Not all business leaders are joining the battle for gender equality. As more women are being pushed up the corporate ladder and trained for senior roles, some male CEOs privately admit to feeling belittled, excluded and minimised. They complain that "you can’t say what you think anymore" and it’s "PC gone mad." In the push for parity, the privileged majority can mistake equality for oppression.
"They’re fearful of the future," says Richard Robinson, managing partner at Econsultancy. "Many white, straight men have been playing cards with a loaded deck for so long they’ve either forgotten, or never known, what it’s like to compete fairly through their own merit and skill."
There are just six female CEOs running FTSE 100 firms (dwindling to five when Kingfisher's Véronique Laury steps down), with average earnings of just over half what their male counterparts enjoy. Widen this out to FTSE 350 companies and the most recent Hampton-Alexander Review found that just 3% – that’s 12 businesses – have female CEOs.
"The global pay gap will take more than 200 years to close. We cannot wait that long," says Dame Cilla Snowball, former group chief executive of advertising giant AMV BBDO and chair of the government-backed Women’s Business Council. "Men in positions of power have a vital role to play in driving societal and economic change. Men of quality back equality."
The Women’s Business Council teamed up with Management Today and Sky to spotlight Britain’s "Agents of Change" – an army of male leaders who are tackling inequality at work by changing company cultures, shattering glass ceilings and challenging the status quo.
Danny Pallett, a senior creative at sports marketing agency Dark Horses, features in this year’s list. Fed up with seeing women only celebrated on International Women’s Day, he co-founded a platform called Badass.Gal to showcase a different young female creative every single day – and try and change the dismal facts that only 12% of creative directors are women, and that many young women drop out of creative careers before even signing their first contract.
Rod Flavell, who started FTSE 250 firm FDM Group in his attic in 1991, says you have to "measure, monitor and tackle any gender imbalances at every level of your business". The company, which has reported a 0% median gender pay gap for the past two years, works with schools and universities to encourage more women into the sector and runs a Getting Back to Business Programme for those who have been on a career break. Flavell is also calling on recruitment agencies to broaden shortlists for non-exec positions. "We need to get more women – from a wider range of backgrounds and sectors – into the boardroom," he says.
These Agents of Change recognise that promoting diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. McKinsey estimates that bridging the gender gap at work would add £150bn to the UK economy by 2025. Research also shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.
"It’s the collective responsibility of male leaders to lead by example when it comes to driving gender parity," says Chris Stylianou, COO of Sky UK and Ireland and executive sponsor of the firm’s Women in Leadership programme. "Everyone benefits from a more diverse workforce."
This year’s Agents of Change list was judged by: Dame Cilla Snowball, chair of the Women's Business Council; Daniele Fiandaca, co-founder of Utopia; Wendy Hallett, MD of Hallett Retail Services; Rick Lee, chief human resources officer at Willmott Dixon; Richard Robinson, managing partner at Econsultancy; and Kate Bassett, head of content at Management Today.
Senior partner, Mercer Limited
A senior partner for HR consulting giant Mercer, Baker is tasked with helping clients to attract, develop and retain the best diverse talent. He’s on the steering committees for the company’s Gender Parity Networks, set up Mercer’s "Men Matter" campaign, and co-developed a virtual reality experience so men can experience the micro aggressions that are experienced by women every day. He’s been the only man on the board of major women’s network PWN Global for the past seven years and was elected co-president last year.
She Says: "He tirelessly supports our efforts to move the needle on gender diversity." Isobel O'Connor, co-chair of The Vine, Mercer's gender parity network
Managing director, CDM Group
Having worked for big-name agencies such as McCann, Saatchi, Ogilvy and Grey, Bartlett now heads up healthcare advertising firm CDM London, part of Omnicom. He has championed equality within the company – creating new models for flexible working and driving paternity equality –and has "leaned in" to drive change across the whole Omnicom UK network. He is the first man on the Omniwomen UK +Allies committee and is building a taskforce of senior male allies to help push for parity. Last year he was named as one of the Diversity in Marketing and Advertising 50 male advocates for equality in marketing and media.
