In the latest interview in The Token Man series, Pip Jamieson, founder and chief executive of The Dots, interviews Direct Line Group marketing director Mark Evans about gender equality in the workplace – and how to encourage more of it.
Pip Jamieson: This is all about getting more amazing men like you involved in the gender equality discussion. Tell me what you understand about the Token Man initiative, and why you wanted to be involved.
Mark Evans: My involvement in Token Man came off the back of Creative Equals’ Neurodiversity Conference last year, which was a fantastic day with inspirational speakers.
Beyond that, I wanted to be involved because I believe passionately in diversity of which gender is still a huge part of the conversation. I fundamentally believe that diversity of thought is critical to drive performance and I feel that sometimes this gets lost in the wash when a company’s motivation for diversity drifts towards tokenism.
The marketing team at Direct Line Group is majority female, with a reverse female pay gap, and it’s no coincidence that we have had tremendous success in recent years so I guess I speak from experience around the performance benefits that gender equality can create.
Could you tell me a little bit about what led you to become a diversity advocate?
We are all a product of our past and I have had a range of experiences that have led me to believe that a balance across a diverse group of people is the winning formula. Not least from playing rugby from the age of five.
It might be an unusual entry point to a discussion about diversity in that superficially, it looks like a bunch of orcs massacring each other but underneath that, it is at the extreme of camaraderie, and a great rugby team is made up by a very diverse set of individuals. The game has historically seen a mix of classes with bricklayers playing alongside surgeons, and more recently it has been at the forefront of the diversity debate in developing the women's game well ahead of the curve. This positive intent was also seen recently in the proactive response to Gareth Thomas’ assault.
I’ve also seen how diverse teams have flourished in my work life: I worked at Mars for a while, which was, in general, a very forward-looking company in terms of hiring and growing great people.
My interest stems from my home life too: my wife is a nurse who continually reminds me about what’s really important in terms of empathy and fairness. And I have a dyslexic daughter – I want her to be part of a world where she doesn’t have to encounter discrimination, and instead, thrive.
How do you convey this in your current role?
At Direct Line Group, one of our core values is Bring All of Yourself to Work, which reinforces the idea that you’re celebrated for your individuality and being the very best version of you. We aim to create a culture where each individual can thrive, and I see my responsibility as a leader in the business to ensure that this is lived to the fullest.
When did that kind of culture start?
I’d say it was created after Direct Line Group’s split with RBS. This was our reset moment where we were unshackled from the past and could plot our own destination. In many ways, our values are quite basic. It’s all about being a decent human being. They are in stark contrast to some other high-profile organisations’ values that are much more high-brow but the latter don’t always seem to have guided them to do the right thing in the world.
So why does diversity and representation matter in terms of your business?
Diversity is particularly important in UK financial services since it has historically been less diverse. Indeed, there are many who argue that an alpha-male organisation was at the root cause of the 2008 financial crisis.
What we need in this industry is responsibility and stability, and that is only going to be achieved in the long run by a diversity of perspectives. With this in mind, we’ve signed up to the Women in Finance Charter and want to encourage women to lead in our industry.
More broadly we provide insurance and breakdown rescue to a large proportion of the UK population so it’s actually critical that we represent the full spectrum of needs that exist. For any customer-led business it’s kind of obvious that you need to reflect the diversity of the customers you seek to serve.
Let’s talk data. What are the percentages of men to women in your team, and at Direct Line Group more broadly?
The marketing team at Direct Line Group is probably quite different to the norm. It is two thirds women and all of my direct reports are women. What’s interesting about this is not the process by which we achieved this – it was simply a case of the best person for the role – but that we have been very successful as a result. Too often the debate focuses on the processes rather than the outcomes.
More broadly we have a good gender balance in part as a result of having a large number of contact centre staff, which tends to be gender balanced.
I totally agree, Mark! What are the percentages of men to women on the board?
Five out of 12 of our board of directors are female, so not quite gender neutral – yet.
And what is your gender pay gap?
Our 2018 figures haven’t been published, but what I can say is that we have a positive gap within marketing. Specifically within our marketing leadership group, there is a 10% positive gap.
What about in other terms of diversity within the company?
In other terms of diversity, again, we are pretty balanced but we do have a skew towards a younger demographic driven by a large proportion of contact centre staff.
