial framework is there, it’s still hard for men to ask for extended leave. Do you see that?

PB: Absolutely. People will roll their eyes at the first person who does it. But over time, it will become the norm.

RH: Talking of women in senior positions, what’s your ratio of men to women on the senior team?

PB: Across the company, we’re about 60:40 in favour of women. At a senior level, we’re 50:50.

RH: And what’s the gender pay gap?

PB: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know that answer. We did the work on checking that men and women were being paid the same for the same job, making adjustments if necessary, but I know that’s a different thing to the gender pay gap. I think because we did the realigning and because it’s 50:50 at a senior level, we’re good. But I should know the number – I’ll check this out.

RH: How did you get on with the Harvard Implicit Bias test?

PB: I took the test and the result is, “Your data suggest a moderate automatic association for Male with Family and Female with Career.” 

Knowing how these things work, I feel there were a couple of answers that got skewed because Ben is the name of my son so skewed to family despite being a male name, and Julia is the name of one of my closest partners at work so associated with work first then to the female name. But other than that, I’m not too sure of how I should interpret the result – other than to say I’m certainly in the minority. I guess me being a man with a very strong sense of family responsibilities and unity might also push things a certain way?

RH: What are you specifically doing about Unconscious Bias in the workplace?

PB: We’re definitely clearer in a post #metoo world about what’s okay to say, and what isn’t. There’s a culture where we talk to people about it. I’ve driven the conversation about calling people out. We need to remember that the vast majority of men do actually want to do the right thing. The ones that don’t get it just aren’t going to make it.

RH: I so want to believe this but I’ve watched these men get rewarded and promoted for the past 20 years. Are you really optimistic about change?

PB: I know for sure that it’s not about the strong, arrogant leader anymore. Or the men who have zero connection with their emotions. But I do concede that the way I am (being in touch with my emotions and genuinely caring) can be self-limiting at times. I’ve been told I care too much about the people. But I also know that trust is built on vulnerability and that leaders are the people who create trust and have a point of view, and ask if people want to come along with them.

RH: I love that you’re quoting Lencioni in this interview!

PB: I absolutely believe in the power of vulnerability. I’ve been so lucky to be taught by Harvard professors about leadership as part of Omnicom University – and the research is there. Vulnerability is courage, and it’s the basis of trust.

RH: Given that, what changes do men need to make?

PB: They need to put down the mask of masculinity. It’s actually quite freeing to think to yourself, “I don’t have to be an alpha male in this situation.” It’s so exhausting to pretend.

RH: Absolutely. It’s freeing. And it’s the bravest thing you’ll ever do I think: to truly be yourself. Which is why we are organising a Masculinity in the Workplace event to open up a conversation around masculinity, discussing how the current constructs are getting in the way of inclusion, and focussing on solutions that will benefit everyone. What do you see as the biggest barriers to men changing their own behaviours, and how do we break these barriers down?

PB: It’s tough because those behaviours are both nature and nurture. Evolution designed men to be confident to hunt woolly mammoth, and society tells us right from the start that boys don’t cry so we hide emotions from day one in the playground. It’s pretty basic really. But you break it down piece by piece, person by person. Challenge the constructs that restrict and celebrate those who move us all forward.

RH: Let’s bring this back to action. What gender diversity hack has worked for you?

PB: This example is something I didn’t think was a big deal at the time, but I’ve realised since that it made a huge difference. A former colleague of mine – someone super bright – needed to be around for her child before and after school and in the holidays. Her company wouldn’t let her work that flexibly and so she was about to leave the industry completely. I thought someone so talented was worth a bit of flexibility so now she works for us, part-time and term-time. And she’s amazing.

RH: Such a great example, and really not that hard to set up.

PB: Exactly. If you know six months out that someone is not going to be around for six weeks, you can plan for it.

RH: How do you encourage flexible working?

PB: It’s clearly not just about childcare. I feel like I need to constantly re-establish that this is okay here. It’s okay to work from home. It’s okay to ask to work in a different way. I do need to remind people it’s okay because of the culture of presenteeism. Again, practice makes perfect.

RH: One of the main challenges we see in the industry is that CEOs often say inclusion and diversity is top of their agenda but then look at you blankly when you ask them how much investment they have set aside. What percentage of revenue are you investing in becoming more inclusive and diverse? And how are you measuring its impact?

PB: Revenue – I’d have to admit it’s tiny. But as part of a massive global organisation, there’s a limit to what I can commit to without sign-off from further up the chain. Whilst it’s a bottom-up approach rather than coming from the global CEO down as a directive, it’s going to remain tiny in terms of actual cash – especially as we’re clearly further along on this in the UK than they are in the US where a lot of these decisions will be made. But investment of time is different as that’s ours to control – across Omnicom, we’re doing a huge amount. We’re setting the challenge of dedicating 25% of a board member’s time in every agency to D&I initiatives – and that could be huge.

RH: What are you going to do differently as a result of our conversation today?

PB: I’m going to find out the gender pay gap. I’m also going to keep saying, “Yes.” I’ll tell people to put their hands up, be curious, ask the question. Show that you’re willing to create change. Also call people out if they say inappropriate things.

RH: And who will you nominate for our next Token Man interview?

PB: Felix Koch at C-Space – he’s a real forward-thinker on this, and was one of the first people I know who took significant parental leave. He’ll have an interesting perspective.

The Masculinity in the Workplace event, organised by Token Man and #HeANDShe, is on 19 November 2018. More details and tickets can be found here.


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