Flexible Father – Richard Cahill

This post is part of our #FlexibleFathers series and we’re spinning the spotlight on tax specialist Richard Cahill who had a job offer withdrawn when he reiterated his need for flexible working. Richard has worked for Grant Thornton, Lloyds Bank, JP Morgan and Hilton.



The Talent Keeper Specialists believe flexible working is a business tool for increasing employee engagement, pumping up productivity and driving down real estate costs. It’s time for flexible working to go mainstream and for the world to move on from seeing it as the preserve of women with primary school children.

Richard, you wrote openly on LinkedIn about your experience of a job offer being withdrawn when you reiterated flexible working preferences. Why did you do that?

I was, frankly, fed up!

At the turn of the year, my wife and I sat down to discuss how we would cope with our eldest child going to school and what our family dynamics should look like.  We decided I would take on the role of picking up/dropping off at school and all that entails.

So, when a company who had actively pursued me on LinkedIn showed some interest in me, I told them upfront about the hours that would work for me. Throughout the process, I kept reminding them that the hours were more important than money and that the flexibility offered was one of the main attractions to the role.  They continued to say the hours were fine and when the offer came I was surprised the hours had been increased from 28 (what was discussed from the beginning) to 36!

I wrote back saying I was keen to work for them and asked if they could review the offer given what we had agreed.  I chased them up a week or so later to be told that after some discussion within the firm, they thought I was ‘not ready for the role’!

I was angry, and wanted somewhere to vent that anger.  People should know that this sort of practice is going on.  It’s discrimination, pure and simple.  I wanted to share this experience with others and see whether people related to it and boy do they!

How important is it that employers move away from thinking of flexible working as something primarily for mothers of young children?

That’s a great question.  It’s absolutely key that this whole agenda becomes gender neutral.  If you read the guff that companies, both big and small, churn out, saying that they believe in flexi working this, and employees welfare is paramount, in practice this has turned into this:

Women, traditionally, have been the ones to “take the hit” with regard to their careers, after having children.  Employers, are of the mindset that if they provide part time work to these women, then, condescendingly, they feel that they are doing a service to these women, offering them the chance to work and raise their kids.  Oh, lucky them!

However, these companies are also doing it because they feel that women will, incorrectly I must stress, be content with “their lot” and have no aspiration to move on.  They view men as the ones to have the urge to progress.

That is simply unfair and incorrect.  Women want careers as much as men.  Men are not simply entitled to a career because of their sex.  Women as well as men should be allowed to progress as far as their ability etc will allow.  Only by getting away from this old traditional view of “women’s part time work” and see flexible work for both parents, then we can actually progress as a society that truly supports the role that both parents can do within the family.  There are no set roles!

How would it benefit employers to ‘talk flex’ in job adverts and in interviews?

I feel that honesty is always the best policy.  If the role is truly a flexible one and someone can achieve every aspect of it and won’t be viewed in any other way than being integral to the business for what they do, then offer the role as flexible.

I think the problem starts where employers, in their drive to look good to potential employees, offer flexible employment.  However, once the person gets in the role, they quickly find that although they are only contracted to do, say 25 hours a week, the role demands far greater.  That “part time” role becomes full time on a part time salary – not what was advertised!

So, it’s crucial that employers talk the talk, but also walk the talk.

People are frightened to mention that they want flexible employment in interviews and feel that if they do say something, the role won’t be offered to them.  That’s wrong.  Employers have to open up about realistic expectations and they will find that their workforce engages better with the firm and productivity rises.

What do you think it will take for flexible working to become the norm?

It needs a shift in societal expectations, and that needs everyone on board.  So, not a lot then!

I think Government needs to give direction.  It needs people to realise that companies are only as good as their employees.  Companies need the best out of their employees and frankly, that does not mean that a 9-5 (if you’re lucky) culture is the only way.

What it needs is the realisation that people work best when they are happy and engaged in what they are doing.  In my world, that means that parents are able to be around for their children when needed, and allowed to work around the demands of the family.  That could be either mother or father, or even both.

