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Episode 62
Amanda Fone & Adrian Walcott Interview. People Powered Marketing

In this episode Chris Lawson and Samuel Monnie are joined by Adrian Walcott, co-founder of Brands with Values, and Amanda Fone, founder of F1 Recruitment. They set up BAME2020/ No Turning Back a long term programme committed to sustainable change with a focus on increasing the diversity of talent in the marketing and comms sector.  
A great discussion about the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and how 2020 pushed people to become bolder on organisational commitments to diversity.

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  • The growing role of BAME 2020 and “No turning Back”

  • Asking the bold questions  “What does your company do beyond making money?”

  • Changing the reality of culture 

  • How organisations need to get in the mindset of a farmer not a hunter

  • Perspectives on the global impact of George Floyd and BLM movements on the Marcoms. sector

  • The understated importance of reverse mentoring

Transcript:

CHRIS:

Welcome to Across the Pond. My name is Chris Lawson. I'm joined across the pond by Samuel Monnie. Hello, Sam. 

 

SAM:

Hey Chris, how are you, sir? 

 

CHRIS:

Good, very good. We've got two very special guests with us today and very glad that we have Adrian Walcott and Amanda Fone joining us today. 

 

So just a quick intro on Adrian. First of all, he's a set up, co-founder managing director of Brands with Values and co-founder of Bame 2020, which we'll talk a bit more about and Adrian set that up so that he could work with clients to unlock their unique culture. I think that's a really important point. That culture is very individual to help maximize that return to employees and shareholders have a wider society. We talk more about that impact on wider society as well. Catching up with Adrian before, I know he's got a lot of experience prior to that, around brand marketing. At Barclays and Eurostar and cut his teeth in his career in the advertising industry at Ogilvy. So a lot to cover there. 

 

Amanda, I've known Amanda for a long time now, since about 2007. Amanda has got a huge heritage in recruitment and search in the marketing PR and comms sector. She's the founder of F1 recruitment. When we met, Amanda had heard about what I was doing at Absolute radio and wanted to find out more, and the interest she took in an early stage and transformative stage of my career, I think sums the matter up really. It's that interest in helping people throughout their career and following them through. She's really a fierce advocate of championing the individual. Most importantly about championing inclusivity, diversity and social mobility, she co-founded Bame 2020 with Adrian. Again, we'll hear a bit more of that. So, welcome to both of you. 


 

The Dynamic Duo

CHRIS:

Now Sam, I think you're going to talk a little bit more about what we want to do today.

 

SAM:

I think for me, it's hearing about the Bame 2020 work that has been done and hearing about it through Chris and looking at the work via LinkedIn, et cetera. It's just, I'm wanting to hear a bit more about it and how it's working in some of the dynamic that's happening in the UK. I'm based in the US and you can imagine everything that's going on in 2020/2021, and before that, long before that this issue of diversity inclusion and representation is huge. So I’d just love to hear from the story of Amanda and Adrian. Why don't you just take us through how you met in the first place and how you know each other?

 

ADRIAN:

So Amanda, I've known  for about 15 or 20 years. Actually Amanda  employed my wife many, many, many moons ago. But aside from that, as I was sort of going through my career and other marketing roles, Amanda and I kind of built a special bond. It was at the point where I decided that there was a job to be done. Around driving inclusion and diversity and meaning into this issue. She was the natural person to align with because she's been supporting the agendas around women for years. She seemed like the right person to align with given what I experienced as an employee to get into quite a senior role. Also, my desire to drive change. 

 

SAM:

And from your perspective, Amanda, does that, does that story ring true?

 

AMANDA:

Yeah. Well, I think hearing Adrian's story about his official level in the marketing sector and the touch of disillusionment that the sector was just really very un-diverse. Having worked with the advertising association for many years on their diversity programs, going back to 2000 and are still experiencing less than 4% of marketing directors coming from a black, Asian minority ethnic background. I think it was palpable. The frustration from Adrian  that he'd walk into a marketing  society event and be one of one or two, black people in the room, for example. I think I just felt compelled to do something about it because people kept talking about equal opportunity policies and diversity policies. And it was never actually manifesting itself in much action because there was never any change at the top. So clearly whatever was in place wasn't working. So that galvanized us both to form this partnership, which resulted in us creating this movement, which was at the time, called Bame 2020

 

SAM:

Well as you talk about that experience, I recall early in my career, well, even now you're walking into a building's office, especially on the agency side. If I vividly recall a couple of organizations, which were more PR centric that I was interviewing for, I’d literally would walk in,  see hundreds of people and not see a single  person of color and you'd see one black person and you'd lock eyes, you'd do the head nod and you don't acknowledge each other because it is a feeling often. Now based in the US, unfortunately it's slightly better, but not a lot better. But as you talked about how you both sort of connected, how do your experiences and your personalities complement each other, do you think?

