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Token Man: Twitter's Bruce Daisley talks pet hates, leadership and promoting gender equality


By Nadya Powell, managing director

July 9, 2019 | 8 min read

Our latest interview in the Token Man series sees Utopia co-founder Nadya Powell ask Bruce Daisley how we can change the narrative. Bruce is VP EMEA at Twitter, author of The Joy of Work, a book about workplace culture, and host of the number one business podcast, Eat Sleep Work Repeat.

bruce daisley

Token Man: Twitter's Bruce Daisley talks pet hates, leadership and promoting gender equality

As you talked at our conference on Masculinity in the Workplace late last year, I thought I would ask why you think traditional constructs of masculinity are harming men and others in the workplace?

I have grown up and come through business in an era when some of the valued behaviours, such as competitiveness and aggression, made life uncomfortable for everyone, including men. My pet hate is power handshakes. Judging someone on a handshake is aggression.

Another example of toxic masculinity is every time an artist like James Blake is reviewed, his music is described as ‘songs for men who cry to themselves.’ How can we expect men to express their emotions when we also criticise them for it?

Can you describe some of the ways this aggressive, competitive culture is preventing men from expressing their emotions?

We use banter to suppress emotions. There is a fear of being judged for being soft. And to make this worse, I have found that by their early 40s, many men have surrendered relationships and left it to their wives to nurture existing relationships or build new ones, so who do they talk to? Men are scared of rejection – if they try to talk about things and a friend says, “No” they won’t ask again. I think they find it uncomfortable to share to begin with. We optimise for what’s comfortable, and don’t try what doesn’t come naturally to us.”

How does this show up in the workplace?

The norms we establish in the workplace – presenteeism, for example – is filled with machismo! When times were bad, companies got people to come in earlier – at 8am – which was described as ‘in with the men.’

This also filters through to things like childcare responsibilities and men fearing they can’t get as involved as it will make them look like they’re not committed in the workplace.

What changes do you think organisations need to make? And how will these help make organisations more inclusive?

There are three things that can help – firstly, you can’t rely on the culture being formed at the pub because the invisible half aren’t with you. A 4.30pm social meeting every Friday can synthesise the benefits of the pub without the exclusivity. Secondly, check yourself – are you are giving opportunities to a diverse set of people? The last two women who went on maternity leave [at Twitter] were promoted while on maternity leave. Finally, every man and woman earns the same. Across our budget every year, we bring women up to the level of their male peers.

What changes have you made as a leader to be more inclusive?

Value laughter – teams that laugh more, achieve more. Manage people as you want to be managed – give them autonomy. I created – alongside Sue Todd – an 8-point manifesto that suggests the importance of flexible working, lunch breaks and not emailing at weekends, but other than that, let people do their own thing. If you instruct people to work in a different way, it can be counter-productive.

How comfortable are you with being vulnerable in front of your team and how important do you think vulnerability is when it comes to being an inclusive leader?

To people who sit with me, I’m pretty much an open book. To teammates who work remotely from me, put it this way, I don’t think I’ll ever fully master the art of working via video chat and departure lounges, and certainly that world doesn’t lend itself to easy intimacy.

Let’s look at Twitter: how inclusive and diverse do you think Twitter is?

The Periscope app says ‘built by immigrants’ when you open it, and separately, I think our London office has well over 40 different nationalities working in it. It adds to a brilliant sense of diversity in everyday life. Our head of diversity and inclusion, Candi Castleberry Singleton, is an inspiration. We’ve made incredible progress under her leadership.

What have you specifically done as an organisation to close the parental leave gap?

Parental leave is the same for both sexes here – 20 weeks. Most women choose to take more and there are terms for that. There were a lot of anxious people when we introduced parental leave for men but it has helped the men return to work looking genuinely refreshed and grateful. I think people seem happier at work as a result.

Obviously you have interviewed plenty of people for your podcast. What have been the most interesting stories you have heard around inclusion and diversity?

Sacha Judd gave a compelling take on why the tech industry should look to One Direction fans to find the next generation of developers [As Anna Leszkiewicz comments, One Direction fans are “alchemists, uniting hearts and minds over miles, creating something from nothing”]. She's incredible and people should check out her talks. I’m fascinated by the mechanics of work, why we feel overwhelmed by it and what we can do to push back.

Ultimately, Token Man’s purpose is to promote gender equality in the workplace. What role do men have in making this happen?

I enjoyed Lean In and did a podcast episode on it. I also enjoyed a critique of it, Lean Out by Dawn Foster. But having completed reading it, my take was that the main job here falls to men. Women already see the world as it needs to be. Five years ago, if you asked people if they were feminists, you'd get a mixed response. These days the resistance largely comes from a tiny demographic soon to vacate the office parking spots.

Finally, who would you recommend for the next Token Man interview?

Kevin Mathers at Google.

Masculinity in the Workplace will return 19 November 2019. Follow @token_man for updates. Or find out more about Token Man HERE

About Token Man

Token Man is an initiative to give men in industry a better understanding of the challenges women face in business, and a greater empathy for when they are in the minority. We hope to achieve individual behaviour change that fuels a cultural shift in the workplace, enabling men in a tangible way to contribute to the movement for gender equality. Ultimately this needs to act as a platform for the progression of women in industry to reverse gender inequality.

The first initiative was a series of interviews in which high profile women ask high profile men some key questions about the gender diversity issue. The aim is to have an open and honest discussion with business leaders showcasing some of the good practice that is already happening, highlighting some of the key challenges that still exist and discussing what further can be done.

More recently we organised a Masculinity in the Workplace event, which aimed to open up a conversation around masculinity, discussing how the current constructs are getting in the way of inclusion and focusing on solutions that will benefit everyone.

Token Man was founded by Emma Perkins, Creative Director at LEGO, Georgia Barretta, UK Design Director at Cheil, Penny Othen, a social media consultant and Daniele Fiandaca, co-founder of Utopia and one of Management Today’s Male Agents of Change.

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