Is it time to pour the tea yet?

September 13th, 2017

booklaunch12 months ago Kathryn Jacob and I published The Glass Wall: success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business (Profile Books).

Since publication we have given over 50 talks in companies in many sectors ranging from the civil service to banking via media companies and the entertainment business.  Businesses have recognised that they are better off in terms of leadership and profit if they have more women leaders.  Since this time last year there has been plenty of talk.  What has and hasn’t changed, and what more is there to do?

Our book is packed full of strategies for women to progress, and for businesses to ensure that they promote talent irrespective of gender.

The Glass Wall is the invisible barrier that exists in many workplaces and prevents women from fulfilling their ambitions.

One of our most controversial recommendations (it is Britain after all) turned out to be that if you are a woman on the way up you should not pour the tea or coffee in a meeting as it will immediately give the impression that you’re not there to make decisions or give advice, but to help with the catering.  This formed one of the headlines in our coverage in the national press: “Don’t make the tea: how to get to the top in 8 steps”, and a big part of our talking points on Woman’s Hour.

Someone recently remarked to me: the senior men out there must be “spitting feathers” waiting for their tea to be poured.  We always acknowledged that if you’re the boss, its ok to pour the tea.  Are there enough women bosses to change our view?  Is it time yet to fill those teacups?

Not by recent evidence no.

The gender pay revelations from new legislation that requires big companies to publish the facts have proved very useful, but make stark reading.

The BBC got lots of publicity when it appeared that by far the majority of highly paid stars were men.  As the celebrated Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey put it: “Whether we’re black, white, brown or pink with green spots, we’re the majority. And we deserve to be valued in the same way as men – for our brains, our experience and our expertise. A gender pay gap at the BBC makes it look faintly ridiculous. Why would young women want to work there?”

Company after company has revealed pay deficiencies between men and women in sectors as different as banking, the civil service (where the gender pay gap is widening at a quarter of organisations) and even the church.

In our own sector the 2017 IPA census showed a reduction in the number of women leaders year on year.

There’s been a row at the seminal 21st century company, Google,  when an employee claimed that biological differences accounted for the pay gap.

The man responsible for the memo in question left the company, but as Kathryn and I can attest, he is certainly not the only man who thinks that this might be the case.  We know because it is a question we get asked at the talks we give.

Gender assumptions start early (did you see the BBC 2 show “No more boys and girls?  The increased confidence that the girls acquired when boys and girls were treated the same was very moving) and  they run deep.  Every manager needs to go out of their way to ensure that they’re fair to talent of every kind, whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability or age.  The EHRC points out here that many more measures need to be taken to speed up equality.

Where targets are being set for board gender parity at big companies the current solution to meet them often seems to lie in appointing more women NEDs rather than executive directors to the board (where the real power in decision making lies.)

Whatever barriers you face to the career you would like, its crucial to develop resilience and a set of strategies to deal with every barrier to success that everyday working can throw at you.

Confidentially, Kathryn and I have been surprised by some of the issues that have been raised at our talks by the attendees.  Not because we haven’t come across them but because they are much more common than we thought.

Not enough has changed.  Time for business to take a good long hard look at itself, in every sector, and make real changes to ensure that the Glass Walls come down and talent thrives.  Time for every woman to ensure that she doesn’t get frustrated in her ambitions.  Sometimes you might need to use pragmatic solutions to win sure, and what you want probably won’t get handed to you on a plate, but the time has never been better to take the next step.  Meanwhile, don’t pour the tea.


Can robots be brave?

September 1st, 2017

robotHow do you win big at the upcoming Awards, where the final round of judging is imminent?  The judges will surely be looking for brave work.

Brave work that innovates.  That breaks the mould.  That shatters existing preconceptions.  Robots can’t deliver this, only people can.

As more and more tasks are taken over by machines who can work more efficiently and faultlessly, many are asking what is left for humans to do.  The answer is surely to be brave.

Robots cannot be brave.  They can only do what they’re asked to do, and proceed logically. Sure, this actually might mean doing things that have never been done before.  The robots work on the basis of logic and evidence rather than accepted practice and rules of thumb often prevalent in media.  Of course then this might deliver new best practice.  But you can’t call this bravery.  Since robots can’t fear they cannot overcome fear either.

In 2011 Sheryl Sandberg during a “Commencement Speech” to graduates of Barnard College famously asked her audience: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This is not a question defined by gender.  Human beings are designed for fear.  It keeps us safe.

Back in the primeval era feeling terror at an unexpected sound in the forest, the snap of a twig or some heavy breathing, would mean the difference between surviving a predator or becoming dinner.    If you experience this fear now when you’re walking home late at night, is this appropriate dread or is it paranoid anxiety?

There are many things to fear in life (and depending on your route home that dread might be appropriate).  Fear of embarrassment in a meeting or of finding your ideas rejected are proportionately low on any real list of what those legitimate fears should be.