Within marketing, specifically in our 2018 D&I (diversity and inclusion) survey, we were overrepresented vs UK population norms in many regards. That said, we are yet to see as many BAME individuals getting to the very top as we would like.
Always very complex when getting between the lines. So how do you feel about these ratios?
I feel good about where we are in general. It’s so intrinsic to our organisation now, but of course there’s always more to be done.
What do you see as the biggest barriers to creating a more equal workplace?
The main thing is that it takes a bit of time. We are a high-performing organisation with no dead wood so it’s not as easy as making wholesale changes by getting rid of under-performing individuals. Therefore, to some extent, it depends upon a level of churn to create opportunities. It’s not easy or indeed legally possible to make a wholesale flip.
Of course, it’s generational too and about inspiring people to rise up to that level. What are you specifically doing to combat these barriers?
Our HR director Simon Linares is very good on this point. He says that it’s about women putting themselves forward more. To make a point, he suggests that men tend to look at a job description and if they spot one or two things that they can do, they go for it. Women tend to spot one thing that they can’t do, and do not apply.
Hence we need more women to put themselves forward. Clearly some of this runs deep and relates to self-confidence and perception, which is why we do work around imposter syndrome and have Thrive days to celebrate the female talent in the organisation, showcasing some of our senior female role models.
Whose responsibility do you think it should be to help drive more diversity in an organisation? The chief executive? HR? Senior management team?
We know very well that women are better drivers. European legislation prevents insurers from giving female drivers cheaper prices but the accident statistics are stark. I hadn’t thought about the fact that they are more likely to be hurt though – that’s pretty shocking.
I believe that ultimately, it’s everybody’s responsibility. That said, as with any aspect of organisational change, unless the chief executive is personally passionate about it, there is an inherent drag on progress. In our case, Paul Geddes is a very explicit advocate of diversity in general.
Do you believe your whole board truly understand the issues around inclusivity in the workplace? And what have you done specifically to train them?
Because the board is relatively gender neutral, I would say that there is a good level of understanding.
We have not chosen to do any specific training, for example on unconscious bias, but have instead created a Diversity Network Alliance that leads the charge for all forms of diversity across the whole organisation.
Brilliant. So let’s go into specifics a little bit more.
There is no doubt that one of the key challenges in the workplace is unconscious bias. You took the Harvard test before this interview. Do you mind sharing your results and what you took from it?
Thankfully the results showed little or no automatic association between gender and career vs family.
I hope that I am quite tuned into this and that I’m quick to pick up on loose language in this regard. Recently, we had one of our directors do a talk for our marketing leaders and she inadvertently referred to chief executives as male a couple of times. Afterwards I pointed that out and it had been a blind spot to her.
As we all know in marketing, the nuance of words is very important in driving and reinforcing perceptions.
What is encouraging is that this is being picked up in schools. My 13-year-old son has been taught in school that expressions like “She wears the trousers”, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist”, “Man up” and “Grow a pair” are inherently sexist.
How are you specifically combating unconscious bias in the workplace? I was so blown away that you got me to in to talk about neurodiversity. You ran lots of other talks that month, right?
Yes, I’m a huge advocate for neurodiversity, which is a term to explain the range of differences in the human way of thinking – and celebrating those differences, such as autism, dyslexia, mental health, and so on.
We recently held an Invisible Fight Week, which is all about raising awareness for the conditions we cannot see. Hopefully this helps to normalise such conditions so we can move beyond any stigma. This also included mental health, living with heart conditions and stomas. It was so successful that we recently repeated it with our second week of seminars and activities. It is evident that these spotlight weeks are moving the culture forward beyond acceptance and tolerance and more towards appreciation in terms of the positivity of difference.
Amazing – the next generation are coming! On that note, what are your thoughts on paternity leave and closing that gap?
We have a progressive family policy that encourages paternity leave. Following the birth or adoption of a child, our staff are able to share the parenting by taking up to 52 weeks’ Shared Parent Leave (SPL).
It gives staff more flexibility in how to share the care of a child for the first year rather than simply taking maternity, adoption and paternity leave. Assuming both parents are eligible, they will be able to choose how to split the available leave between each other, and they can decide to be off work at the same time or at different times. They may also be able to take leave in more than one block.
