Meeting the 2019 WISE Man Award Finalists
The WISE Man Award is for men who are agents of change – improving gender balance in their organisation and beyond. I was asked to interview this year’s finalists ahead of the WISE Awards Ceremony on the 7th of November.
As a member of the Young Professionals’ Board, I spend a lot of time thinking, reading and talking about gender equality. Yet each of the interviewees opened my mind to new ideas, either in their motivations for being an ally, or in their opinions on the benefits gender balance brings.
I wish I could share all of the conversations in full but they each lasted around 45 minutes! Instead I hope to give a good idea of who each of the nominees are with the limited space I have here.
Mark Jabbal was first compelled to take action after attending an aerodynamics conference with few female speakers, no female keynote speakers, and all-male panels. As one speaker presented a slide with the title “Dawn of New Era of Aviation”, Mark took a picture from the back of the room: a sea of men. “It’s quite ironic because it does capture what the future of aviation will look like if we don’t make any changes,” says Mark.
Using the @AeroWomen Twitter account, Mark shares weekly Q&As with women from all areas of aerodynamics. Despite the conference suggesting that aerodynamics is an overwhelmingly male field, Mark has found over 50 women to feature, including the President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the CTO of Airbus, and a NASA Research Aerospace Engineer. “There are quite a lot of women in the field already. It seems like there’s not many because they’re not invited as keynote speakers or presenters, or nominated for the awards from the professional institutions,” says Mark. “You think ‘gosh, are there really no women working in this field?’ but there are – and they’ve got the skills and the achievements – but they’re just not given prominence.”
Through interviewing for the @AeroWomen’s weekly Q&As, Mark met a couple of women who he felt deserved extra recognition. Mark successfully nominated Prof Rebecca Lingwood for the Royal Aeronautical Society Named Lanchester Lecturer – a prestigious award which had previously only had one female winner since it was founded in 1957. Mark also identified Prof Marilyn Smith as a potential keynote speaker; she is now scheduled to present at the next RAeS Aerodynamics Conference, the very conference which alarmed Mark last year.
As well as single-handedly running the @AeroWomen account, Mark also goes the extra mile to enact change within his organisation. In his department, lecturers are encouraged to invite guest speakers from industry or other universities. Surprisingly, Mark was the first academic on the undergraduate aerospace engineering course to invite a woman to give a guest lecture. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘I know him, I don’t need to spend the effort looking around for someone else’,” says Mark. “But after seeing that conference I thought ‘if I want to be affected with the change I want to see, then I need to start diversifying my guest speakers’.”
Name: Richard Carter
Title: Managing Director of BASF UK & Ireland
Best known for: His ‘Future of Work’ project, which encourages diversity and flexible working
When Richard Carter took over as Managing Director of BASF he immediately focused on making the company more diverse. Not just because, as he puts it, “it’s the right thing to do” but because of the business advantages. “When you have gender-balanced teams and diverse teams you get better performance,” says Richard. “When I see what I call ‘monoculture’ teams I always have the thought that they are missing out on a key performance lever. Gender balance and diversity is good for business.”
When Richard joined BASF the UK leadership team was all male. Now the leadership team is equally gendered balanced thanks to, as Richard puts it, “seeing diversity through a different lens, namely linked to driving and enhancing performance, and a conscious concerted approach”.
The diversified leadership team has assisted Richard in conceiving their new D&I strategy called ‘Future of Work’. With the slogan ‘Find Your Balance’, the strategy has made significant changes in the company culture. For example, previously the company did not offer flexible working, or the option to work at home, but BASF now offers workers the choice to work from home one day a week. “This was a door opener because, as we all know, studies have shown the more flexible you are in terms of working time and policies, the more attractive you become [to potential employees] and the more diverse you become,” says Richard.
Of course, the journey to diversity did not come without some questions… “One of the knee-jerk reactions was ‘we don’t want quotas here’ and I said to them ‘I agree with you. We don’t want any quotas; it’s got nothing to do with quotas. This is about getting the right person in the right job but making sure we have the right lens when we’re approaching the topic of filling positions’,” says Richard.
His advice for other leaders looking to diversify their company culture? “As a leader, you have to be bold. You have to be aware of the fact that not everyone is going to like what you do and that is true whatever you do. You have to be convinced of the initial actions that you’re taking. It sounds cliché but I really mean it, doing nothing is not an option.”
Name: Zeb Farooq
Title: Bid Manager for Wood
Best known for: Being a positive and relatable role model for Muslim girls
Charity has always been an important part of Zeb Farooq’s life. “What drives me is my faith,” he says. “I’m a proud British Muslim. Being charitable is one of our core beliefs and it’s very important to me.” Within the work he does for others, Zeb is particularly passionate about empowering Muslim girls. “Just 29% of Muslim women aged 16–24 are employed, compared to 49% in the general population,” Zeb explains. “Some of the reasons for this are stereotyping; there’s pressure from traditional families, and a lack of tailored advice”. To counter this, Zeb volunteers his time as a mentor through the Prince’s Trust.
As a maths graduate, Zeb likes to share the following thought with his students: “six times four is 24, and eight times three is also 24. Both of those are equal but I use different numbers. Hence with men and women, they’re equal, they’re just made up of different parts.”
He visits his mentees monthly over a 6-month period, where most of the meetings are informal conversations, to get to know the students, find out what their aspirations are and find out what he can do to empower them. The programme culminates in a visit to Zeb’s workplace, where he gives the girls an idea of some of the employment opportunities available to them in a sector which is traditionally seen as male-dominated.
Zeb believes the key to a successful mentor/mentee relationship is being relatable. “As soon as a young girl sees me, and I introduce myself and say that I’m a Muslim and I’m Asian, all of a sudden I become relatable and the messaging that I give to that young person will be more powerful,” he says. However, Zeb strongly believes a man can also be a positive role model to a teenage girl: “We need to have men who are agents of change. If we’re going to make a success of this campaign, we do need to have men. I want to be a relatable role model to show that men care about gender equality and that discriminating against women will never lead to successful or positive outcomes,” says Zeb.
His advice for men interested in becoming allies to gender equality? “You need to engage with the diversity and inclusion and business leadership groups within your organisation. You need to get support and collaborate with like-minded organisations in your industry. That way you will get traction.”
Through the process of interviewing the finalists, the main thing that struck me was how different the three were: The Academic raising awareness of women in his field, the Managing Director changing the culture in his workplace, and the Manager inspiring high school girls in his community. Each of these men is incredible and deserve recognition for the hard work they do, but together they are a perfect demonstration of how there are so many different ways to contribute to the campaign for gender balance. Despite their differences, they all said one thing in common: men need to get involved if we want to achieve gender equality. As Zeb Farooq said, “If you’re already in involved, stay involved and get others involved too, and if you’re not involved then you need to get involved.”
The WISE Awards will take place 7th November 2019 at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London. Find out more about the awards and buy tickets
Disclaimer: The interviews were not used as part of the selection process for the winner of the Man Award.