Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mark Landon

Mark Landon has been challenging my ideas about What Success Looks Like. As well as being London Managing Partner of multi-award-winning law firm Weightmans, and a market-leading employment lawyer with a very busy work portfolio, Mark is also Secretary of Changing Faces, the charity dedicated to "Challenging the way people face disfigurement and public attitudes towards it." 

When we spoke, he told me how his role in the charity's  new campaign aimed at challenging disfigurement in the workplace, entitled "What Success Looks Like", brings his experience as an employment lawyer nicely together with the insights he has gained through his work at Changing Faces into our society's pre-occupation with appearance and bizarre prejudices around facial disfigurement. I'll repeat here the video link to the Changing Faces' film short "Leo" which I have blogged about previously, as I don't want any of you to have missed it. This little video story illustrates far better than the written word the problem of how quick we all are to equate facial disfigurement with threat or evil.  And, for those of you who missed my previous post on this topic, it's clear this issue is not helped by the film industry at all, given their love of signifying villains by facial scars and the like (think Two-Face, Blofeld, The Joker, etc. See here for more).  This attitude has a particularly debilitating consequence in the employment context, hence Changing Faces' new initiative.

I ask Mark what the campaign is all about: "It's aimed at transforming everyone's confidence and expectations around disfigurement in the workplace.  It can be one of those issues that makes everyone feel awkward.  You know the scenario: you want to avoid staring at a new colleague with an unusual face, so you end up not making proper eye contact, the initial interaction is poor and very uneasy on both sides.  Everyone comes away feeling bad.  It's one of those situations that you'd just rather not face at all.  And you certainly don't want to talk about it.  But it's that silence, the taboo around it all, that makes it worse.

"It's worse still in a recruitment context, and again it's the unhelpful assumptions and anxiety that result from people being too afraid to communicate directly that compounds the issue.  Very few individuals, interviewers and employers are confident enough to talk about "the elephant in the room": candidates don't discuss their mark, scar or facial condition out of fear of jeopardising their chances ... and many ask why they should have to mention it.  Interviewers are fearful of asking the wrong thing or using inappropriate words or being accused of discrimination."

The statistics on the Changing Faces website make for uncomfortable reading: 43% of people said they'd decided not to apply for a job "because they believed their face wouldn't fit", compared to 4% of people who did not have unusual facial features.  22% had been told by an interviewer that they wouldn't get the job because of the way they looked.  46% said an interviewer seemed uncomfortable with the way they looked.  And 55% thought that their colleagues treated them differently.

"The Changing Faces campaign is all about opening up the conversation and encouraging people to talk openly," he explains.  "The big idea behind the campaign is that by demonstrating that success can and does look like in the workplace we can start to replace the fear of rejection, of causing offence and of being accused of discrimination, with confident dialogue, open-mindedness and fair decision-making."

Well I for one am certainly a believer in the power of conversation. You can find out more about the campaign here.

Law is such a small world isn't it? I blogged only a couple of weeks ago about our good friends at Serle Court breaking out in a sweat for Changing Faces, raising money for them in the Standard Chartered City Race. Chief Executive Nicola Sawford became a trustee of the charity a year or so ago.  I asked Mark if he has ever come across her.  "I interviewed her when she was recruited to the board of trustees!" he tells me.  I've worked closely with both Nicola and Mark for years, and now I find out they are connected to each other for reasons outside their work in law.  I think the world of both of them; two consummate professionals at the very top of their respective trees.  No wonder they sought each other out eventually   
You can look forward to some Guest Blogs from my Kysen colleagues over August as I will be taking a little break from it over the Summer.  I will be using the time to catch up on some business reading. 

I have a few books lined up already: Richard Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers of course, and a recommendation from Fay Gillott at 7 Bedford Row  "Oh Do Shut Up Dear" about how women's voices have been silenced in the public sphere throughout the history of Western culture. But I'm up for more suggestions! So do please let me know any particularly interesting or provocative reads.
What better way to wind down to my Summer break than a chilled Friday afternoon playing our "SuPR Powers!" game. Since my last blog post about it, we've invested a little in developing it as a physical asset. SuPR Powers! is a training game we have devised, to encourage an internal conversation about seeing "difficulty" as an opportunity to show off your skills, rather than as a cue to give up. Because the best PRs are the ones who always persevere and go the extra mile to get the very best possible result every time... the ones who see difficult situations and obstacles as opportunities to shine and show how good they are. If you think of super heroes in literature and film, they are all defined by adversity.  That's what creates the opportunity for them to bring out their special powers. After all, if the world had never been under threat, Clark Kent would never have gone into THAT phone box and put on THAT costume. 

Yes, we're setting the expectation very high at Kysen. But playing SuPR Powers! on our roof terrace in the sunshine on a late Friday afternoon, drink in hand, makes being SuPR Heroes fun too!

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