HeForShe: Paul Evans | CEO, Leadership Through Sport and Business

Paul EvansI am the CEO of a social mobility charity called Leadership Through Sport & Business (LTSB).

We connect young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to meaningful careers with major firms.

I decided to change career in 2006 when I was 25 and become a youth worker. I always had a desire to help people, people like me who came from tough backgrounds where poverty, lack of opportunity and poor social mobility was prevalent. My hometown was voted the second to last worst place to grow up in if you are poor by a government report, and although they were probably right, in many ways I always thought labelling communities as “low aspiration” “poverty stricken” etc did nothing to help peoples self-esteem and ambition and absolutely nothing to help them get out of their situations.

My ambition was to work in an area where you could create meaningful change in people’s lives, and that brought me on a journey to where I am now.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not in the early days. I had an ambition to do well, I wanted to do something I was passionate about and that fulfilled me. But at first, for me it was about getting a job, helping my family, getting off the estate I grew up on and doing well for myself.

Later, when I was settled in a youth work job, started studying further, learning more, seeing how I was able to be successful and combine business with a social purpose – I started to think strategically about my future. My plan then consisted of: Learn as much as possible, deliver what you say you will and be great in your role, seize and look for every opportunity to progress and say “yes” much more than you say “no”.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes, many. I have grown, shrank, merged organisations, rode the crest of the wave in the good times and dealt with the tide changing and being in the bad time. The challenge of environments suddenly changing and putting you under pressure to close services, let people go, and operate with uncertainty. I have faced the personal challenges of making work and relationships work, being away from home and times where you are doing so well that “imposter syndrome” kicks in and you feel that you shouldn’t be, or guilty for it – a usual feeling for people from certain backgrounds – and in fact for many people.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think I am doing a pretty good job of being a step dad, which has for the last few years has given me a greater and different sense of purpose. Work wise, when I reflect on how I have handled the bad times, redundancies, difficult decisions – I feel I have always acted with sincerity, openness and principled. I look at letters I received from people when I had to let them go, and often they have said they felt I handled things with care, compassion and with thought for their dignity. I think this is important, to treat people well along the way. For me, that kind of feedback is a great achievement.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Being a positive colleague, that looks for reasons to be optimistic, not reasons not to. Having a positive personality, using humour, building relationships, fostering trust and commitment has enabled me to be successful and others too. Ah you asked for one thing. Let’s call it “personality”.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a big fan of mentoring. I see first hand the positive impact of the hundreds of mentors that work with LTSB have on our young people. A safe space to talk, to push you, to be a soundboard, a teacher, learner and inspirer can be really helpful in your career and personal development. A mentor doesn’t always have to be a formal one though. Some of my best career advice can come from my partner, friends and family – being open to good conversations and advice is vital. I am a mentor to two charity leaders, and I learn as much from them as they do me. It is the strength of the conversation that makes the relationship.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

This is a biq question! To start with, we need to be sure that the difference between “Inclusion” and “Diversity” is understood. When we think of them as the same, any strategies we put in pace are doomed to fail. For example, you can increase diversity within the organisation, but it doesn’t mean that people feel included. A good way to think about it, is that “Diversity is being asked to the party… Inclusion is being asked to dance!

So seeing these as two different strategies is helpful to begin with. It is important to have a strategy, and that this is developed in consultation with the people it affects most. We must include a range of voices in the development of any policy / strategy and create a culture where those voices are heard and respected. Every organisation can do more to learn, and to un-learn – to foster diverse thinking, to role model gender balance and diversity at all levels of the organisation and to recognise the different needs of the work force. We can do this by creating or refreshing policies, by thinking beyond diversity in terms of ethnicity and including multi-generational workforce development, supporting and promoting the roles of “allies” , for example Male allies supporting the advancement of gender equality. We can undergo training, challenge ourselves to learn more about other cultures, religions and backgrounds – but really, it starts with a true commitment to change, at all levels, led from the top and with the support of everyone. Only then can meaningful change happen.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

The business case for gender equality within organisations – at all levels has been proven. Greater profitability, increased perspectives and insight, it stimulates the economy and is good for society in general. For example, Large-cap companies with at least one woman on the board have outperformed their peer group with no women on the-board by 26% over the last six years, according to a report by Credit Suisse Research Institute.

Men should support equality because of the business and moral case, and because it is the right thing to do. Not only should men support gender equality, they should be active and prominent male allies in the work place. Leading by example, calling out discriminatory practice and contributing to efforts to address gender imbalance, inequality and discrimination within their organisations.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Trust yourself, follow your instincts – don’t worry about being judged and other people’s perceptions so much – just get on and make your mark. Be proud of where you come from.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I have two simple challenges which link to what I want to achieve.

  • To continue to learn and grow as a step-dad, to be the best I can be and contribute to a happy, stable and loving home.
  • To steer this charity through these very uncertain times, knowing that it might be a very difficult funding landscape, the cards might be stacked against us, but that young people need us more than ever. Young people have been the hardest hit group during this pandemic, there is a youth unemployment crisis and they are feeling like their futures have been stolen. Our challenge is to make sure they get the futures they deserve. Connecting those young people to a career that offers good pay, prospects and training can ensure they get the best out of their lives, and can flourish.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of HeForShe interviews, including Suki Sandhu, Philip Baldwin, Asif Sadiq MBE, Rob Neil OBE and many more. You can read about all the amazing men championing gender equality here

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