THE MALE PERSPECTIVE – Interview with David Mayo, Chief Operating Officer at ADNA Global, Singapore

THE MALE PERSPECTIVE – Interview with David Mayo, Chief Operating Officer at ADNA Global, Singapore

Wonder Women: Inspiring Stories & Insightful Interviews with Women in Marketing celebrates the success of women.  It is not about denigrating the achievements and successes of men, nor is it about women being in competition with men.   Our vision for the future world is women and men working together, optimising the strengths of both feminine and masculine characteristics, embracing the diversity of thinking to create better consumer understanding, brand thinking and marketing campaigns. 

The support we have had for the book has been tremendous and we love that we now have a platform to start conversations, initiate ideas and actions.  We have noted however, that although men are very supportive, they don’t engage in the same way as women, so we’re setting out to understand why.

We’re conducting a number of interviews with men and exploring additional pieces of research.  One of our interviews was with David Mayo, Chief Operating Officer at ADNA Global, Singapore.  David is a brilliant sponsor of Wonder Women in Marketing; he expertly hosted the Marketing Society APAC Event to launch the book, he regularly engages in the conversations, recognises and thinks about the issues and works to address inequalities.   

Here are some excerpts from our most enlightening conversation!


I asked David what his hypotheses were on why men claim to be supportive, but don’t engage in the conversation:

Men are perpetually worried about getting it wrong. To begin with, despite the fact that there is often a difference in the definition of the issues, men generally think that they are dealing with them. However, in dealing with them, men are way more likely to default to the numbers, than understand the nuance that ‘dealing with it’ requires. This might typically be how they have filled the quotas or how many diversity & inclusion initiatives that are in place. 

In many other cases, men don’t actually think the problem exists at all. But it does and one way to bring people together would be a safe and common language.

Then there is meaning and intent.  For example – a man (who statistically would still be in charge) could be a well-meaning person, but he could be misinterpreted if he uses satire or sarcasm. That said, he could as easily be shrugged off if he is understood to be a well-meaning individual with some misplaced turns of phrase. Tone of voice is as important in the decoding and delivery of potentially sexist remarks and behaviours.

Men not knowing what to say, being fearful of putting their foot in it and what they say even being detrimental to their careers is a common theme.  In the book, Belonging by Sue Unerman, Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards, they talk about the common problem of CEOs and board members delegating D&I initiatives to the head of HR (typically a woman) for fear that if they get it wrong, it could be career ending.

In February this year, the UK Chair of KPMG had to step down because in a zoom meeting he said he didn’t believe in the concept of unconscious bias, claiming, “There is no such thing as unconscious bias, I don’t buy it. Because after every single unconscious bias training that has ever been done, nothing’s ever improved.”

David is a massive supporter of women in leadership, clearly recognizes the strengths they bring and feels that men just need to talk to women more in order to get it right.

If men could look at women and just think – thank goodness you’re here!  You can work with me and help me make those decisions – the grown-up ones.

There are some good examples in the Wonder Women book of women taking the bull by the horns.  For example, Catherine Querne at Brittany Ferries (a woman amongst sailors!) who ensures that women’s voices are heard because she knows that a good balance of men and women provide a livelier, more productive and more inclusive work environment, and she stresses the importance of listening and learning from different points of view.


This was a seminal book for David (given to him by three successive girlfriends for different reasons!).  He believes men and women are fundamentally different, but we should embrace these differences, and especially those where women really shine.  

What’s interesting is that women are able to dimensionalise what they are looking at.  Men are fight or flight – like or hate – glass half full or half empty.  Women are more nuanced. Men think in chunks, but women think in fine slices.  Women will be thinking, are you a good person, are you in a good or bad mood – and all this can lead to much more considered decisions. 

The women in the Wonder Women book aren’t that different from men.  They have traditionally masculine characteristics but blend them with feminine – and that’s very powerful.

David also thinks that the idea of men being stronger than women is a myth.  Men need to appreciate women’s strengths, and work with them to be more honest and to make better decisions. 

Women are tougher, more resilient, and have a higher pain threshold (physical and mental).  Look at the Lemsip man flu advertising!  That wouldn’t work with women.  That’s what men think of themselves – they’re babies. 

In India there are psychologists who swear blind that men leave their mother, marry and are looking for a wife who will become their mother.  You can’t paint too broad brush, but there are truths.  That’s why men are quite defensive – they’re trained to defend or attack – and it still makes its way out into society – their guard never fully goes far enough down, they never allow people to come in and have a deep conversation.


David believes that all men are born alphas.  

It’s a pet theory of mine.  The idea that males are born alpha – it’s nature –  it’s in the chromosomes. Then some men tail off as society gets hold of them and they become more nuanced.  They adjust to their surroundings and are more confident with themselves.  

Those who stay the alpha course are the ones that bubble to the top – you never really find benevolent people at the top – they don’t succeed in business.  Even the nicest – Warren Buffet, for example – they’re not weak and wobbly men – they’re war horses

There are therefore expectations of masculinity which can make it difficult for men.  They believe they are expected to be confident, extroverted, visionary, not to shy away from conflict in order to succeed – and all this can put huge pressure on them – and also mean that they don’t always respond in the right way.

Men are afraid of getting it wrong, putting their foot in it.

What I found interesting about this topic of conversation with David is that both genders need to be mindful of why men behave in the way they do.  Much of the time, men are in theory hugely supportive of gender equality, they are well meaning, they are not sexist, but they need help in getting to the conversations and actions which will not result in them putting their foot in it. 

David was also clear that we need to be mindful of cultural differences:

Another theme which is interesting is about laughter and happiness. In Asian culture if you have an open, cheerful, chatty disposition it can be seen as a weakness.  The subliminal signal of laughter means relaxation, you’re not on your guard, you’re not a man’s man – you can still be a male, but not tough, not alpha. 


David and I had a good debate around the need for alpha characteristics to make it to the top in business.  I strongly believe that this is changing, and it is those people with empathetic, collaborative, and human skills combined with strength, resilience, decisiveness who will succeed in the future.  l’m very much of the Jacinda Ardern view, who said, “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

David agreed that the world is changing:

Things have changed massively over the last 20 years with the economic explosion.  Careers are no longer linear – going in a straight line from the mail room to the board room, there is not so much of a hierarchical structure in business, it’s levelling off.  In the new structures there is room for benevolent people in the C-suite – there are great opportunities for different types of CMOs, COOs, etc.   

I asked David if women need alpha characteristics to break the glass ceiling.

The characteristics of focus, energy, insistence, intellectual ability – all traditionally alpha traits but women also have these.

Gemma Greaves said it in her interview for the Wonder Women book – don’t be afraid, be brave.  Gemma is massively driven, very bright, swam through cracks – you could say she’s super alpha – but I’ve seen her cry, apologise, become upset – but she has the energy to gather it all up and move forward.

The Lakeland story in the book is also interesting.  It was a very unglamorous business (and male led) until Michelle Kershaw came in and injected a unique focus on the customer.  She was hard-working, resilient, prepared to pivot, prepared to fail.   There was no arrogance, no ultimate power, just doing a great job.

Ultimately, David and I both agreed that it would be good when we get to a point where we’re not talking about gender.  We should be talking human to human, appreciating ours differences, and that everyone is a unique individual.

David did leave us with a frightening perspective though:

We need to watch out for the clip-board Charlies – those men who are just fulfilling the quotas and paying lip-service to true equality.  For them it’s another way of keeping women where men might want them.  That’s the real danger. 

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