 

CHRIS:

Hmm, stunned, silence. 

 

AMANDA:

I think we're quite good foils to each other, actually. Don't you agree, Adrian? If I present myself, a middle-class white woman that was privately educated. Okay. I mean, I can use that white privilege, frankly. I've been through the whole, I came into my work. I didn't go to university for example, I came into my career in recruitment at the age of 18 and had to battle my way through what was then quite a  male sector. I had worked my way through managing a female career. I think that Adrian and I have quite a good foill for each other. I'm quite outspoken. I think we're both quite outspoken, but we could both support each other and it's been a mutually supportive partnership I think. Adrian, what do you think? 

 

ADIRAN:

Well, I wouldn't agree with that. No, no, no. Actually that's the beauty of it really. We've trodden  different paths, but there's a lot of alignment in our values and the things that we hold dear. So when it came to fostering the partnership. Amanda was a natural choice because from what we've seen, there's a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon about these issues and the fact that Amanda has been doing this for such a long time, meant that she was very authentic. That was why it was very key to work with someone with that sort of level of authenticity, as well as the desire and the energy and the motivation to get things done, because this is not easy work. In the spirit of Martin Luther King, "if you can't fly, run, if you can't run, walk, if you can't walk, crawl, but you've got to keep moving." And that's the kind of thing that Amanda and I have done since 2016. It's quite interesting to watch the market open up more people get involved in this topic, but we've been at it for five years now, as a team, but Amanda, probably the previous 20 years. 


 

Why aren’t you interested in our EO policy?

CHRIS:

So let's just talk about that. I mean, Amanda, from your perspective, did that really lead onto it? Was it the battling from a female perspective in a sort of a male orientated industry and then thinking 'well, that's my ‘why’ for  trying to work through on Bame 2020 and increased representation there’. Is that how it came about from your perspective?

 

AMANDA:

Well, look, I mean, I've always believed in using your business to create societal change. I mean, I was working on work experience programs with the BBC back in the 1990s. So  it's always been part of my work to create societal  change. When we set up F1 in 2004, it was very clear to me that we would have to do it. We took two strands of the diversity mix  so intersectionality, we took two and it was gender and it was ethnicity. The gender returners program that we created was because I could see quite clearly that we were losing women from all backgrounds, from the marketing and advertising and PR sector at the time of their second child. It was quite clear to me that the professional services sector banking sector  had been a lot better than the marketing services sector at retaining that talent or bringing it back. So that was the gender piece and really the ethnicity side. I mean, I've, I've recruited for the BBC many, many years ago, when I was in my twenties and  you didn't get onto the preferred recruitment partner, you couldn't become one, unless you could evidence the diversity of your candidate base.This was back in the late 1980s, 1990s, you have to evidence the diversity of your candidate base. This was way before CRM systems. I mean, you couldn't be a BBC recruitment partner. So it astounded me that when I set up my business that we weren't being asked those questions by companies, we were recruiting for, they were saying they had a robust, equal opportunities policy or diversity policy, but actually when you asked them what that meant and what did they need us to demonstrate as a recruitment partner? It was like, well, what's your diversity? What's your EO policy? You need to be asking me to evidence the diversity of my candidate base, because I can tell you that, aren't you interested? You know, it's 53% female and it's X percent of this age group, and we've got X percent that have a disability and X percent that identify as LGBTQ and it's X percent coming from a non white background, that should interest you. Yet, you will never be asked those questions. So I guess when Adrian and I  really started the movement,  it was basically to try and force some questions around the granular activity that we saw as being not easy to change. If the right questions are being asked, particularly if the recruitment supply chain because that is one way of changing the makeup of the sector is to engage the recruitment sector  because they're part of the problem, part of the solution. 

 

CHRIS:

So Adrian, over the last few years what's been your biggest surprise during this journey?  Setting up Bame 2020 at that point, and then taking that forward?