She Says: "Phil has played a crucial role in my transition from self-doubter to agency leader. He has created an agency culture where people can be themselves and have a voice that will be heard and respected." Julia Straker, head of planning, CDM London
Managing partner, Osborne Clarke
Berg has been a corporate lawyer for more than 25 years – but his background differs from most of his peers. His father was a cab driver, his mother worked in a factory and Berg went to the local state school in Wembley. He was the first person in his family to go to uni. Now, as managing partner of law firm Osborne Clarke, he’s passionate about building a diverse and inclusive workplace. He’s reduced the pay gap at partner level by 13%, launched a female senior associate development programme and rolled out unconscious bias training. He also has a gender balanced executive team, promotes flexible working, and offers one of the most generous maternity, adoption and shared parental leave packages in the legal sector.
She Says: "Ray mentored me when I was a junior partner. At the time, I was the only female part-time partner in the London office and I have four kids. There were many days when I doubted myself. Ray's support was critical, not for the technical side of the job, but for navigating the different invisible barriers. He gave me the confidence to have a voice in the firm." Victoria Parry, partner, Osborne Clarke
Managing director, Retail Week
Brook-Carter is the MD of Retail Week and the brains behind Be Inspired, an initiative to promote gender balance in the industry and build a future pipeline of female chief executives. Over the past year, the programme has grown in reach and influence. It now includes a senior leadership academy, a Be Inspired Stories podcast and added 40 new big-name bosses to its ambassadors scheme. Its annual conference in June will help to inspire and supercharge the careers of 850 women in the retail sector.
She Says: "Be Inspired will have a permanent impact on our sector. No longer a ‘campaign’, it has become a movement for change." Nikki Zamblera, executive director HR, The Watches of Switzerland Group
Phil Burgess, chief people and operations officer; and Felix Koch, regional CEO, C Space
Until last year, Burgess (pictured right) and Koch were joint MDs at agency C-Space. The pair made it their mission to build a diverse and inclusive workplace and to "make business more human". They eliminated the gender pay gap, installed toy boxes in reception and meeting rooms, and created a new parental leave policy; quadrupling paid paternity leave from two to eight weeks, extending maternity leave, and proactively sending the policy to candidates to prevent awkward conversations at interview. 44% of the senior leadership team are female and the agency was named "Best Place to Work" last year.
She Says: "Progress comes from big difficult changes and stubborn commitment to the everyday. Felix and Phil always model best practice and behaviour that allows diversity and inclusion to thrive." Martha Jacobs, communications manager, C Space
Greggs is on a roll. The northern bakery chain, beloved for its steak bakes and vegan sausage rolls, has clocked up more than £1bn in sales and almost quadrupled its market value in the past 10 years. Chairman Durant has made sure gender equality is on the board agenda. Greggs is a signatory to the National Equality Standard, 43% of its board are female and the company runs a Women’s Development Programme to help more high-potential women to the top. Durant, who also chairs DFS Furniture, is a member of the 30% Club.
She Says: "Ian is the sort of chairman who really takes an interest and puts himself out there to support progression for women in retail management." Roisin Currie, retail operations and people director, Greggs
CEO, Harlequin FC
In March this year, 4,837 rugby fans packed into Twickenham Stoop to watch the hosts’ 62-0 rout of Gloucester-Hartpury – the largest ever crowd for a women’s club game. Chief executive Ellis – who quit his career in social housing to head up the club – is leading the way in growing support for the women’s game and pushing for parity in sport. He launched Harlequins Ladies four years ago; female players train using the same facilities as the men, have the same access to support staff, and are fully integrated across all branding and marketing campaigns. The club also runs The Game Changer, an annual celebration of women’s rugby.
