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The (male) CEO doth protest too much?

To me, the fact that we have an International Women’s Day is not a sign of a progressive society – to me it is a sign of how far behind we are in basic decency and humanity. We have to have a day to promote equality for anyone, let alone for the dominant gender? But the fact of the matter is that in 2018, we still need it. In fact, one could argue that in 2018 we need it more than ever.

I doubt I need to draw anyone’s attention to the press and coverage made possible by the bravery of many women in many walks of life in recent months. And marketing is not immune to the same issues, even if it is not getting the same media air time as other industries. And this is something that we all – specifically the leaders of organisations – have to put our necks on the line and make a stand to correct. Even if it opens us up to accusations of not understanding, not going far enough or people pointing out how we are not perfect ourselves. And the severity of the latest revelations can’t overshadow what are consistent, ongoing issues in the world. Things that are mystifyingly still so far out of kilter it makes you wonder what world we live in. Surely it is not about ‘equality’ but just a basic human right to value the roles played, have equal pay and equal opportunities irrespective of gender (or ethnicity, or sexual orientation). How is it we still have to add ‘respect’ to that list?

So, what I am going to ask my team to do on International Women’s Day? Nothing. Really. I am not. It is not for me to use this day to show my support or highlight this cause. That has to be my job every single day of the year, and if leading from the front and telling people how we should honour this day, on this day, then I am doing it for the recognition. I don’t want recognition, I want to be accountable, and I am so proud of the members of our agency that have come forward and highlighted the issues that they see within our own walls and are expecting me to address, as they absolutely should.

To paraphrase a quote I heard recently, you need to look at who needs to be heard and give them a voice – not speak for them. So today, our agency will honour IWD in the way that Suzi Lilley and the women of the agency want us to honour it.

Despite my best intentions, I have always known I am not an expert in this field – and after hearing Cindy Gallop speak yesterday at The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit, I realise how much of an expert I am not. I have to confess to being a white, straight, male. (I should probably add middle aged in there too, but even I have to have some denial in my life.) Yet, hopefully not as “male, pale and stale” as Jenny Burns may categorise me.

So, what is my role? I can use metrics to ensure fair pay and opportunity for all. And we do. But as the leader of an organisation, I have come to realise that my job has to be to create a safe environment – for people to speak up, for people to be their authentic selves and for people to have their best day every day. And an environment that everyone feels safe enough in to come forward if any of those basic rights are not being met.

So, today I am going to leave it to others to lead. I have 364 other days that I need to be accountable for.