In practice that means that people can work remotely, evenings when the kids are asleep, whenever they can to fit around family life.  I’m not saying that people haven’t been talking about this for a long time, I’m aware they have.  What is needed now is the shift in thinking that flexible work is not the sole domain of the mother.  It’s time we saw everyone as equals in all aspects of life.

How are you going to approach the ‘f’ word in future recruitment conversations?

So, I’ve said that honesty is the best policy.  I’ve also said that people are not getting roles when they talk about flexibility in their interviews, as happened to me!  Logic, therefore, would lead to a conclusion that I don’t mention it!

However, I’m not that kind of bloke.  I’m the son of a Yorkshire mum and say things as I find them.  I’ll continue to be up front and say what realistically works for me.  I wouldn’t want to work for a firm that did not view flexibility as a given.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to work for someone who appreciates me for being me the person, rather than me the robot who sits at a work portal for my allotted hours.

Employers have got to wake up and see that if the best person for the role wants flexibility that can work for them and improves their culture.  It’s a selling point to other potential members of the workforce – “look, here’s a firm that can actually show me that they value flexible working”!

What would you like employers and Government to do?

Government have got to drive the agenda.  They need to realise that by offering shared parental leave, this has opened the door to men, as well as women, being further engaged in their child’s upbringing.  However, once the 12 months are over, that doesn’t mean that the dad should go back to being the workhorse and the wife needs to ensure that she can juggle the housework as well as her career.  Those days are gone.  Move on.  Men can do housework, they can put kids to bed, they can cook!  Women can work, women can lead companies, and women can take on the world!

Government needs to help society realise this.  Society needs to get real.  Depending on the statistics you look at, but I saw one that said 54% of all households now have a female main breadwinner.  Even if you disagree with the statistic, it’s clear that women are going to achieve more and more in the workplace going forward.

What it means now is that family dynamics are changing and they need to be supported by the Government and employers to get it right.  Flexible employment is here to stay but in the future, it needs to be available to all.  I’m happy to be lending my voice to that call!


We thank Richard Cahill for speaking frankly and for his post on LinkedIn. Our founder, Jessica Chivers, made the business case for flexible working for all on BBC Breakfast last month. We run workshops on ‘managing flexibly’ and ‘career progression for flexible workers’ to help both line managers and individuals make flexible working work.

What is a returner programme?

A returner programme takes the concept of an internship and makes it relevant to people who have taken a career break and are looking to return to work. Typical programmes enable the individual to transition back into the workplace through a structured and specifically tailored programme. Participants either undertake a piece of relevant project work or step into a potentially available role providing them with the ability to demonstrate their suitability for longer term employment.

Watch a film about how O2 set up a pilot returner programme.


Is a returner programme relevant to my organisation?

If you agree with at least three of the following five statements, a returner programme is likely to be a useful tool for your organisation:

1. Your organisation has a stated goal (publicly or internally) of moving towards gender parity in specific areas or levels of your organisation.

2. There is a shortage of women in your industry.

3. Your CEO and/or executive team is aware of the link between gender diversity and increased financial performance.

4. Your organisation is struggling in one or more areas/levels to recruit and retain great* people.

5. Your internal or external recruitment team is failing to create gender balanced shortlists or you are hiring less women than you would like.

* We all have different definitions of what great is. We mean someone who delivers on agreed objectives and does it in such a way that other employees and clients would miss him or her if they left your business.


Which organisations are returner programmes NOT suitable for?

  • Organisations who ‘measure’ who’s doing a good job by how much time they spend in the office
  • Organisations who are uncomfortable with the concept of flexible working
  • Organisations with a CEO who doesn’t know/believe research showing the link between gender diversity and profitability.


Why is it necessary to run a programme for returners?

  • Most career returners have been applying to normal jobs and they don’t even get invited to an interview – this has resulted in a large talent pool that really wants to get back to work but is unable to do so. In a country with purported skills shortages it is crazy that we overlook this market.
  • Most jobs have countless applications and a recruiter or an internal resourcing team will short-list 4 or 5 for the line manager to review. The one with the CV gap is the one most likely to be taken off due to the biases. In 2012 there was a fascinating piece of research done in the US by a business called The Ladders[i]. Utilising scientific eye-tracking equipment they analysed how long the average recruiter looks at a CV, done over ten weeks. The average? Six seconds. And they look at your Current Title & Company and the Dates first. So if the first thing they see for a Returner is dates that highlight a break and no current employer then what hope is there for those six seconds?
  • There is still a stigma around flexible working in many organisations. Forward thinking businesses are embracing it, but overall far too many businesses suffer from presenteeism and clock watching. Many women when returning from a career break will require some form of flexibility in their role. Again during the recruitment process we are told that they are often uninvited to interview the minute they mention part-time or flexible working.