She Says: "I speak for every female at the club when I say he empowers us every day to challenge stereotypes and discrimination and to be part of the solution, not the problem. His uncompromising attitude to push boundaries enables us to lead the way for women in sport." Imogen Gaunt, director of communications, Harlequin FC
Artist in residence, Clear Channel
"When men hold power they abuse it." "The simple idea that opportunity is available to all women is a lie." "A good man is sober with responsibility not drunk with power." You might have spotted the work of French public artist Firrell on billboards dotted across the country. Working as Clear Channel’s artist in residence, his mass public art project "Power And Gender" gathered the views of senior women – ranging from former Lloyds of London CEO Inga Beale to Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon – to explore the differences between the way women and men regard, hold and use power. "If you can create debate, eventually change will follow," he says. This project achieved 46 million impacts.
She says: "Martin celebrates diversity, challenges prejudice and has an unflinching commitment to promoting equality." Emma Callander, co-artistic director, Theatre Uncut
CEO and founder, FDM Group
Flavell started FDM Group in 1991. Now it’s one of the most diverse companies in the FTSE 250, with more than 4,000 employees spanning 80 nationalities, 50% women on the management team and a median gender pay gap of 0% reported for the last two years. Last year, FDM was named Company of the Year at the Tech Women Awards and Diversity Employer of the Year at the Computing Women in IT Excellence Awards. FDM also ranked top in tech in the Women on Boards & Leadership Rankings of the Hampton-Alexander Review Report 2018.
She Says: "I've worked with Rod for 12 years. He’s made diversity and inclusion part of FDM’s DNA." Nabila Aydin, global marketing director, FDM Group
CEO, Frost Included
A globally recognised diversity expert, Frost’s career highlights include being director of workplace at Stonewall, head of D&I for the 2012 London Olympics (the first games with women on every country team), and one of the first male fellows on the prestigious Women and Public Policy Programme at Harvard. Previously head of diversity at KPMG, Frost also co-founded the Big 4 accountancy giant’s women’s partner group. He now provides bespoke inclusive leadership programmes to the likes of BAE, Ladbrokes and Investec.
She Says: "Steve has done so much more than open doors for me. He has led me in, introduced me to the group and taught me how to take control of the room." Lauren Toure, senior consultant, Frost Included
Global consumer planning director, Diageo
Heading up consumer planning for Diageo, Geoghegan is helping to transform how gender is portrayed in advertising across the drinks giant’s 200 brands, ranging from Smirnoff to Guinness. Having led a review of Diageo's creative work globally, he helped develop a framework to train the firm’s 1,200 marketers and advertising agencies – and eradicate harmful stereotypes. Geoghegan has run workshops on this topic for the UN Women Unstereotype Alliance, at the Cannes Lions international Festival in France and at the Kantar What Women Want exhibition in London.
She Says: "Andrew's been my line manager for eight years. He has challenged the status quo to change how gender is portrayed in advertising across Diageo, our partners and peer companies."Alison Falconer, Guinness global consumer planning director, Diageo
UK country manager and VP marketing solutions EMEA & LATAM, LinkedIn
In only three years, Graff has hit his self-imposed target of a 50/50 gender balance, with half of roles in LinkedIn’s marketing, sales, account management and operations functions now held by women. The lessons learned from this achievement are now being incorporated into a gender aware recruitment process across the whole UK business. Graff is also working on new LinkedIn tools that will help users to hire stronger and more diverse teams themselves. A founder of LGBT advocacy group Open for Business, he has also been featured on the FT’s Top 50 LGBT Leaders List.
She Says: "I have worked with Josh for nearly eight years and he has been a rock to me. He is a genuine, inspiring leader and a role model to us all – specifically in the areas of diversity, inclusion and belonging." Janice Chamberlin, director of talent solutions, LinkedIn
Sir Philip Hampton
Chair, Hampton-Alexander Review
Few business leaders have done as much to push gender equality within the senior ranks of UK plc as city grandee and GSK chair Sir Philip. As chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review, he leads an independent, business-led initiative which aims to increase the number of women on FTSE 350 boards and in leadership teams two layers below board-level to 33% by the end of 2020. The scope of the Review captures 23,000 leadership roles in Britain’s largest companies, making it one of the biggest and most ambitious initiatives to improve gender balance in business of any country.
