The Economist CMO Michael Brunt on why LGBT inclusivity can be a beacon for diversity

In partnership with diversity organisation Token Man, Emma Perkins, ECD at Lowe Open, interviews Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer at The Economist.

The Economist CMO Michael Brunt on why LGBT inclusivity can be a beacon for diversity
The Economist CMO Michael Brunt on why LGBT inclusivity can be a beacon for diversity
Sometimes LGBT inclusivity can be a beacon, a shining light on the organisation to women

Given how fraught the topic can be, why were you keen to do an interview Michael?

I’m a diverse person to start with. I’m one of a few openly gay leaders at The Economist group, so the diversity issue is very important to me. I realise how important it is to send a message about the inclusivity of the environment you work in, and the importance of diversity. In fact, sometimes LGBT inclusivity can be a beacon, a shining light on the organisation to women.

Why do you think gender diversity at a senior management level, and across the organisation as a whole, is important?

Firstly, it’s about doing the right thing. But if you want to look at it from a commercial perspective, you don’t want to miss out on half of the talent that’s available in the world. If you add up women, LGBT people, people of different ethnic origins or different religions who can feel excluded from the workplace, it’s a huge pool of talent you’re missing out on. It’s also incredibly important that organisations ensure that men and women can operate in a way that gives them a good work/life balance. This is of particular importance to parents but should be open to everyone.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for women currently sitting in a minority at a senior management level?

Many years ago I had opportunities to join The Economist and I didn’t. I saw it as an old boys network

It’s tough being in a minority and you can feel like you don’t fit or your views aren’t heard. Many years ago I had opportunities to join The Economist and I didn’t. I saw it as an old boys network. Certainly from the outside, it looked that way, and I felt the environment wouldn’t have been right for me. So if an organisation doesn’t have a diverse management team, they should be aware of how that is perceived by ambitious people coming up through the organisation or looking at it from the outside. It’s a barrier to diverse talent.

What is the current split in your senior management team between men and women?

Our Editor-in-chief is pretty much the most important person in the organisation. She is the first female in that role in 173 years. Together with our CEO, she sets the tone for most of our management meetings. That said, like many organisations and sadly at The Economist Group too, the management team doesn’t have an equal split. The exec team that I’m on has two women in a group of 10. That needs to be improved.

It’s important that leadership teams represent difference with people approaching things from different viewpoints, different life histories, different experiences and different outlooks.

Are you are actively addressing the gender imbalance at management level and if so how?

It’s discussed all the time. You have to positively discriminate, and we do that in a couple of ways. It’s about where you cast your net, opening up to all possible recruits. We tap into networks such as a black leaders’ network and we mine these groups for senior talent, similarly for women.

The reason we’ve found people dropping away in the past is that we haven’t given our talent the work/life balance they need to maintain their careers and manage family

The reason we’ve found people dropping away in the past is that we haven’t given our talent the work/life balance they need to maintain their careers and manage family. We now have a much more flexible way of working and are used to people not being physically present – whether they are working parents or not. There isn’t a culture of ‘you have to be in the room in order to contribute.’ So what you then get are amazingly talented people, who are incredibly loyal. It’s hard to fill positions with talented people, so to retain our talent we have created an environment where they can thrive.

Does your company have a policy on the gender pay gap?

I know what everyone gets paid in my team and there is no difference by gender. One thing that does happen, which you have to watch, is a situation where people stay for a long time and their salary starts to drift behind market rate. If you truly value them in the same way, you’ve got to hike up the salary of those team members who’ve been there a long time.

Something that comes up a lot in discussions about gender differences is women’s lack of negotiation skills in comparison to men. Have you experienced this?

Yes. Everyone wants to be paid fairly, but I would say men fight harder than women in salary negotiations. Even today, I still find mothers have to negotiate work/life balance more than fathers do, and they are much better at negotiating in these terms. They still take most of the parenting responsibilities as well as having careers. So what you then have is a woman who has negotiated well in terms of work/life balance but in weighing that up, they then don’t ask for more money.

When you have negotiated the work/life balance that you want, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for a pay rise. Talent is scarce; understand your worth to the organisation. If you’re contributing and delivering on the commercial imprint to the organisation, you’re worth a huge amount. Your work/life balance has absolutely no bearing.

Women only represent 3% of the Creative Directors in the advertising industry globally. What would be your advice for any aspiring female Creative Directors?

You can be in a leadership position and work remotely, work flexibly. That is just as true for men

It’s a leadership position so women, particularly mothers wanting to be a Creative Director or Creative Directors who become mothers, should never worry about having to work differently. I lead teams all over the world. I travel a huge amount so can’t always be present in one place. I never feel like less of a leader for it. You don’t need a lot of contact to be leaders. You make it very clear what success is and what the parameters are for that. You can be in a leadership position and work remotely, work flexibly. That is just as true for men.

Name me the one key behaviour change you think men can make in the workplace that will have the biggest impact on fostering gender diversity?

It may seem like a minor thing but I see exclusion happen most regularly in two ways. Firstly, the familiar and easy discussions default to topics like the sports results. You have to actively steer the conversation away from a subject that’s clearly excluding people. But another area is to be respectful that people can’t always go for drinks after work. Whether you like it or not, that’s where the meeting carries on and the discussion continues. Don’t do it. Just end the meeting so that when everyone parts company, there aren’t three guys going off to the pub to continue the meeting and one woman going off excluded from the conversation.

How do you think we can best get more men involved in the discussion?

With women’s networks, it’s really important to have allies. Let men join in the conversation. We need to learn from each other.

For the full interview and to find out more about the initiative visit www.Tokenman.org