[i] http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-recruiters-look-at-during-the-6-seconds-they-spend-on-your-resume-2012-4?IR=T


What’s the value of a returner scheme?

We believe there are five key points of value.

For the organisation:

1. Talent and technical skills are on offer that your business may not have been able to         access in your internal pipelines.

2. Candidates who have taken a break from their career bring diversity of experience           and thought to your business challenges.

3. Younger women want to see more, older women in their businesses; they want role         models and want to see working women at all stages of their career.

For the individual returner:

4. Participants are supported during the transition period through coaching and                   invaluable conversations with peers on the programme.

5. Delivery of a relevant and valued piece of work breeds self-confidence when seeking       further employment. Participants go on to target roles commensurate with their skills         and abilities.

How long should it be, what should you pay?

There is no one size fits all approach to timing and pay.  Some schemes last 12 weeks, some 16 weeks and some are 6 months. Pay is usually dependent on what level of returner the organisation is seeking to attract. The best return to work programmes have had dual bandings if applicable to the talent presented. The most important thing is to ensure the returner, if hired after the programme, goes on to a salary that is commensurate with the role they are offered.

If you would like to know more

The Talent Keeper Specialists have partnered with Inclusivity (www.inclusivity.co.uk) to create a fresh, start-to-finish returner offering we think beats what’s currently on the market. From sourcing, screening and selection, through to induction, coaching and employability skills sessions during the programme.

If you’re not quite there yet and have cultural issues to tackle around flexible working or conscious/unconscious biases for example, let’s have a conversation. We design and deliver solutions to shape inclusive, positive workplaces. Please e-mail hello@talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169.

Talk to Jessica Chivers jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or Stephanie Dillon stephanie@inclusivity.co.uk or call 01727 856169.





Bringing talent back – O2’s story

Over the summer we brought HR, D&I, talent and resourcing practitioners from organisations including Whitbread, EY, Accenture and Cap Gemini together to explore ways to uncover and bring back ‘hidden talent’. Thank you to Avanade & Accenture for hosting us and to O2 for sharing their story.



What and why a ‘hidden talent action tank’?

When Jessica Chivers wrote the book, Mothers Work! she discovered vast numbers of women were returning to jobs not commensurate with their skills and abilities (all tied up with the flexible working/presenteeism problem that pervades UK workplaces). Fast forward to 2013 we piloted a workshop for the Chartered Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales aimed at supporting the return to work of members on maternity leave. What actually happened was a full room of women, the majority of whom were not on maternity leave, but those hungry to get back to work after 2-10 years out. They were struggling because the gap on the CV meant they were being overlooked – hence their pouncing on a workshop about getting back to work.

Since then we’ve run swathes of free maternity comeback and career comeback workshops (which participants love and have travelled 100s of miles to attend) but they don’t address the heart of the problem – the need for Heads of Resourcing, Talent and D&I practitioners to see the problem and commit to action. There’s just too much talent going to waste and this is a problem on many levels, but commercially speaking it doesn’t make sense when there’s still a ‘war for talent.’ Hence the ‘hidden talent action tank’ to drive change through peer idea exchange, including a spotlight on returner programmes as one tool for bringing talent back.



O2’s returner programme

Andrea Jones, resourcing lead at O2, shared the telecoms giant’s experience of running a returner programme in the operations area of the business.

Many of us drew breath when she shared research stating most line managers would prefer to hire someone with less experience than a candidate who had been out of work for more than six months. “Six months!?” That’s less than most maternity leaves. The good news is the O2 scheme was hailed a rip-roaring success and The Talent Keeper Specialists expects more demand in 2016-2018 for returner programmes.



