Fighting entrenched bias: Marc’s story

Marc is taking action to fight outdated workplace attitudes

Marc Leaver, Chief Operating Officer, Europe

I’ve always thought of myself as an advocate for equality, somebody who believes in treating people fairly. But it’s important to be reminded sometimes about the scale of entrenched bias in our society.

That’s what happened when I attended a MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) development programme earlier this year. It’s a programme designed to help senior leaders raise awareness of inequality and develop inclusive leadership strategies. The programme was insightful, engaging and personally very challenging.

Sometimes when we come away from workshops with a list of actions, we don’t always immediately act on them. They can even be forgotten. But I learned a lot during the programme and was determined not to let these actions fall by the wayside.

Theory in practice

I resolved to put what we’d been talking about into practice, not just to believe in it and hope things improved. It’s been statistically proven that high-performing teams have a diversity of gender talent. I’ve experienced that myself, so I’m making a concerted effort to be transparent with my team when talking about diversity and inclusion.

One small action I’ve taken is not to attend male-only meetings of a certain size. We must constantly strive for diverse representation, so we invite women, not to ‘make up the numbers’ but because they provide unique perspectives borne out of different experiences. And the meetings improve as a result. It’s simple, but the fact that such a simple thing has made a significant difference tells me there’s a lot left to do.

Part of the problem, I think, is people paying lip service to real issues because, in the workplace, they have to, but then outside the workplace, old-fashioned attitudes remain. How do we ensure that the positive attitudes espoused by our Management Team are reflected throughout the organisation, and that silent objectors to flexible working and shared parental leave don’t impact unduly?

I recently attended a ‘dads at work’ roundtable discussion on shared parental leave, the challenges in making it work, and how to understand it better. This topic is personal to me, because my wife Zoe and I had to make the ‘career-vs-childcare’ decision. It was a tough decision to make at the time – who got to continue with their career and who would put their career on pause – given absence of flexible arrangements at that time. With two daughters, the issue remains prevalent in my mind.

Building a new normal

By supporting shared parental leave and flexible working, we ensure talent is not lost, whether male or female, and we support career progression. I think it’s incumbent on men to help change attitudes by taking parental leave and working flexibly. By doing so, we can establish a new normal in which these things don’t just apply to, or are associated with, women.

The MARC workshop reaffirmed to me that society has a long way to go to remove entrenched biases, and that includes those unrelated to gender. We’ll know we’re getting somewhere when we no longer have targets on diversity and inclusion; when we’re in an environment where shared parental leave is the norm, not the exception; where flexible working is the norm, not the exception; when all meeting rooms, including Boardrooms, are truly representative; when the playing field is rightfully level.