She Says: "Sir Philip has established a focus and a framework for women to advance on boards and rightly prioritises the future pipeline. No-one campaigns more visibly, more thoughtfully or more supportively." Dame Cilla Snowball, chair, Women's Business Council
Head of international franchise for Europe, Marks & Spencer
A member of Marks & Spencer’s top 100 leadership team and co-chair of the retailer’s Gender Equality Network, Harrison has made gender balance "a topic for the majority and not just an issue for the minority" and played an active role in shaping the retailer’s wider diversity and inclusion strategy. Simon is also part of The Countess of Wessex’s Women's Network Forum, which brings together a cross-industry group of senior representatives to promote gender balance at work.
She Says: "I’m inspired by his forward-thinking nature, his resilience and how he champions change. I’m proud to have him as my mentor." Georgina Riley, senior merchandiser, Marks & Spencer
President EMEA, Dell Technologies
Head of Dell’s 25,000 strong EMEA workforce, Hegarty is co-lead of the firm’s Global Women’s Network and also sits on its Global Diversity Council alongside company founder Michael Dell. His own team is now 37% female, up from only 6% when he took over in 2012. Hegarty is recognised by The Economist as a Top 10 Diversity Champion and is a member of the Irish government’s Better Balance for Business review group, examining why there are so few women in senior executive positions and at board level in Irish companies.
She Says: "Aongus truly believes in the business imperative and impact of diversity and inclusion. He will ask the tough questions that bring the equality agenda forward." Anja Monrad, senior vice president and general manager, CEE, Dell Technologies
Director of retail operations, Sky
A firm believer in the benefits of an inclusive workplace, Holmes is a male ally for the Women at Sky network and a champion of the power of blended teams to make better and more sustainable business decisions. He challenges recruitment practices to encourage more female talent into the business and leads Sky’s diversity agenda by example: there is an equal male/female split in his leadership roles and the team is, says one female member, completely devoid of patriarchy.
She Says: "David is an intuitive leader who is always checking to see what I need development-wise. The opportunity he gave me is something I didn’t think I had the skills for; he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself." Jennifer Beard, regional manager, Sky
CEO, Bupa UK
Over two-thirds of Bupa’s total workforce and 41% of senior managers are female. Not resting on his laurels, CEO Hynam is working hard to develop an even healthier and more diverse leadership pipeline. He is global sponsor for the Bupa Advance development programme, more than half of whose intake is now female, and is CEO sponsor for gender and LGBT advocacy group DiverCity. Before joining Bupa, he was global diversity champion at AXA, and has also featured on the HERoes "50 Male Executives" list for the past two years.
She Says: "David is extremely committed to supporting women at all levels. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to put myself forward [for this role] without his backing." Joan Elliott, general manager, Bupa Care Services
Group CFO, Bank of Ireland Group
Since joining the bank in 2004, Keating has shown unstinting commitment to boosting its diversity – he was instrumental in developing the firm’s ambitious 50:50 by 2021 gender target for senior roles, and has introduced a maternity charter to support working mums – a move met with extremely positive feedback from colleagues throughout the business. As executive sponsor for inclusion and diversity for the BoI Group, he also advocates tirelessly on behalf of LGBTI+, cross-cultural, inter-generational and carer groups. His goal is to make the bank a place where everyone can fulfil their potential regardless of background or circumstances.
She Says: "Andrew is a fantastic leader who has always challenged me to think beyond my comfort zone and ensured that I could continue to progress even when on maternity leave." Karena O'Sullivan, director, business transformation, core banking systems programme, Bank of Ireland
Founder and chief purpose officer, ThisAbility
Khan is a super-champion for diversity and inclusion in all its forms. Describing himself as an "active intersectional feminist-in-progress", Khan is the founder of ThisAbility, a network designed to support the best creative disabled talent via events, meet-ups, mentoring and consulting. He has built the business to be "gender equitable from the ground-up", ensuring the advisory board is at least 50% female, having flexible working for the entire team, and making pay gender neutral. Although Khan’s congenital muscular dystrophy makes travel difficult, he consistently shows up and speaks up for women via Creative Equals, BIMA, SheSays and Bloom UK events – and is relentless in his pursuit to make the creative sector more inclusive.