Key stats that drove O2’s decision to run a returner programme


  • Managers would rather hire less qualified candidate over one who has been out for over 6 months
  • Gender diverse companies are 45% more likely to improve market share, achieve 53% higher returns on equity, and 70% more likely to capture new markets
  • For every 10% increase in gender diversity in the senior executive team, there is a 3.5% increase in financial performance.
  • 42% of millennial dads feel ‘burnt out’ most or all of the time
  • 40% of working women earn more than their partners
  • 1 million now work past 65
  • Only 17% of over 50s favour traditional retirement pattern as majority want to ease into retirement via part-time work
  • 50-60% of women returners want to work part-time
  • 34%-48% of women would like to work part-time
  • 27% of the UK workforce work part time. Of those, 74% are women
  • 44% of Generation Y rate work-life balance as a key driver in their career


Ten golden nuggets for improving gender balance

We grappled with five questions in the ‘action’ part of the morning. People spoke with passion, others listened intently. Ten golden nuggets emerged for improving gender balance from the talent, HR, D&I and resourcing practitioners at the Action Tank:

  • 1) Confront lazy hiring – value finding the best talent over quick recruitment. This might mean looking in different places.
  • 2) Look beyond a candidate’s last role – many women’s careers aren’t linear and strengths are transferrable.
  • 3) Create more open job descriptions – countless capable candidates (internal and external) rule themselves out at the application stage because they don’t tick every box.
  • 4) See returners as assets – they’re fresh, motivated and hungry to put their minds to work. Returner programmes tap into ‘hidden talent’ and are a good news story for your business.
  • 5) Promote flexible working in job descriptions – and offer flexibility for employees already in business, not only after returning from maternity leave.
  • 6) Use gender balanced panels to make hiring decisions to reduce unconscious bias and avoid line managers hiring in their own image.
  • 7) Experiment with new recruiting processes, such as games, to assess people’s potential rather than relying on CVs.
  • 8) Focus on opening middle managers’ minds to how flexible and part-time working can fuel productivity and performance, and be of benefit to them personally.
  • 9) Showcase senior role models who work flexibly, recruit diverse teams and have high employee engagement scores – these are the people you want other managers to emulate.
  • 10) Don’t overlook introverts or make assumptions – actively encourage ‘quieter’ people (who may not talk openly about career aspirations)  to apply for promotions and stretch assignments.

Photograph of HRDs, Talent & Resourcing practitioners with their pledges of how they're going to 'mine' hidden talent


6 pillars of success/what O2 learned:


  • Target a specific area of the business where there’s a need/desire to recruit more women.
  • Have clear benefits, timelines and costs for setting up – make it easy for the business to say yes
  • Ask for referrals to the programme from employees and partners (this went down ‘really well’ at O2)
  • Assessment centre to be a two-way process and the agenda to kept ‘light’ with lots of networking and senior leadership team to attend
  • Be flexible about how the roles work
  • Resourcing and the Diversity & Inclusion teams to work in partnership

A returner programme for your organisation?

The Talent Keeper Specialists have partnered with Inclusivity Partners and developed a returner programme we think beats what’s on the market. If bringing talent back is on your agenda or you’re struggling to meet gender diversity targets, save yourself time, hassle and budget by meeting with us.

Contact Jessica Chivers to arrange a conversation: jc@talentkeepers.co.uk | @TalentKeepers | +44 (0)1727 856169














Talent Fueller – Tim Loake, Dell

IMG_0227 (2)

Tim Loake, is a director at Dell and an ambassador for the Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) programme from Catalyst. He’s opening other men’s eyes to unconscious bias in the workplace to even the playing field for women.

“What is the MARC programme?

“It’s an attempt to engage the company, and the leadership in the company, top-down. Men advocating real change is what it stands for and that’s what it is.  As is typical of technology companies we are male heavy, although we do have female leaders including our chief customer officer. We don’t have enough though; we certainly don’t have balance.


MARC is about understanding our own unconscious bias and promoting a more inclusive leadership style up and down the company.”

What was the spark for MARC at Dell?

