The Token Man: Havas and Helia CEO Xavier Rees on the gender pay gap and inclusivity
In the latest interview in The Token Man series Sally Henderson, executive change mentor talks to Xavier Rees, chief executive of Havas London, Havas Helia and Field Day.
Sally Henderson & Xavier Rees
Sally Henderson (SH): Perhaps a good place to start is for you to tell me what you understand about the Token Man initiative and why you wanted to be involved?
Xavier Rees (XR): It’s founded on the idea that we can only move forward on gender equality in the workplace if men are involved in the conversation. I totally agree with that as a premise.
SH: Let’s talk data. What are the percentages of men to women at Havas London? On the Board?
XR: We are 56% female and 44% male as a total agency. For the Board, it is now 57% female, which is a significant change from June 2016 when it was 80% male. When I joined Havas London, it was one of most obvious things to me that needed to change.
It's worth highlighting that in the most recent cross-industry IPA Diversity Census, Havas London is one of only three UK creative agencies to have a 50/50 male/female split at senior management level, while we’re one of just five to have 15% BAME staff across the business.
SH: And what is your gender pay gap?
As you’ll know, new government legislation required businesses with over 250 employees to report publicly their gender pay gap statistics for the first time in 2018.
Havas UK only has two agencies in the group (Havas Media and Havas Lynx) that fit that criteria. These were reported individually as per the guidelines. But we chose to take the opportunity to interrogate Havas UK’s gender pay gap more broadly. We undertook an audit of all our 2,000 employees across almost 30 agencies and found a mean gender pay gap of 25% and a median of 15%.
At Havas, we believe in building a genuinely inclusive culture and we know you can’t do that without equality of pay and opportunity. So for Havas London and the other agencies I’m responsible for, that means me actively promoting more senior women right now, and making sure they’re paid equitably for what they do. I know it’s a work-in-progress to ensure true opportunity across the board, but as a group, we’re working towards that goal.
SH: How do you feel about those ratios?
XR: We have work to do. Anything above 0% is a legacy problem that needs resolving. We know our business will be better with more women at senior level.
We are more likely to retain the best female talent when we are honest about the gaps and put in measures to address this.
I wish it was zero. We are better than other agencies, but are not yet as good as I want us to be.
Even the act of tackling this issue sends an important message. We have to actually do something about it and not just talk about it.
SH: What do you see as the biggest barriers to creating a more equal workplace?
XR: Firstly, for women, I think it is role models. We are in a better place than where we were but when you talk to women, especially in creative departments, there simply aren’t enough women in senior roles to represent the role models other women want to be – and to be inspired by. We are actively trying to change this.
Secondly, the nature of this industry is that it’s not for the faint-hearted. Historically, we are not great at creating flexible working environments, nor cultures, where working mothers can excel to do a brilliant job and be the mothers they want to be.
This is changing, and I hope we at Havas are building an agency where this isn’t the case.
For me, there’s only one real metric and that’s how much you care. I don’t mind how you do your job, what matters to me is getting the right results. It’s up to you as a member of the team how you design your working day around what’s best for you to do this.
And finally, presenteeism is also a major problem. It’s bullshit to judge if you are good at your job by whether you are in the office at 7pm or not. This attitude puts both men and women off.
SH: What are you specifically doing to combat these barriers?
XR: We are actively working on addressing the gender pay gap. We are making it a very active measure because as I’ve said before, it’s not enough to have a view. You have to get on and do something about it. I am acutely nervous of jumping on a bandwagon and would rather get on and do it over talk about it.
In our last management meeting, half of the meeting was taken up discussing our flexible working policy for 2019 as we had identified this as a major priority to get right. We are now busy crafting and refining this to put it in place for January 2019.
I hope one of the biggest changes that we have made to combat these barriers is to make sure that our Board has equal representation of men and women. This gives us the role models we need, and encourages our people to see the same opportunities for women as men.
I’m on the Advisory Board for the Masculinity in the Workplace event that we are hosting in November – getting men to behave in a more modern way to create a more equal environment. I also sit on the Creative Equals Advisory Board – we were one of the first agencies to receive the Creative Equals Kite Mark.
I hope people in this agency see this is a conversation I am taking an active part in, and I hope that sends the right message out. However, like pretty much every agency in town, we are currently failing from the perspective of a balanced creative department, where women are equally represented at every level.
SH: What is your definition of inclusivity?
XR: Building a company where the only requirement is whether you are brilliant at your job, and where everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace.
SH: Do you consider yourself an inclusive leader? And if so, why?
XR: I do consider myself an inclusive leader although I recognise that only my team can truly judge this. It is important to me from a straightforward morale principle, but it also makes commercial sense.
I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses, which have helped create a culture amongst my management team – and hopefully across the wider agency – where people feel able to be themselves. I’m definitely not expecting anyone to adhere to a specific leadership approach. I’m not very alpha-male myself and I’m definitely creating a culture where that kind of characteristic is not the norm.
SH: What do you see as the key characteristics of inclusive leadership?
XR: First and foremost, I think you have to believe that diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do.