She Says: "Sulaiman has been an extraordinary champion in my career. He's regularly on hand to provide sage advice about networking, building confidence and has never faltered in his empathy and support." Matilda Ibini, bionic playwright and screenwriter
Senior manager, PwC
A senior manager at audit giant PwC, Mahmood is banging the drum for gender equality. He is a founding member and co-chair of the firm’s Midlands gender balance network, a member of the Midlands diversity & inclusion council and was a male ally for the UN’s "He For She" campaign. He promotes flexible working and leads by example, pushing back on meetings and events if they clash with the school run. He also buddies colleagues who are members of DAWN, the firm’s disability, ability and wellness network,
She Says: "Nadeem is the most supportive male colleague I’ve had the pleasure of working with. His willingness to understand and empower women sets him apart." Diane Asbury, senior manager, PWC
Head of women's football, Manchester City Football Club
"We are here to challenge and change the perception of women's football," says Makel, head of women’s football at Manchester City FC. "We are professionalising a sport which traditionally hasn't received the support or resource it has deserved." It was Makel who relaunched the club’s women’s team in 2014 and established its girls’ academy in 2016. He was also behind the Same City, Same Passion campaign promoting the women’s game (30 millions views worldwide) and the follow-up #SameGoals initiative, which saw Man City sending out more than 2,000 footballs to encourage girls to keep playing. Makel sits on the European Club Association Women's Football Committee Bureau.
She Says: "I’ve seen firsthand how passionate Gavin is about challenging the perception of women's football and increasing girls' participation in the game. He’s a true Agent of Change." Mercedes Antrobus, women's team communications manager, Manchester City
CEO of personal and business banking and executive sponsor for gender, RBS
As CEO of personal banking at RBS and the firm’s gender executive sponsor, Matheson introduced targets of 30% women in senior roles by 2020 and gender balance at all levels by 2030. Clear that it's not about "fixing women" or "discriminating against men", he’s also set targets for areas where the bank needs to up the proportion of male workers. Last year RBS ran 300 Women in Business events, reaching around 11,000 female entrepreneurs. Matheson supports the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and recently took part in a "Men as Change Agents" roundtable with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
She Says: "I've worked with Les for over six years and he has pushed me to stretch myself. He's the kind of boss you hope to find in your career and a clear champion of women within financial services." Georgina Bulkelely, director, strategy and innovation, RBS Personal Banking
Head of technology consulting, Deloitte
Leading the charge on respect and inclusion at Deloitte’s 2,600 strong technology practice, Mercer has been instrumental in making the consultancy a more diverse, inclusive and productive workplace. Understanding that people aspire to "be what they can see", he has improved gender balance in visible leadership roles and all the members of his leadership team mentor female colleagues. On his watch, the number of female partners joining the practice has risen 25.5%, with graduate starters this year set to be 50/50 male/female.
She Says: "I was paired with Stephen as part of the Women in Technology Sponsorship programme and I feel privileged to have been supported by such a proactive leader." Sheena Pem, manager, testing, technology consulting, Deloitte.
Senior creative, Dark Horses and co-founder, Badass.Gal
Pallett worked for global agencies iris worldwide and Digitas before landing his most recent role as senior creative for Dark Horses. As a regular speaker at universities, Pallett noticed that the lecture theatres were packed with ambitious young women – yet they were glaringly absent from the industry he worked in. He decided to do something about it. Pallett and his creative partner Charlotte Hugh set up Badass.Gal last year to showcase some of the very best female creative talent from across the globe every day.
She Says: "He is one of the few men who truly takes action. Badass.gal is the best platform supporting young creative females so far." Charlotte Hugh, co-founder, Badass.Gal
Head of group parts operations, Volkswagen UK
Father of three – including two daughters – Richards has headed both VW’s #DrivenWomen campaign and D&I programmes since their inception in 2015. No stranger to the hard work and drive required to change the culture in a heavily male-dominated industry, he has also worked on inter-company initiatives with the likes of Sky, Network Rail and Facebook. Thanks to his strategic influence and energetic advocacy, 51% of all VW’s new hires are now female and it has set a target to have 30% female senior leadership by 2021.
