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International Women's Day 2020: men as active allies

As part of a series of articles for International Women's Day we reached out to senior men in our network to ask them this question:

In terms of supporting women (of all levels of seniority) in the industry, what are you doing, this year, as an active ally to make a difference?


Pete Markey
pmChief Marketing Officer at TSB

Having a truly inclusive workforce is vital to the success of any business and creates the right environment where everyone can thrive. Whilst I am the exec sponsor for LGBT+ at TSB I am actively engaged across all our inclusion networks and will keep working this year to play an active role to support female leaders and emerging leaders both in and outside of TSB. This includes ongoing mentoring for the brilliant Marketing Academy scholars and for OUTstanding and now for Solent University’s too. At TSB, I’ll continue to support and give input into the Aspiring Women’s programme which gives me further opportunity to provide mentoring and coaching for emerging leaders. As an industry we have more work to do and I want to continue to play an active role to ensure that marketing is a truly inclusive profession across the board.

Paul Pilbeam
ppSenior Copywriter at Sky

Because my last five managers have been women and the majority of the teams I’ve worked in over the years have contained more women than men, the people I’ve found most inspirational - and learnt the most from in recent years - have been women. Maybe I’ve been working in an idealistic bubble? Because of this, I don’t actively think about allying women. I don’t see my colleagues, stakeholders or customers as she, he or they. Everyone’s individual. If I had to define what being an ally for those around me meant, it would be that there is no difference in the way I approach, work with or value anyone. I’ll always support those I believe I can. If I see unfairness or wrongdoing, I’ll step in. No matter who they are, or what gender they identify as.

Asif Sadiq MBE
asifHead of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at The Telegraph

For me, the most important thing is to change the culture in the workplace to be more inclusive and to value the intersectionality and diversity of our women in the workplace.

Changing the culture requires me to be my authentic self in the workplace, so I can create an environment where others can do the same. I am a firm believer that women don't need to be 'fixed', the environment they work in needs to adapt.

Andy Nairn
nairnFounder of Lucky Generals

For us, supporting women in our industry isn’t a one-day thing. We believe the way a company can make a real difference is to be constantly updating and modernising our employment policies so people feel supported all year round. Recent updates include the addition of a policy for menopausal women, so they feel comfortable and supported in coming to us to discuss how we can work with them to make their working life easier - which for some women can last for years. These can range from simply moving away from heat sources to amended working hours. Similarly, we added a miscarriage policy actively encouraging both women and men to take time off to recuperate physically and mentally, should they suffer a miscarriage.

We also work on a long-running campaign called timeTo, set up between NABS and the Advertising Association to tackle sexual harassment in the industry. We have so far created work targeting the Cannes Lions advertising festival and Christmas party season. However, while it’s flattering to be asked to respond to this as a male active ally, it’s really not about me. We have a female CEO and a female Founder, as well as almost a 50:50 gender split in our business, so it’s about us all working together and using our joint experiences to better understand what modern people go through, and how to make their lives better.

Steve Axe
axeCMO at Nomad Foods

At Nomad Foods I am championing a more positive balance of women in senior marketing roles as it can only be a significant positive change. We actively support the careers and development of our teams, and additionally our Diversity & Inclusion agenda including the WINN (Women In Nomad Network) helps drive the organisation forward, for the benefit our employees and their families as well as the business.

Martin Williams
mwCo-founder of Creative North

With Creative North, we try to make sure that we have equal representation. We get far more men applying to speak, which means we have to go out and encourage women to step out of their comfort zone and get on stage. Women we've reached out to and who have taken or are taking the Creative North stage include the likes of: Kate Toon (Founder - The Clever Copywriting School), Anna Pickard (Head of Brand Communications at Slack), Nadya Khoja (Chief Growth Officer at Venngage), Olivia Downing (TBWA/Manchester and founder of Chicks in Advertising), Tolani Shoneye (The Receipts Podcast), Dr Francesca Sobande (lecturer in Digital Media Studies at Cardiff University), Naomi Timperley (Engagement Consultant: tech and digital. Co Founder of Tech North Advocates), Vikki Ross (Copy chief at Sky and NOW TV, founder of the #CopywritersUnite), Kirsty Devlin (Founder of Recode UK and Women Who Keynote), Dr. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Senior lecturer at MMU, author of the award-winning Kintu and critically-acclaimed Manchester Happened), Roxanne Parker (Paid Social Director at Social Chain).

