Toby Southgate, Global CEO, Forsman & Bodenfors, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

Toby Southgate, Global Managing Director, Forsman & Bodenfors

In India, women hold 5% of executive seats and 10% of non-executive seats. The Egon Zehnder Global Diversity Report 2020 states that globally, 27.3% of women hold committee chair positions, while the number is only 11% in India.

Along with the big difference in numbers comes a gaping wage difference as well. Women in India earn 19% less than men (Monster Salary Index). From advertising to cinema, no industry or company in India can claim equal pay. A LinkedIn report states that 85% of women in India did not receive a raise or promotion because of their gender. And that is the painful truth of modern times.
Amid this rather grim scenario, there was some news to encourage women in advertising. Swedish company Forsman & Bodenfors has achieved global pay equity in every country where it has an office, thanks to its ongoing commitment to equal pay for equal work. Globally, the agency will express salary ranges in job postings. Spoiler: Forsman and Bodenfors are still not in India.

But the agency could pave the way for others around the world. From never asking candidates about previous pay to analyzing overall gender pay equity every year, Toby Southgate, Global Managing Director, shared with ETBrandEquity his insights on achieving Fair Pay Workplace certification.

Edited excerpts:

What was the roadmap for obtaining certification?

It started a long time ago, long before me. The most important thing is that it’s not a tactical decision that we made, or a reactive decision. You know this is an agency that has always done things in a bit unusual way. We have very clear principles and ways of thinking about how we work and what kind of place we want to be.

One of the things we do on an annual basis and to inform the decisions we make operationally is our annual inclusion survey, which gives everyone, across the agency and in every world office, a voice to help us define our roadmap. . We want to know that we are a place our people want to be and we want to know what we can do better.

After Covid-19, many people have been thinking about what they need and expect from their employers in this environment. And what we learned from last year’s exercise, the 2021 inclusion survey, is that there is a need to have real transparency about how we compensate people, ensuring that we are a fair workplace. That we paid fairly for equal work meant a lot to many of our people. This was one of the strongest themes across the answers we got to a variety of questions and we looked for ways to move beyond the platitudes.

What do our people really need and what are they telling us they want from us and in direct response to these findings, what can we do? It was therefore essential to find a neutral organization to ensure that this was a credible exercise and that the commitments that follow our certification are clearly communicated.

Did you encounter any kind of resistance in your own organization?

I haven’t found any resistance worth losing sleep over. But there were many concerns and questions. Ironically, our internal employees, especially our leaders in the offices, feared that we could not achieve this, that the findings of the initial investigation would give us too many problems and too expensive to solve.

We found problems and we found injustices that we had to solve and we solved them. It cost money and it forced us not to retaliate retrospectively but to recognize that we had left some people behind for too long.

By involving our leaders in the process and by sharing and listening to their concerns, it was not difficult to resolve their concerns because people knew it was the right thing to do. We had made a commitment and we couldn’t back down at the last minute.

What was the reaction from the industry when you received this certification?

I received many questions from peers and friends from other places.

But I still haven’t been asked, other than that and a few other conversations, “how did you do it?”. Everyone asked me “why did you do that”, in an almost interrogative way like “why did you do that? ‘, ‘It must have been really difficult’, ‘Didn’t it cost you a lot of money?’, ‘Why would you want to be so transparent?’.

But there is something in there. I think the industry asking me why we did this is honestly exhibiting a bit of fear and concern.

It’s not an accusation, but it’s not an industry that has been at the forefront of issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. People have been fighting for too long for a more diverse and equitable work environment in all sectors, including ours.

My only hope is that it inspires others to do the same.

How will gender equality and equal pay affect your work?

Most creative marketers need to communicate with people. This is a strongly people-driven industry, which is why once again we have people at the top of the table and a strategy that puts our people’s constituency at the center of our plans for the future. So how does this affect us? I think the job is to make sure the best people in the industry want to work with you, for you, around you and help you improve. And that’s the long-term impact. We have a pretty strong employer brand, especially for creatives.

This will strengthen our work because it is proven that the more diverse and equitable your work environment, the more diverse and equitable your work. It’s an almost direct connection. You’re not going to be culturally successful if the people responsible for carrying out the ideas behind this work are a bunch of old white men in a privileged room.

You build dialogue by developing empathy and understanding culture, and so your organization should reflect those cultures.

How does this affect your employer brand?

We’re a well-known creative agency, but we’re quite small and we’re also building consistency. We are incredibly well known in Sweden and by extension in many parts of Europe.

We’re honestly a little less well known in North America, quite well known in Southeast Asia, but less in China, less in India, frankly.

And one of the things that I would emphasize, because this is a global certification, is that it will also help us with mobility.

So the impact on the employer brand, hopefully this is a long-term journey, will grow stronger because we’re first here and others may or may not follow.

This will count for some people. That already matters, in terms of the number of applications we get for posts on LinkedIn, the number of followers we have for some of our content. These are not concrete indicators of a brilliantly powerful employer brand, but they are certainly signs that it is of interest to people who care about the world we work in and who may want to come and work there.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m intrigued to see what responses we’re getting as to how our people feel about the efforts we’ve made and if there are any concerns or concerns. What we learn in September and October through our diversity survey will be fascinating.

I think we have made a lot of progress. I hope our people believe that and recognize that. We should tell you in about a month, when we have the results, if it made a difference for our people.

What are the upcoming milestones?

The only big step is to continue to be at the front. We remain the first and only agency with a three percent certification. We have now obtained the Pay Equity in the Workplace certification and we desperately want to keep it.

There are five steps to go through. We must assess our internal equality every year. We need to communicate internally the results of this analysis to everyone. We promise never to ask candidates about their salary history and this is another kind of systemic problem in the industry. We commit to these open pay scales, in every market, in every open position, unilaterally, globally, immediately.

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