She Says: "Warren cured my imposter syndrome, and helped me to see what I was capable of. He is a fantastic advocate of women across the group." Gill Headings, national service & parts programme manager, Skoda
Matthew Rycroft CBE
Permanent secretary, Department for International Development
Taking up the mantle of permanent secretary for the Department for International Development last year, Rycroft has pledged to put "gender equality at the heart of everything we do", drive up standards and tackle sexual exploitation within the international development and aid sector. In his previous role as UK permanent representative to the United Nations, he launched a "gender compact" for the UK mission and worked to increase women’s participation in conflict resolution in some of the most fragile countries in the world: in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan. Rycroft, the only civil servant in this year's list, is a member of the International Gender Champions Network.
She Says: "Few senior leaders understand that they need to not only engage in diversity and inclusion but to openly champion it, be willing to be challenged and tackle the barriers too. Matthew is leading the way for change." Zamila Bunglawala, deputy head of unit and deputy director strategy and policy, race disparity unit, Cabinet Office
Tomkins is boss of RICS, the world’s largest professional body covering land, property, construction and infrastructure. Just 14% of surveyors are women – and Tompkins is determined to tip the balance. He developed an "Inclusive Employer Quality Mark" to encourage firms to look at their employment practices; he made a public pledge – broadcast on YouTube – not to sit on any all-male panels at industry events; and he sponsored a real estate, infrastructure and construction category at the Women of the Future Awards to unearth more female role models in the profession. He’s also driven change internally: RICS has a gender-balanced executive team for the first time in its 150-year history.
She Says: "Sean’s influence is wider than that of CEO. In a male-dominated sector, Sean is a high-profile champion of diversity and inclusion and regularly speaks out to challenge the status quo." Gillian Charlesworth, executive director, RICS
Leendert van den Hollander
Vice president and general manager, Coca-Cola European Partners
Dutch business leader Leendert was the boss of Young’s Seafood before joining Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) in 2014. As vice president and general manager, Leendert has set about creating an inclusive and gender diverse culture, organising a 24-hour "hack" to educate the senior leadership team and develop a new company-wide "Be Yourself, Be Valued, Belong" philosophy. The firm has cut its gender pay gap, seen an increased engagement score and built an inclusion ambassador network called #JustBe. It sponsors the Diversity and Inclusion in Grocery conference and Token Man’s Masculinity in the Workplace event.
She Says:"Leendert inherently understands the business value of creating a more gender diverse and inclusive workplace. His support and relentless focus on delivering change and creating an inclusive culture makes him a true role model." Catherine Gillespie, HR director, CCEP
Facility manager, Caterpillar
Walker is a rare diversity beacon in the traditionally male and pale arena of manufacturing engineering, espousing the virtues of diversity both at the Peterborough engine plant where he is based and across Caterpillar’s wider European business. A vocal exponent of gender balance, he hosts regular workshops for men and women on gender dialogue and unconscious bias, and his campaigning strategy is bearing fruit. There are now more women on Caterpillar’s factory floor than ever before, and he has just hired the firm’s first female group production manager.
She Says: "I attended one of Rob’s Men as Allies courses and it changed my life. I feel so lucky that our paths crossed that day – I have now changed roles and am looking forward to an incredibly exciting next chapter in my career." Vicki Lovell, engineer, Caterpillar
Chief executive, The Advertising Association
A doyen of the advertising sector, Woodford chaired Lexis PR and headed up NABS before becoming boss of The Advertising Association. He has thrown his weight behind #timeTo, an initiative set up last year to address the problem of sexual harassment and call out bad behaviour in the advertising and marketing industry. The first man to join the initiative’s founding group, he has used his position to influence other leaders and help launch timeTo Code, aimed at accelerating positive behaviour change in the industry.
She Says: "Believe me, this man is impressive. He walks the talk." Tessa Gooding