Anyone who has spent time in a chronic hospital ward will witness extraordinary bravery of human spirit.  The experience of becoming a parent can change your comprehension of bravery, fear and anxiety over night.

In The Glass Wall we recount the true story of a woman who faced with a promotion (her boss asked her to take over as CEO) felt real fear of failure.  She hadn’t asked for the promotion but on some level she knew she deserved it.  She told us: “I remember that the following day was the same day as my little boy was starting school.  I’d taken him to school, big school, and he was scared and looking to me for reassurance.  I had exactly the same feeling when I walked into work that day… I thought I’ve got to be brave.  I told my little boy to be brave and I have got to be brave.”

She made a great success of her CEO role.  I believe that the fact that she felt the fear, and therefore worked very hard to overcome it, helped her be great at that job.

I once judged the APG awards.  During one presentation the planner said that what he had learnt during the process was that making great ideas happen requires bravery all through the process.  It isn’t enough to come up with a clever insight. That’s not bravery.  It isn’t enough to get the idea through the first pitch.  That’s not bravery.  Bravery is required to hold onto the idea all the way through to execution, despite some inevitable robust criticism.

Media Awards reward bravery.  In the age of the robot lets replace fear of them with a celebration that overcoming fear for brave work is the bit we humans can uniquely deliver.  Stop worrying about a robot taking your job.  Ask yourself, have I been brave today?


Mur de Verre

August 28th, 2017


In the months since the Cannes Advertising festival in June I have been mulling over the state of our industry.  As a self-proclaimed champion of diversity in senior management, how was gender diversity represented there this year?

I wasn’t staying in Cannes so needed cabs to and from my out of town room and I’m pleased to report that, for the first time, I was driven by some women taxi drivers, so clear evidence of gender diversity in transportation.   At the WARC future of strategy debate I was one of three women speakers with Suzanne Powers and Lucy Jameson.  When the third speaker Hristos Varouhas had to leave us for a client meeting, WARC head of content head David Tiltman was left with a “Wanel”.  (Women only panel).  The session was standing room only.

Cannes organisers had picked more women for the judging juries .  Kate Stanners,  chairwoman and global CCO of Saatchi has remarked that being on a judging panel with a balanced gender split made its decisions more robust, and celebrates this change for the better:  “Historically male juries have selected and awarded work through a male bias.  The work we’ve traditionally out there, put as best in class, has unwittingly had a gender bias.  It has had a gender lens filter on it.”

Has the gender issue gone away then from Cannes as its organisers are doing more to ensure an even mix?

Not exactly. At the MediaCom fireside chat Madonna Badger commented that team after team that picked up the Lions at the awards ceremonies were mainly or exclusively men.  As one member of the audience (who doesn’t want to be named) subsequently privately observed, since these are the outstanding successes of creativity why would anyone think that change was necessary? (I cannot comment on the proportions of the media agency teams picking up Lions as this is statistically insignificant.  The Media Lions predominantly were awarded to creative or pr agencies.  Only 10 out of 95 were won by media agencies as the lead.) 

There’s been loads of research into the profit benefit to business from mixed gender boards but I’ve seen nothing to substantiate that creative teams would win more awards with more women on them. However with more than 80 per cent of marketing efforts aimed at women you’d think that it couldn’t hurt to try, and might give an agency a competitive edge. Award winning movie director Gillian Armstrong featured on a SAWA “Women and Cinema” session at the Palais (another Wanel).  She stated that while the proportion of movies directed by women is still only 14 percent it looks good compared to the proportion directing commercials.  Which is just 9 percent.   She wryly queried: “I guess the last thing you’d want is a woman’s point of view?” adding: “ It’s just not good enough… it’s the men in baseball caps that get picked every time.” If you buy the idea that you have to see it to be it then you must worry for young women in agencies who frequently don’t even see a single woman as a part of the team running up to accept the Lion. You must also consider if this is the optimum way to build your team to market successfully to women. 

Cannes this year leads me to conclude that our industry still has plenty to do in terms of gender equality and smashing Glass Walls  It is time.  The conditions are right.   Time to walk the walk not just talk the talk.




Diversity of thinking

August 20th, 2017

ihateyouyourehiredMark Zuckerberg remarked at the launch of Facebook Watch, a Youtube style content video channel: “Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive. It can be a chance to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things.”

Thus at a stroke, he adopts for Facebook a couple of the strongest attributes of TV on the box now and in the past: the watercooler moment and commonalities of interest. What a perfect description of watching Coronation Street or Morecambe and Wise in the last century. And still what great TV from Game of Thrones to XFactor can offer.

Facebook’s intention for Watch is user generated content of course. “Watch is a platform for all creators and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work,” said director of product Daniel Danker.

Other media have warned of the perils of too much shared interest. The Guardian commented that “whilst the “things” that bring people together can be cute videos of kids bossing chefs around, Zuckerberg makes no mention of the possibility those things might also be a shared hatred of a minority or religious group.”