 

ADIRAN:

My biggest surprise at the moment, as I see a lot of people not really understanding that the job in hand is a cultural change program. So if you replace DNI with digital transformation or want to become a more sustainable business, these are proper change programs which have leadership commitment, have governance, are clearly well articulated and have a good background as to why they're doing it. They're funded and they've got proper measures in place to be able to track progress. I think when you look at the DNI side of things, people are still sort of hunting around for the solution. So people look at this problem and they run around in Harvard business reviews or look for the latest consultant. They bring them in to make use of black history month in front of the training program. Then, they expect  change to happen. And they still don't understand that this is a subject that needs to be done meaningfully and sustainably over the long term. What they need to do is  look internally at their culture and really understand the context in which they're trying to drive change, because I think there's a lot of things that aid inclusion, and a lot of them sit within having a healthy culture. A lot of them sit with having real robust metrics to measure the culture of what it is they're trying to change. What I see now, is still a lot of people operating in a superficial space and then being surprised when they're seeing the metrics are not moving forward for BAME people, they are continually having two  things happening; they're either surviving the squeezed middle ie. not leaving and making their way to the top and then they're falling off the cliff, and that all relates to people. Not understanding that actually you have to treat this as a culture change. 


 

Is culture a joke to you?

SAM:

I love the word culture. I've been studying and using it for years. But I do recall when I talked about a role, which involved driving culture, some people would look at you quizzically and other people would just start laughing because apparently that word was a joke. So can you help us understand what culture means? Because it's clearly something that  the last few years has become more preeminent and more meaningful. 

 

ADIRAN:

So when I look at organizational culture and the way we're measuring it, all of the policies, programs, and procedures that are bestowed on an organization by leadership and subsequently all of the behaviors that are manifested by colleagues in the way they communicate in the way they behave. The sum total of that becomes the culture. A lot of what drives leadership and a lot of what drives colleagues to create that culture. Is there a direct manifestation of a couple of things? One it's driven by their own personal values, sort of things that get them out of bed every morning and inform the way they communicate and behave. It's the sum total of what people experience as a result of policies, programs, and procedures. So what's my lived experiences, someone from a black background. What's my experience from a gender  perspective? What's my experience from a tenure perspective, departmental geography. As well as I suppose, their view on what people desire within an organization is what makes up the culture. But what happens when people are measuring that leadership? What I consider to be proxy measures to understand whether they've got a great culture or not, ie attrition's okay in this organization. So it must have a good culture. Oh, the engagement survey has told us we've got a great culture when actually all those engagement surveys are doing is they are just telling leaders, wherever certain variables that they think drive culture, how well they're doing or not. So have we got good leaders? Have we got good products? Are we competitive? Have we got a good wellbeing program? They then measure those to understand whether they've got a good culture and what they don't do is understand forensically in the way. So farmers understand their soil, they don't do that in the way farmers do. Farmers do that so they can allow  a million flowers to grow and organizations are not in that space. 

 

SAM:

I love that analogy of the farmers. As I'm thinking about it here, again with recording in the beginning of 2021 early part of the year, but clearly 2020 has been seismic. I'm sat in the US, being a Brit over here, but the black lives matter movement has certainly become a nomenclature. It is in people's minds and it's traveled the world and definitely hit home in the UK. So I'm curious to know how that has shaped some of the, some of what you're talking about before is it, has it had an impact on how people see, see things and how people understand.

 

ADIRAN:

So from my perspective, there are two things which have changed individuals globally, right?  One is obviously COVID and I think the other one was the George Floyd episode that I think for people prior to that moment, just generally joining the rat  race and incrementally moving up the greasy pole. They received a big sort of drop with cold water and that cold water got people to think about their personal values and what drives them when they see that particular episode. I think the fact that people have completely transformed the way they work. Working at home, spending more time with their families. It's got people to soul search around what their values are, what drives them. I think those two things provide a kind of a softening to values around community and as opposed to relentlessly in pursuit of commercial return and profit. I felt that I was providing a platform to be able to lean into these agendas in new ways.

 

SAM:

I wanted to follow up with Amanda because as I'm listening into the discussion, it prompts the conversation. You mentioned earlier about being asked the questions you had all the info, you had all the data and you're thinking, why is no one asking me this stuff? So has that changed now, people now proactively asking more stuff. Are they more interested? Do they understand it more? Do you think? 

 

AMANDA:

Yes. Which is obviously great, but I think there's been a plethora of work in the corporate communications sector, like we do. This ESG, environmental, societal, and governance. I mean, you just hear it the whole time. Suddenly her companies have created a team that specializes in ESG and societal change. You know what? I could have code named progressive capitalism. I can purpose and profit as good bedfellows, which is something. Whereas to become a B Corp and they put societal change and good governance and sustainability at the heart of what your organization does. You have to change your articles of association and yes, there's lots of, and this is where you have to kind of unpick who's actually serious about it and who's just window dressing. 

