How to improve our industry's wellbeing

A Future of Fairness includes a roadmap for companies to follow no matter where they are on their diversity and inclusion journey.

Xavier Rees, Havas London CEO, has made a name for himself as a leader dedicated to diversity, pushing to create a modern working environment that puts wellbeing high up the agenda. Writing for our publication A Future of Fairness, he outlines his key action points to improve workplace wellbeing.

You can’t just pledge that things will be different in four years’ time, forget about it for three years, and then quickly make some changes. You’ve got to start now, because it takes time to have an impact. Unless your strategies change the make up of your agency, they don’t really count for anything.

Despite his undoubted commitment, Rees acknowledges, "None of this is an area that anyone’s an expert in. As a result" of getting involved, I’ve realised how much I need to learn. I’ve also learned that if you are a growing business, it’s much easier to take risks and to effect change more quickly. We all need to cut each other a bit of slack.

Here are his key action points:

Behave as you want others to behave

I had this forced on me. Within a month of arriving at Havas I was put into a personal situation where I had to start leaving early and sometimes unexpectedly – I even had to leave a pitch presentation once. I thought it was going to mean I couldn’t do my job, because I would lose respect, but in fact people found it inspiring.

I realised there was a different way to manage, and that in order to lead a company you don’t have to be physically there all the time. Presenteeism is not the way to create an inclusive environment.

Introduce flexibility as an actual policy

Last year we implemented flexible working, with core hours from 10am to 4pm. There’s been no reduction in productivity or quality, and staff retention has improved. You have to make a decision about trusting your people.

Actively encourage shared parental leave

I got two weeks’ paternity leave with my first two daughters, but with my third I was on three months’ gardening leave, and it gave me a whole new perspective – I wish I had had that time with all of them. Havas’ paternity leave is currently six weeks on full pay, 20 weeks on half pay, and 13 weeks on the statutory maternity rate.

Get more women on the management team

When I arrived, Havas’s management team was six men and one woman, which is not a healthy environment. So I doubled its size by looking around the agency, where – funnily enough – I found lots of talented women.

Something like this you can do really quickly, with immediate impact.

Mental health matters

Mental health is a big passion of mine. It has been a big part of my life because of my daughter, and I think it’s an epidemic in society. I do think that agency environments aren’t great, unless you actively manage towards everybody’s mental wellbeing.

We’ve trained up scores of mental health first aiders and we have stuff going on all year round, not just in mental health awareness week. It’s been a big focus of ours and for me it’s a big part of the inclusivity debate. We are still grappling with our policies on this – how to help people who are struggling to remain within the organisation, and how to put it at the heart of the way we work.

Promote from within

There’s no problem with the balance of men and women at a lower level, so promoting from within allowed some very good women to step into leadership experience for the first time. Three years later we have a female MD
as a result. 

Insist on seeing equal long lists for new roles

I still get lists that have mostly white men on them and I don’t think that bears out the reality of what’s in the market. I insist on 15% BAME and 50% women on all recruitment lists.

This piece first appeared in our publication A Future of Fairness - continue reading


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024