You’ve also got to accept you may well have some biases you are not aware of – and actually think about that. Mostly, you need to be willing to create a culture where people feel listened to.
No-one in this industry has a culture that is inclusive enough. It’s okay to know we are on a path. What you do have to have is momentum and forward movement.
If everyone made a 3% change at a low level on inclusivity, this would make a huge difference. It’s not about relying on just those few at the top of this agenda to drive the change. We need to understand no-one has it right yet, and embrace the conversation to get there.
On a more practical note, we have done several things:
* Made this an active conversation
* Set targets
* Hired a Diversity & Inclusion Officer
* Looked at how we hire and promote – it’s important to think about the whole piece
* Hold people to account and make sure the agency is moving forward
SH: You mentioned the importance of managing your bias. How are you specifically combatting unconscious bias in the workplace?
XR: The whole management team had to take unconscious bias training. We’ve highlighted it’s a thing that is unconscious so of course you don’t naturally know about it. We made everyone conscious it exists.
We have also changed the way we recruit. We replaced our graduate recruitment programme with the HKX Platform. People coming through the platform are from non-traditional backgrounds. The people who participate in this run the Instagram feed for the whole building and quickly become part of the voice for the agency.
We are working very actively to bring a broader set of people into the agency and then ensure we create and sustain a culture that makes them feel included.
SH: What are you doing to close the gap between maternity and paternity leave?
For maternity leave, we offer time off for antenatal care, 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory maternity pay during maternity leave.
At the moment, by law, dads and same-sex partners get two weeks statutory paternity leave. At Havas London, we’ve just extended that to four weeks on full pay.
Here at Havas London, we’re constantly reviewing this – and any other policy that affects parents who work for us because we know we don’t have the perfect solution for family life yet.
But rather than a further extension of paternity leave provision, in my view, the best option is probably Shared Parental Leave. We know Shared Parental Leave has its limitations and needs careful consideration, but it is my belief that as parents we share the experience and responsibility of raising our children and we should, as businesses, try to facilitate that happening. That’s why we’re now investigating an enhanced Shared Parental Leave policy.
With part-time working, working from home and flexible hours, we believe we’re working towards a fairer system. The key is to make time off as meaningful and flexible as possible for our people, while running a commercially successful business.
SH: How do you encourage both male and female parents – and in fact everyone – to take advantage of flexible working?
XR: I would like everybody here to feel they can work flexibly. However, I don’t think this message has got through the agency fully yet. Senior people seem to feel able to be flexible, but this isn’t playing out across the business.
It isn’t about balance, it’s about blending. Life and work are so interwoven you have to allow people to play it their way.
My personal career background previous to joining Havas was working in environments where presenteeism was part of the overall agency mindset. In the first month of joining here, my daughter was very poorly. I simply knew I was going to put her first. This meant I had to walk out of client meetings early without explaining why, and take days off without notice. There was a moment when I thought, “I can’t do this job as I am not setting the right example.” Interestingly, people told me that having an agency leader behaving like this was inspiring, whereas I was seeing it as a weakness. This changed my mindset of what people want to see from a leader – and what it means to show good leadership. People want to know that you think there are more important things in life than work. I learnt we are all better off being really honest. This experience completely changed my perspective. I realised that you can do your job brilliantly your own way. It was a situation that was forced on me, but it led to me setting a different kind of example.
SH: What gender diversity hack has had the most impact on your business?
XR: Be absolutely clear that flexible working is the default.
The key secret to us attracting brilliant senior female talent, and keeping it, is creating a flexible working environment for those with children, and those without.
Through this approach, we attracted women who are now going to be leading this agency.
This is a very good question as it makes me stop and ask, “Do we need to be doing more?” I’m going to take this away and think on what else I/we should be doing.
SH: You are kindly supporting our Masculinity in the Workplace event on 19 November. What changes do you think men need to be making to help both themselves and wider gender equality?
XR: I think this is a really big subject. Men need to feel that they can blend their life the same way women can. There is less acceptance currently for men to work flexibly than there is for women – society frowns on men who want to play an equal role in parenting.
The best thing men can do is change the narrative. I don’t have the answer to this but we need to look at each other and encourage each other to not put work first all the time.
We need to encourage men to think about their lives flexibly. As men, we need to force ourselves to think it’s okay to have other things going on and that vulnerability is a positive asset, not a weakness. Be comfortable in your own skin and stay true to who you are and what you want to be.
We should open up and be willing to have conversations about life and what’s important. Only when this is embraced and accepted will anything change. I see a
huge amount of stereotyping of men too – by women and men. So we need to call this out when we hear it – just as we would do when we hear women being stereotyped.
SH: What’s the one thing (if any) you commit to doing as a result of this interview?
XR: I am going to commit to a hack around equality answering the question, “What role have men got to play in this as well?”
We need to understand what men are doing to address the conversation around modern masculinity, so they can behave in the way they need to help create a culture of male and female equality.
SH: Finally, who would you like to nominate for the next Token Man interview?
Mark Cuddigan, CEO at Ella’s Kitchen.
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