Of course no one has any intention, especially this blog, of endorsing hate content, yet we can recognise that shared loves and shared dislikes are a common human bias. It is what we all do. Everyone can criticize editors that they don’t agree with and faceless algorithms of unconscious bias: of not giving a fair and balanced picture of all the sides of an argument. All successful media do a version of this. This is in effect what has always made media owners successful. A point of view that reassures you that you’re not alone.

You’ve always known what it means to describe a room full of Mirror readers or Telegraph readers. This is a simple way of characterising a point of view, and a set of people who are more alike in values than different.

Those values are what attract people to the brand in the first place.

This is unsurprising. It taps into the basic human need to associate with “people like me”, after all a primeval survival instinct. (If you disagree with the rest of the tribe, they are unlikely to bother rescuing you from a sabre tooth tiger or grizzly bear attack.)

Most people go much further of course than simply seeking reassurance of their views and biases in the media. They seek out people who agree with them to spend time with. It’s one definition of friendship: shared values and reassuring perspectives.

Not everyone does this all the time. We try and discourage it at MediaCom. There used to be a poster in MediaCom’s old office which I am thinking of re-issuing. (Beautifully illustrated by Sam Learmonth).  It showed dogs and cats and mice working productively together with the slogan: “I hate you; you’re hired”. Its intention was to point out that diversity of opinion makes you stronger and that a good argument with a thesis, antithesis and synthesis, gets you better decisions as Dave Trott points out in a recent blog.

When Facebook prioritises friends and family in your news and content feed it may commit editorial bias. It is serving you opinions that are likely to agree with your own. As John Simpson pointed out in his review of 20th Century journalism “Unreliable Sources” this is nothing new. He describes the age old tension between the view of the reporter, often bravely trying to be as accurate as possible, the demands of the proprietor and the necessity of selling copies which required stories to be popular and fly off the newstands. In other words to report opinions that broadly agree with most readers.

Any critique of Facebook’s popular approach must accept that it is largely how popular media has always worked. Facebook is just better at doing it personalised at scale.

For a stronger, more balanced society, and for a stronger, more successful workplace, we need to encourage not just diversity of gender and personal attributes, but diversity of thought.


Them and Us

August 10th, 2017
The-Flintstones-Animation-Sericel-cel-the-flintstones-24423346-900-692Daniel Kahneman is the father of behavioural economics for which he won a Nobel prize in 2002 for his revolutionary theories that challenged the idea that economics worked on the basis of humans being rational. He showed instead that economics really operates on the basis of dumb instinct.
When I saw him speak (thanks to Rory Sutherland) he said: “people think that they are the Oval Office, in fact they are the Press Office.” At the time Obama was running the Oval Office. One wonders whether Kahneman is still using the analogy?
Overall of course Kahneman definitively shows that whilst we think we make decisions on a rational basis, in fact we usually don’t. We make them on the basis of powerful instincts that have evolved over millennia.
It’s crucial to bear this in mind when we consider research findings about advertising and content. People will explain their motivation rationally rather than simply and instinctively.
The elections of the last 18 months show us that people convince themselves they’re voting on the basis of evidence when in fact they’re voting with emotion.
This is crucial to bear in mind when we come to build teams and consider office culture.
Without a great culture a business will suffer. What makes a great culture work well? When teams look out for each other, and care about the company as a whole, rather than when the individuals in the team compete with each other.
There’s a theory that 150 people is a great size for a business. Yet with 150 people working together you have the problem of good team dynamics. In fact in a team of 20 or fewer you can have the problem of team dynamics.
There’s a number of reasons this arises. If the structure of the organisation is hierarchical and pyramid shaped then everyone knows that they’ve got to beat everyone else at their level to build their own career. This can happen if the organisation operates a “dead men’s shoes” policy where you only ever get promoted into an open role.
If the organisation takes people at entry level every year, but only 25% of them are still there 3 years later this brings out a kill or be killed instinct.
If there’s an aspect of matrix management, whereby you work for one manager but have a dotted line into another, and it’s an unusual organisation that does not have an element of this these days, whether it’s local to global or vertical specialists to horizontal generalists, then deep rooted tribal instincts operate which can mitigate against all kinds of theoretical team bonding.
Yuval Noah Harari writes in bestselling “Sapiens”: “Homo Sapiens evolved to think of people as divided into “us” and “them”. “Us” was the group immediately around you, whoever you were, and “them” was everyone else.”
People are the only species according to Harari who actually can cooperate beyond the immediate group.
To achieve this a team culture needs nurturing.
Harari cites 3 ways in which people have evolved to work productively together that developed in the first millennium BC.
First economic. Can everyone share monetarily if the business succeeds or is it just the top people?
Secondly political. This a toxic and very energy draining way of manipulating people into working across teams.
Thirdly, and most powerfully, belief. If the culture has a core belief that everyone can buy into and contribute to then everyone is in it together.