 

Are you window shopping or making change?

 

AMANDA:

There is still window dressing going on during 2020 as a kind of reaction. There are plenty of brands that have had a tough time because they did react rather than just really think about how they were going to react. That's one of the reasons, and we'll come on to this in a minute, I'm sure why we've moved on from calling ourselves Bame 2020, to No Turning Back 2020, because you know, very soon after the George Floyd incident, Adrian and I were on the phone  together, we were like, “right, our phone is going to start ringing now, we're going to  start to hear from people that we've been trying to get conversations with  for a long time.” And that's exactly what happened. There was  a reaction with people, desperate to get advice and insights and. That's when we decided that 2020 was going to be the year for no turning back because some of the ground work's been done until 2020, and then really from now 2021, this is where we need to keep the momentum going. We need to keep the drive for change going. So that 2020  doesn't just become the year where everybody  starts to speak more about the subject and recognize the need for change. Actually, we look back in five years time and actually, what were the systemic changes that actually happened as a result of what we saw last year? So, yes, I'm having conversations that I'm having  to bite my lip so hard at the moment because I've been in conversations with companies that are now saying, “well, of course you don't pay to be able to work with us any longer, Amanda, through your recruitment business, if you can't demonstrate and prove that you have at least 60%...”I'm like "I wrote that!" 

SAM:

I love that. It's like "I've heard that this and this, and this is important"  it's like, did you actually do any research? That must be satisfying, right? 

 

AMANDA:

Yes. Yup. Yup. 

 

CHRIS:

Do you think that people have actually just taken stock individually as well as from a company perspective and said, "do you know what I want to, I want to change how I do business. I want to change how I run my life." And has that made an impact?

 

ADRIAN:

I've certainly seen that from the outside and that's reflected in the work that we do. I think because of that kind of reset moment organizations, more than ever, have been listening to understand what their motivations are for their colleagues, what they currently see from an internal point of perspective and getting their view on what they desire. That's allowed us to speak with loads of clients and do loads of work in people tracking their culture. I think it links back to the point that you were talking at, talking about earlier on around consistency. You need to be able to track that. I think our tools are providing a lot of context to organizations, firstly, listening to their employees and therefore reconfiguring their organizations to suit them, including things around, making them more inclusive.

 

CHRIS:

So Amanda, just in terms of the pandemic, how have you seen it change the recruitment industry? 

 

AMANDA:

So I think from an individual perspective, we always ask people when they're looking for work, what are the three key things that will motivate them in the next role? One of the key things that is coming out now is that there is a concern for the individual inside the organization, how they're going to progress. There's this work-life balance - it's a happy phrase now, but I think companies might be quite surprised at the expectation of employees that they are not going to be coming into an office five days a week or even four days a week. A lot of the people we're talking to are keen to do a 10 day a month in the office, split it, how they will; half the time at the office, half the time at home. That has changed forever. It is never going to go back, ever going to go back. I think people have realized that they do not want to commute. They do not want to be stuck in an underground. They want to spend more time at home with their families or with their friends or with hobbies. They want to have a better balance. That is never going to change. 


 

Society had become bolder

AMANDA:

I think organizations around this societal change, also individuals, want to work for companies that are actually making a contribution to systemic change in the world; societal change or environmental change. It's a question that's coming up time and time again in our interviews with individuals looking for their next role. They're asking really difficult questions. I mean, I've got a candidate for an interview at the moment who is from an underrepresented group. The boldness of the questions. How can you prove that you are an inclusive employer? Could you please give me three examples? What last year has done, is it has given people permission to ask those questions that they would in the past have thought were inappropriate or possibly it would put them at a disadvantage in the interview selection process. Those are now questions that, it doesn't matter what age you are. It's almost like 2020 has given you permission to ask, "what does your company do beyond making money? Why are you here? What is your purpose? What good do you do in the world beyond creating a return for your shareholders?" People articulate that question in slightly different ways, but people are feeling bolder about putting organizations on point. 

 

CHRIS:

I can imagine the questions coming up now and the irony of course, is that a lot of that data existed or exists. There's some employee data that has to be submitted to the government if you're over a certain size. So a lot of the time they actually have the data or they have the information it's just really not wanting or not being comfortable sharing it. So I love the fact that people are emboldened. The renaming, the rebranding of No Turning Back is such a provocative, powerful positioning statement. What's some, some responses you've been getting to that? 

