Mark Lomas may have found his calling as a corporate diversity and inclusion champion, but it certainly wasn’t what he intended to be when he started his working life in 1998.
Originally from Bermuda, Lomas gained a degree in music at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School and moved to the UK at 19, determined to become a professional classical artist. Here, he had his first view of a world that is not as inclusive as it should be. Whereas classical musicians auditioning in the US would usually perform unseen behind a screen to ensure fairness in selection, those in the UK tended to get ahead by knowing the right people.
Mark Lomas’s CV
When his daughter was born, Lomas declined the offer of a tour and instead joined disability charity the Shaw Trust, where his strongly expressed views on how to make the organisation more inclusive eventually earned him the role of national equality and diversity manager. He went on to work for the Law Society, the BBC and the High Speed Two rail construction project before taking his current role as head of culture at Lloyd’s of London in January 2022.
As well as being in charge of equality, diversity and inclusion at the 335-year-old insurance market, Lomas is also responsible for all elements of its culture, engagement and wellbeing strategies as well as organising cross-industry diversity and inclusion event, the Dive In Festival. The job is not without its challenges, particularly because the organisation has been tainted by a sexual harassment scandal.
“I don‘t like being told what to do – let‘s just agree on what needs to be delivered and broadly how I’m going to get there. Then let’s catch up regularly to ensure that that‘s happening.
“This is why I think that, if you can get people to believe in your vision as a leader and you can support them in achieving it, they will deliver for you. That’s the first thing I asked my team to do when I arrived at Lloyd’s.
“Communication has to be open, honest and timely. There is absolutely nothing my team cannot discuss. I don‘t need a festival of congratulations in every meeting. We must be able to look at the data, have a robust debate, disagree among ourselves and then come to the best conclusion. Having a diverse team – which I mean in the broadest sense: nationalities, ethnicities, communication styles, personalities and different protected characteristics – means that we generally arrive at a well-considered decision.
“So I think my leadership style is all about agreeing a common vision first, so that we all believe in where we‘re going, and then empowering people to realise that vision.”
On hybrid working
“The expectation here is that people work three days a week in the office, but there is some flexibility in that arrangement. This approach has served us quite well. Any manager will probably tell you that it presents a challenge in meeting your operational goals, but this is not rocket science. It just takes a bit of planning.
“Flexibility offers big benefits for the talent pool and we must be careful not to lose these. A hybrid environment, for instance, is much better for recruiting disabled groups. As long as your technology is accessible, you can remove all those barriers associated with typical office buildings.
“I believe that we must capture the best elements of remote, agile working and then have a purpose for attending the office. This is often a question of what works best for each team.
“I don‘t think one side of the debate or the other is right or wrong. That said, gone are the days when anyone can argue that you simply can‘t run a successful business using flexible working. Is it more complex to manage? Maybe, but I have little sympathy for middle managers who complain about it. What are you paid for? You’re paid to manage people. People are diverse, so you need to be flexible.”
On three pressing business issues
The UK’s economic struggles
“Number one has to be the cost-of-living crisis. That has a direct effect on workers’ willingness to travel. We must consider that factor as we set budgets and payment routes and engineer salaries. For numerous people in any given organisation, cost-of-living barriers are becoming higher and harder to surmount. Rightly or wrongly, people will look to their employers to help them manage that problem.”
The polarisation of sociopolitical discourse
“The rhetoric we hear is becoming more and more divisive, which is challenging. Take the rise of ‘anti-woke’ messaging, for instance. I have no interest in getting sucked into an ideological debate with anyone.
“Improving diversity and inclusion is about doing what’s good for the business. Once we prove that and show the direction of travel, you can choose to stay and support it or you can leave.”
Increasing expectations of employer transparency
“There’s a growing belief among people that businesses should be more transparent than they’ve ever been, which can feel a little uncomfortable. It’s a complicated issue. I do think that employees understand that you can’t give them everything they want all the time. But, if you’re open about what you can and can’t do – and, critically, why – they tend to accept that.”