Hopefully this goes some way towards removing the cliche that childcare is necessarily a female role.
A challenge I hear is about men not actually taking up paternity leave when it is offered. Ever had any dads on your team wanting more flexibility?
Well, our policy has just launched so I’m not sure on the impact yet but we are optimistic. It’s also tricky to answer that question since we are a female-dominated marketing team. So no dads have approached me so far but we are conscious that flexible working is for all – and not just for those with families.
Could you name me a gender diversity hack that has had the most impact on your business e.g. changing working hours, changing the interview process?
I think the very best thing I have done is getting brilliant female speakers in. Women such as Karen Blackett, Sarah Warby, Kerris Bright, Sophie Goldschmidt, Sue Unerman – the list goes on. Exposing staff to role models is really important to inspire and educate as to what’s possible.
If you can see it, you can be it, hey? Token Man recently ran a Masculinity in the Workplace event in response to the growth of stress and mental health issues as a result of unconscious bias and masculinity ‘rules’ making it difficult for men to ask for support when needed. What changes do you think men need to be making to help both themselves and wider gender equality?
Male depression and suicide are clearly massive issues, and men also need a strong support network to deal with the stresses and strains of life.
There is a great Harvard article that explores this. It raises questions like, “What if I’m perceived by my friends as unmanly because I’m doing “women’s work”?, “What if my children see me as a poor role model because I’m not the main breadwinner?”, What if my boss thinks I’m less committed because I’m not at the office as much as the other guys at my level?”.
The article emphasises the role of personal relationships, open conversations and feedback, and that makes a lot of sense to me.
In terms of the second part of the question about making a broader impact on gender equality, I think it’s often as simple as being a leader that is progressive and supportive, and to make sure that the culture in the workplace encourages the right conversations to happen.
Talking about masculinity, what was your view on Gillette’s ad, which looks to tackle aspects of masculinity that are toxic? And what role do you think brands play in changing perceptions?
Tackling toxic masculinity was always going to be a brave move and divide opinion, so it’s certainly something Gillette deserves credit for. Picking up a worthy cause and taking a risk should always be applauded. There has certainly been significant attention on the ad and it has inspired a lot of debate on the subject. However, I do question how effective it is as a piece of brand messaging because it is such a jump in tone from its heartland positioning and communication style. It will be interesting to see the longer term effects it has and whether Gillette sticks with this shift.
What’s the one thing (if any) you commit to doing as a result of this interview?
In a nutshell, I will speak more explicitly about the positive impact of having a female-dominated leadership team.
So, more about the outcomes?
Sure. It’s got to be outcomes-focussed to move us beyond tokenism and box-ticking!
Both you and I are passionate advocates of wider definitions of diversity. Gender equality is fundamentally important, but so too is diversity in ethnicity, sexuality, neurodiversity, disability, socio-economic, etc. What actionable steps could individuals within organisations take to build teams that reflect society as a whole?
The real power of diversity is the breadth of thinking. It’s important to listen to people of different ages, sexualities, genders, backgrounds, and so on. In that regard, an obvious actionable step is to measure the diversity in your team to be more aware of what is available to you. I’ve mentioned our D&I survey in an earlier question – this was really helpful to shine a light on what our team comprises.
That said, I think that neurodiversity is the underplayed aspect of diversity that is only just starting to emerge. It feels as though the world is finally waking up to it and I think that the more organisations that do, the better.
Neurodiverse minds are inherently wired somewhat differently but this can be a source of superpowers! Not in all cases but in many. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and so on can lead to breakthrough thinking!
How do we get more men like yourself in this discussion?
If unconscious bias has been built up over tens of thousands of years, it is hard to unpick. The big one is making sure that kids growing up today have it from the get-go.
Who would you nominate to be interviewed by somebody else? Another amazing man?
I’d nominate Magnus Djaba, the chief executive of Saatchi and Saatchi. He’s such a visible and active advocate of diversity in general. He is somebody that puts his money where his mouth is and has promoted many amazing women in his organisation including recently promoting Larissa Vince to Managing Director.
He is also active in addressing socio-economic aspects of diversity given that he observes adland is becoming more rather than less diverse.
Token Man is an initiative to get men into the gender equality discussion and inspire them to help build more inclusive cultures. To find out more, visit Token Man here.