“Three or four of our leaders got involved in MARC as an external programme from Catalyst. They became ambassadors and persuaded Michael Dell and his direct reports that we needed to do something differently. The executive leadership team then went through the programme and it cascaded down. Because it had that Board level ‘buy-in’, people have never said it doesn’t matter, everyone is recognising that there is something we need to do differently and that it is a personal journey as everyone has their own bias and that everyone is in some way privileged versus everyone else.

Once you have recognised that you have some privilege, you can start to think about how your behaviour needs to be different and MARC is the start of that journey.

We’ve shared a number of videos with staff that highlight where we have unconscious bias. Until you recognise you have it, you don’t realise there is a problem. Watching these films is like turning a light on – you suddenly see that you have these biases, we all do – and people begin to realise they need to do something different.

‘Run like a girl’ is an example of one of those powerful films. Effectively it takes a bunch of young girls and asks them to run like girls, which they do and the point of the video is: when did ‘Run like a girl’ become an insult? It’s a very powerful video, particularly for anyone who has a daughter. Just showing that video to people opens their eyes and shows them that there is something that they might need to do differently.”

What does MARC look like in practice at Dell?

“It’s done in different ways at different levels. Within the Bracknell site, we had a full staff gathering after the leadership team had been through the programme. Everyone was invited and it was voluntary. We started simply by showing some films and asking people to start thinking about how they behave and how we behave as a society.

People often have very emotional reactions, and I’ve cried watching them. The film “Man Up,” is to do with male suicide rates and that’s one of the most destructive phrases in the English language. You can’t help but connect with the message and it gets the audience to a point where they want to do things differently.

As I watched it I kept thinking about my children and how I’ve inflicted gender bias on them without ever knowing it. And thankfully, they are at an age where I can undo that. I have two sons age 8 and 3 and there are things I do differently at home now and my wife as well – I’m much more conscious of my language.

Gender bias is rife in society, a view of what people can and should be able to do. Everywhere you go, there is bias. As parents and people we can only deal with the bias that we are aware of and that we can control.”

Why is the MARC movement important to you?

“Creating an inclusive environment where people are free to bring all of themselves to work and be whoever they are makes Dell a better place to work. If people feel valued and included, they will perform better. It will improve employee retention, it will improve employee performance, it should improve the attitude of our people towards our customers, suppliers, vendors and ultimately make our business more successful. That’s the nub of it. There are other side benefits around the markets in which we engage such as a diverse workforce developing products that match needs of all our customers and potential customers.

Has MARC been measured?

“No. A company like Dell measures everything but we’ve made a deliberate decision not to measure this. The only thing we measure is the amount of people who have been through the 4-hour training or the 2-day ambassador training. We have put 1300 people through the 4-hour training and we’ve now got just over 100 ambassadors. It’s a two-day investment, so director level and upwards are able to be ambassadors, because we want it to be leadership led as that has the biggest impact.

Being an ambassador is a choice. The 4-hour course is open to everybody and is run by ambassadors; normally two, a man and a woman. Beyond that, it’s really trying to advocate for the programme, to change opinion, to tackle stereotype bias in our own business, to try and recognise where privilege is playing a part in decision making – in hiring, in structuring or just in running the business.

Being privileged doesn’t make you wrong or bad or part of the problem, it’s just the group that you find yourself in and if you can recognise that, you can do something about it. As an ambassador hopefully my eyes are more open to when those things are occurring and I’m trying to do things differently and lead the way. Change in an organisation doesn’t start because you tell someone to do something different, it’s because you change the experiences that they have and therefore the perceptions that they hold and that will shape their future behaviour.

That’s why we focused on leadership in terms of the ambassador community because we have the biggest impact on the experiences that our teams and those around us have. And therefore we can change the behaviour of the organisation.”

Could you tell us about the things you’re doing beyond MARC

We do quite a lot of work in the community and ‘IT’s Not Just For Geeks’ is a 2-hour programme aimed at 14-16 year olds, held during school time by Dell employees to show them what working in IT is all about.

We also have a strong women’s network called WISE – Women in Search of Excellence, led by Aongus Hegarty (President of EMEA). WISE does a lot of work within the industry, in terms of engaging with external groups and trying to change and educate within the company on a very practical level. One very popular session WISE have run is a presentation skills workshop as that’s something many female colleagues have said they want.