 

ADRIAN:

It's interesting. We're not looking for any sort of validation in doing it, it just felt like the right thing to do, because what we saw post George Floyd is just the emerging bandwagon with everybody wanting to have the conversation to better awareness and understanding about a topic we've been talking about for the last five years, so that no turning back piece for us was to say, well,  we cannot go backwards, but it's action, not words. So no turning back was a quarter arms to say what actions your organization is going to take given this watershed moment in 2020. To be honest with you, as I said, whilst we don't do it  for external validation, from my perspective, it's been very positive. I think people are now seeing that DNI is not a tactical initiative. It's not about running training programs. It's not about getting people to speak. It's deeper than that. People need to take action and leadership needs to be committed and they need to understand that it can bring a greater return for them in the long run. That's what I've certainly experienced with the companies that I've been talking to. I don't know if Amanda's got a similar or complementary perspective. 

 

AMANDA:

I was speaking to a global consultancy just last week who have picked up one of our bame 2020 ambassadors. A No Turning Back ambassador, a young lad that has only been in the sector for a year that was about to leave because of the pretty diar experience he had pre COVID  induction and onboarding with a company because he just didn't feel it was an inclusive culture. His reaction to that was I'm too young to change anything. Noone's going to listen to me. So I think I've just got the wrong sector. So he's now gone into a comms organization that said their ambition was to be the organization for young school leavers or graduates. That, when they come into the communications sector, they get an inclusive training. Three years after they've been with the organization, they will have been trained properly. They will have been inducted into their career. They will have been coached. They have been with the mentors. They will be part of an inclusive culture. That was their aim when you interviewed those young people three years into their career. They want to be seen as the top place to go to as far as an employer, an inclusive employer of choice now. That's quite a big, bold statement to make, because then it's how do you start onboarding it? They want to get that right. So they're talking to us as their recruitment partner about how to get that right in the first six months. That ongoing training and development and ensuring that people from diverse communities all feel part of the organization. You have to be bold. One of the things we're saying to organizations we work with, whether that's through No Turning Back or through the F1 when we're recruiting, is can you give me three reasons why I would put somebody from a minority group into your company? How are they going to develop and how are they going to shine? And how are you going to set them up for success? 

 

CHRIS:

Well, it has been a fantastic conversation. Great discussion to be fair I could go on for another half an hour.

 

Quick fire round

CHRIS:

We've got some quick fire questions that we just want to get your spontaneous answer back. 

 

Who are your role models and who do you feel displays great leadership credentials these days?

 

AMANDA:

One of my role models has been Cilla Snowball because she's just done such amazing work around gender. I think she was brave and bold many years before it became popular in the women's movement. So she'd be one of my female people that I've always respected. 

 

ADRIAN:

From an industry perspective, I'm going to call out Karen Blackett for similar reasons. So Karen has obviously had quite a meteoric rise, but all along her journey, she's always remained true and genuine to the cause. Actually what you find is that sometimes the more senior people become, they can pull  up the ladder so that others are not able to join them at the table. Karen's always been a cheerleader and continues to be a cheerleader for many. I just wish there'd be more people around her to help her as opposed to her having the job of trying to do it for us all.

 

SAM:

What one piece of advice would you give companies intent on improving their diversity and inclusion and representation of their workforce? 

 

AMANDA:

Well, I'm outspoken on this, but I would say get reversed mentored by somebody that is completely different to you. Different backgrounds, different educational backgrounds, lives in  different parts of the country or different parts of the city, mixes with different people, has a completely different perspective, completely different diversity of thinking. And get reversed mentored by them and learn before you even start implementing, because you need to probably get yourself up to speed on what it's like to be a 25 year old coming into our sector.

 

ADRIAN:

I think organizational leaders need to become farmers and not hunters. The reason why I say that is there's too many people hunting around for the solution for what is systemic change and actually what they need to do is really focused internally within their organizations to understand what their current cultures are doing. They need to adopt the approach of farmers who are trying to grow. They make a good point to understand the soil composition of their organizations. 

 

CHRIS:

Adrian and Amanda, it's been fantastic having you on, like I say, I wish we could have carried on longer, but really stimulating debate. We wish you best of luck and want to be involved with No Turning Back, going forward and for many years to come. 

 

SAM:

It's been awesome having you both and learned a lot and really feel that this is an episode that the audience will love. 

 

So without further ado, have a great week across the pond...