Thought Leadership

“The idea of manning up lets men down”: David Lammy MP highlights the importance of language at Masculinity in the Workplace

Token Man, Utopia, HeANDShe and The Hobbs Consultancy collaborated on an event to explore what masculinity means in business today.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


“The idea of manning up lets men down.” These were the words David Lammy MP opened with at the Masculinity in the Workplace conference hosted at Havas London on International Men's Day 2019. The event was organised by culture change business Utopia and The Hobbs Consultancy, in collaboration with HeANDShe and Token Man. Lammy was being interviewed by Roxanne Hobbs, Founder of The Hobbs Consultancy and HeANDShe in a pre-recorded video, exploring vulnerability, the language of Westminster and why he will always maintain an “emotional connection with the people I want to represent.”

Lammy was just one of a line-up of brilliant speakers who took to the stage to explore what masculinity means today but, more specifically, what it looks like within businesses. Daniele Fiandaca, Founder of Token Man, kicked off the afternoon with a powerfully honest and emotional account of how he labelled his brother a hero when he was battling a terminal illness. For Fiandaca, what he now realises is, “if we call people heroes, we don’t give them space to be vulnerable.” So, the afternoon’s speakers took this theme and ran with it, exploring the Hero’s Story narrative through each of their lives.

Will Pike rendered the audience to a complete standstill as he told of his experience of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. After hiding in his hotel room, Pike realised he and his girlfriend needed to escape, as the hotel itself was on fire. They fashioned a rope from towels and sheets but, as Pike lowered himself out of the window, he felt one of the knots slip and he fell 60 feet, landing on his lower back.

Vulnerability opens doors in ways you can’t imagine.

Will Pike

Pike, a disability activist and presenter who is now paralysed from the waist down, spoke candidly about how his disability has given him more perspective on his privilege as a white man. He says, the “sense of being in a minority has given me strength.” While he was clear that he wouldn’t wish his situation on anyone, he believes that some good has come from it. Although he is now vulnerable without choosing to be, he adds, “vulnerability opens doors in ways you can’t imagine.”

Nadya Powell, Co-Founder of Utopia, hosted the Heroes Panel, with a number of business leaders who were truthful and candid in their storytelling. The author Caroline Paige talked about what it was like to transition while being a fighter pilot in the RAF at a time when the military had a law against LGBTQ recruits. For Paige, it meant she “looked at masculinity from a different perspective.” Her transition wasn’t about “rejecting masculinity,” but rather was “an awareness that I was a woman.”

Tanya Joseph, former Director of Business Partnerships, for Sport England, said the reality is that “vulnerability is not weakness,” something every leader on stage acknowledged. The conclusion, ultimately, was that vulnerability made you into a better leader; a belief the retail consultant and agency founder Mary Portas upholds wholeheartedly. For Portas, it’s about taking the alpha out of the workplace and “giving your feelings oxygen.” Portas was optimistic as she spoke of the future, believing that she’s “never felt change like this. The feminine is coming through.” And that, she says, will be beneficial for everyone.