A MALE PERSPECTIVE – interview with Phil Tysoe, Head of Insight & Engagement at Whitbread

A MALE PERSPECTIVE – interview with Phil Tysoe, Head of Insight & Engagement at Whitbread

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 interviews with men and exploring additional pieces of research.  One of our interviews was with Phil Tysoe, who is currently Head of Insight and Engagement at Whitbread and is taking an active role in their diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Here are some excerpts from our most enlightening conversation!


I told Phil that of the 130 people who attended our Marketing Society hosted book launch event in March, only 17 were men, so asked him why he thought whilst men say they’re supportive they don’t engage.

“Men, and white men in particular, have been very privileged for a long time.  In the last 5-6 years they’ve, quite rightly, had to start thinking about sharing the stage as they’ve been asked to give access to the same rights and privileges they have had to different groups of people.

For some men that’s perhaps felt uncomfortable – and it maybe feels like they’re being asked to give something up.”

Phil is currently working on diversity & inclusion within Whitbread, gathering data and insights that will help them to change attitudes and behaviours, and close the pay gap.    His role involves listening to employee insights and he still hears attitudes towards flexible working and maternity leave that trouble him.

“In some instances I still hear things like, “I’m the person who has stayed at work for those 12 months, so I’m the person that should get the benefits and the promotion”.  The problem with that attitude is that it cuts back the opportunities for women who take maternity leave or move to part-time or flexible working; it risks building an experience deficit which, in turn, drives the gender pay-gap. The career experience of maternity can often be that women fall back.

From a policy perspective most organisations are getting better.  We’re starting to see the introduction of higher levels of equal maternity/paternity cover and shared parental leave across many organisations – but the uptake of that in my experience has been pretty low.  On an individual level it’s more basic: we need to get past some pretty old-fashioned assumptions about whose role it is to stay at home and be responsible for childcare and who does the paid work.”

Listening to Phil, we can begin to understand why it is so difficult and why it is taking us so long to close the gender pay-gap.  Becoming a mother is a major stumbling block for career progression – the perception is that women are less experienced and less committed.  But it’s a very different picture for men whose careers tend to soar when becoming a father – they’re expected to be more committed and driven as the ‘provider’.


I was perplexed recently to hear that organisations are spending £billions on diversity & inclusion programmes to little effect – with many just paying lip-service to the need for greater diversity, simply filling the required quotas without understanding the complex issues that surround the problem.

I was heartened and inspired, however, when I talked to Phil.  At Whitbread they are simply making a start by highlighting and understanding the issues, creating awareness, and harnessing the power of insight to help formulate decisions and actions. 

“There’s a big diversity & inclusion push at Whitbread and I produce the statutory report each year on the pay gap – on both gender and ethnicity.  I’ve characterised my role as providing the business with the information it needs to hold itself to account.

The report we produce shows differences by function and grade, and you can see quite clearly from the data where there are indicators that suggest within some functions there are structural barriers to women taking leadership roles. 

Many of the issues our societal issues, they are not unique to Whitbread.  If you look at the Hampton Alexander Review it tells us there is plenty of room for improvement in gender diversity in leadership, as women still only hold 14% of executive directorships in the FTSE 100 and less than 30% of senior leadership positions.

Despite Whitbread having a female CEO, female HR director and female customer director, we still have a significant gender pay-gap.  My worry is how quickly in relatively traditional organisations that may or may not change. 

However, now we’ve got visibility and awareness through the data, we are actively doing things to change.  Recruitment is one area where we’re changing the language around role profiles and job adverts – looking at words that we think are subconsciously coded male.  We’re also doing some work looking more explicitly at trying to hire based on skills and capability to do the job rather than experience.  It’s difficult to unpick the two – just because you’ve done something for 5 years doesn’t mean to say you’re more skilled – if you’ve done a role which is essentially the same year five times then you may have picked up less than someone working for two years full of change.

Data in the big unlocker – all of a sudden it becomes un-arguable.  It unlocks the conversations that help you understand why things may or may not be changing, then progressively you just have to try and tackle those arguments one by one.

That’s one of the reasons I went into people analytics.  I had a perception that maybe it was not an even playing field from conversations with lots of female peers who could talk about their experience and tell the stories of how they effectively lost leadership opportunities when they came back from maternity.  There were lots of anecdotal pieces, but once you start to get the numbers and see the demonstrable gap, then you can start the conversation to implement change.

It’s about facing into it.”


Phil talked about his own personal experience of working with amazing women and stressed the importance of visible role models within businesses, enabling them to share their stories and showcase their achievements.

“I started my career at Boots and joined a team which was entirely women – it was my first proper job, so I thought it was normal!  My first boss was the best boss I have ever had.  I was appreciative of the more empathetic leadership traits which are more characteristic naturally in female leaders.  Women in leadership can really help men to grow and flourish. 

When I switched to an insight role at Argos, it was via women and especially my agency relationships that I learnt how to run market research projects.  They were all extremely generous with their time and helped me to succeed.   We had blended teams, who were respectful of each other’s knowledge, experience, and ideas – and that worked extremely well for both women and men. 

My daughter will grow up and see a role model in my wife.   She’ll see a Mum who has thrived in a variety of leadership roles in HR – and she’ll have a completely different perspective of what normal looks like.  She’ll see strong women in leadership roles.”

I talked to Phil about how many of our Wonder Women feel they have become better leaders because of their experience as a mother. 

“Within the marketing function, you often get far more sensible feedback from mothers who really understand what consumers are thinking and doing (compared to some of the more junior people who can be tied up in marketing theory and jargon).

The women often cut straight through – somebody who has just come back from maternity understands exactly why it’s helpful to do 3 for 2 on toys at Argos because you want to maintain a present box for children’s birthday parties.  They get that stuff!

It’s good to articulate what parenting brings.  If you can navigate the playground politics at the school pick-up then you can navigate the boardroom.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.