Bediz Eker
bedizManaging Director, Strategy & Insights at VMLY&R

I’m so lucky to work with amazing women in my teams. I nominate our female talent for career development opportunities to get ahead. I also try to empower them as much as I can so that they can run the show while knowing that I’ll always be there when they need me.

Alistair Vince
vinceCEO and Chief Thinker at Watch Me Think

For me, it all starts at home. My partner is also a CEO (of advertising agency Now) so shared responsibility and support is key to ensure she can have the time to excel in her role. I have ensured I have the flexibility at work to leave to get our kids, cook a meal and run the day to day of the house. The flexibility that I enjoy, I also extend to all the team (not just the senior ones) at Watch Me Think, so people can do what they need to do, whether that be go to the gym or pick up their kids. They can work from home, start late, finish early, and we have unlimited holiday - for me it's about reducing unnecessary pressure for them both at work and at home. All events we have planned in 2020 have a 50/50 male/female split of presenters, and having ended up on a 'Manel' in the US last year, I have also made the commitment that going forward I won't speak or be on a panel unless there is 50/50 gender split. 

Giles Lury
glBranding consultant and author

Most marketers know the stories of Lord Lever, Charles Revson and Steve Jobs, have read Al Ries and Jack Trout, and seen the works of Bill Bernbach and John Hegarty. What’s interesting about these ‘Masters of Marketing’, is that they are all MEN. Katy Mousinho and I decided we wanted to try and ‘redress’ the balance a bit and this autumn our book WONDER WOMEN will be published. It combines stories of women who have had a tremendous influence on the marketing industry; Brownie Wise who transformed Tupperware, Mary Wells Lawrence who founded the advertising agency Wells, Rich, Greene. There are interviews with the Edwina Dunn OBE the co-founder of Dunnhumby and the only female country CEO in Carlsberg Helle Muller Petersen.  Pulling the insights together we hope to not only celebrate their success, but to provide role models and insights for great marketers to come.

Dean Challis
dcHead of Communications Strategy at Droga5

I am committing more time to listen, observe, ask the right questions and act. It might sound basic but in a high stakes, fast paced industry like ours, committing time to find new ways to work, build empathy and ensure all voices are heard can sometimes be relegated from a 'must' to a 'nice to have'. So I am committing the time to understand the dynamics within my team and the agency, and acting upon them.

Matthew Waksman
wakChief Strategy Officer at Love or Fear

It's always easy to jump at the chance to go on stage at big industry events and talk about the work you've done and are proud of. Of course, it feels good. But the reality is that if you participate in all male panels you're just perpetuating the problem in a really powerful way. If I’m asked to do a panel or a talk, I ask about the mix of speakers, and try to make helpful suggestions of alternative speakers if it’s not balanced. That's something simple senior male allies can do in the industry to support our senior female colleagues.

Max Keane
maxSVP, Director of Brand Strategy at Arnold Worldwide

I used to slightly wince at the phrase ‘male ally’. And no, not because I’m a raging un-reconstructed sexist (but wow, can you imagine a more unfortunate space to make such a realisation?). But because it always seemed odd to me that being one required a label. It made it sound ‘other’, a deviation from the norm. And isn’t gender equality an obvious thing to believe in? We’re all supportive of this right? What I’ve learnt is that believing in the cause does not an ally make, it’s not enough to just agree - being a male ally is about action and advocacy, in whichever ways you’re able.

For me putting this in to day to day practice revolves around two central tenets; self-awareness and embracing discomfort. First, the self-awareness to constantly ask myself how much space I’m taking up in conversations (not literally mind, I’m not particularly svelte) and is enough being given to the women around me? Secondly, the ability to embrace discomfort at not always getting it right, to constantly question and challenge my biases, and to live with the discomfort of recognising my male privilege and sometimes stepping out of the way despite what society tells us about self-promotion at any cost.

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