Other programmes include PRIDE for our LGBT community, Mosaic, GenNext which is targeted at bringing young people into the business, Conexus for all our remote workers and Planet group which is about trying to become more environmentally friendly. We encourage everybody to try and be a member of one of these groups – to do something beyond coming to work, doing the job and going home again. * Link to all employee resource groups http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/cr-diversity-employee-resource-groups

Whats Next?

“It’s hard to see too far ahead due to the combination with EMC, but I’m sure they have programmes we can take advantage of and vice versa. The intent is very much to try and use all of these programmes and activities that we have going on to help create a new company culture as we bring tens of thousands of people together.

To be successful as a new business as quickly as possible, we’ll need to work together and harmonise the beliefs and value structures we have. The cultures are probably not that different but there will be work to do and I see programmes like MARC and the extension of it to the EMC community as well as engaging each other in our employee resource groups as a key way of helping to knock down those barriers.

I think for us it’s how we can leverage what we already have, in terms of established programmes and bring the communities together on both sides and use those as a lever to help create a new company culture for all of us which will allow us to be successful as we go forward as a new company.”

Client case study – Creating a coaching culture, Enfield Council

The Challenge

case studyEnfield Council is on a mission to transform the way it delivers services because the way people transact in the wider world has changed. Transforming the way people work at the Council was at the heart of the challenge for Head of Organisational Learning & Development, Jo Clemente. Jo talked to us about three key shifts she wanted to make:

  • Colleagues working more independently and make decisions
  • Colleagues being more curious in order to make changes
  • Line managers encouraging and developing staff to find their own solutions.

Coaching Triads

The Solution

The Solution

Enfield Borough Council’s Head of Organisational Development, Jo Clemente, approached The Talent Keeper Specialists to develop a day’s immersion in coaching for line managers that would:

  • Challenge the idea that a directive style of leadership gets the best results.
  • Explain the purpose of coaching conversations and the benefits for team members, line managers and customers.
  • Introduce essential skills and provide a safe place to experiment with them.
  • Provide an opportunity to see coaching in action, be coached and be a coach.
  • Leave participants feeling energised about using the coaching skills outside the training room.

The Outcome

35 Council employees took part in the pilots (and not just the eager beavers who usually put their hands up to be involved) and at the end of the sessions:

  • 100% of participants agreed the content was relevant to them
  • 100% felt actively involved and that they would make use of what they had learned
  • 100% said they would recommend the course to their colleagues.

Along with positive anecdotal feedback these metrics provided a good case for the Council commentto add the course to their broader suite of learning offerings. All managers now have an objective in their PDPs around demonstrating their commitment to moving the Council towards a coaching culture. Attending the course has been a positive starting point for 140 mangers to date:

  • “It provided me with so much more than I thought it would. The most enjoyable and beneficial training I have done in a long time.”
  • “I have already identified specific action points that I want to share and work on with my team.”
  • “I thought the course was presented by a knowledgeable trainer who made the content very relevant to our requirements.”
  • “I found it fascinating to see the difference it made to people when someone takes the time to listen to them. The practice sessions following the learning were really useful.”
  • “A refreshing and most welcome course. Clearly explained and useful to individuals in the workplace. I stayed engaged all day.”

Sustaining the learning

After the day’s immersion participants are invited to attend two “let’s talk coaching” action learning sets, spaced four weeks apart to sustain the learning. It’s a safe space to practice skills, help each other and continue the coaching activity and the aim is that the groups become self-sustaining.

Enfield Borough Council’s Feedback

“The training from Jessica has been extremely well received and were always client_viewoversubscribed.  Mangers have enjoyed learning a new skills and the organization will benefit from the coaching approach to work.  The action learning sets have also been very successful and helped to embed the learning and enable manages to practice their skills in a safe environment.  We are just starting to see the changes, with managers being more confident to use the skills they have learnt and really believing that coaching is the way to help with the huge changes in the council.” Jo Clemente, Head of Organisational Development, Enfield Borough Council.



Thanks to Jo Clemente and Kathryn Lammas from Enfield Borough Council for this case study https://new.enfield.gov.uk

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