Talent Fueller – Jonathan Clarke @ Kilburn & Strode

Jonathan Clarke (pictured on the right) is the HR Director at the patent and trademarking law firm, Kilburn & Strode. We heard about K&S’s enlightened approach to fathers, flexibility and shared parental leave and asked Jonathan to tell us some more.

In a nutshell, could you tell us who Kilburn & Strode’s clients are and what the practice does for them?

We work with clients from just about every industry sector. This means that day-to-day our attorneys are dealing with a hugely diverse and constantly evolving range of intellectual property issues. In the most basic terms, we’re here to protect our clients’ interests and make their lives easier. Offering a complete intellectual property service is key to our ability to deliver on that promise.


As the HRD at Kilburn & Strode what are you working on at the moment? And what do you want to say you’ve created/delivered/changed/improved 12 months from now?

We entered the Times Top 100 employer survey last October. We have had a people survey for the last 3 years and we wanted a more in-depth survey and a better understanding of how we are actually doing. We were accredited as “One to Watch” – that really means we have quite a way to go to be a top 100 employer – but we are determined. That’s my focus for the next 12 months.


You have a trusting, open culture and you embrace flexible working. Could you give us a flavour of what “flexible working” looks like at Kilburn & Strode and how it’s relevant to the practice’s success?

We have just short of 100 people who charge their time to our clients – they all have a laptop and Skype soft phone – that means they are equipped from an IT perspective to work anywhere they choose to. We encourage that. Success for us is about client satisfaction – that is not measured by people being in an office. Our gender split is approximately 50/50 and that reflects itself in thosde who choose to work at home. The majority of our Partners have at least a day a week working at home – that sets the tone.


You have beautiful, carefully designed offices yet you’re keen to get more people working from home. Why is that and how are you going to encourage that shift?

It’s a beautiful space – thank you. We want our people to be able to choose where they work and when you let them choose you soon realise that for the majority, they like coming to the office – I think that is about the space but its also because we like working together – face to face time is so important. As we continue to invest in IT and move away from any paper altogether, I believe more people will be as efficient at home as they are in the office.


What do you think are the main risks for law firms and professional services companies who don’t have a widespread culture of flexible working?

It’s a shame isn’t it – I think the risks are that you lose good people, that we don’t look innovative to our clients and that the clear message is that sitting within sight is more important that quality of work and client care.


Any final thoughts on flexible working?  

What I’ve noticed is that many of our 20-30 year olds prefer coming into the office – perhaps that is because in London they live in shared accommodation and their homes aren’t really set up with a place to work.


What messages are you giving to fathers, and when, about Shared Parental Leave? How many have taken SPL and how do you see that changing (or not) over the next 5 years?

We made a big deal of SPL at the time of its launch and not since then. This needs one senior dad to get it going – everyone needs a role model and new dads will follow. Two of our mums shared their leave with their husbands – and we were of course delighted to have them back sooner than expected. Once it takes off, it will be normal – we in K&S want to be leading on flexibility and your question reminds me to do more.


We know that take-up of SPL has been very low since it was introduced in April 2015. There are many reasons for this, including it being counter-cultural for men to stay at home with an infant whilst the mother works. If a firm was really serious about getting more men to take SPL, what do you think it would be doing?

Constantly talking about it, sharing the policy with fathers, suggesting that fathers talk to their employer when they are expecting (men rarely tell anyone at work for quite a few months) and the most important – persuading a senior male role model to do it.


If we lived in a society where men and women took equal amounts of leave upon becoming parents what changes do you think we would see in workplaces? In wider society?

We might not have a gender pay gap, we might not have all male boardrooms.


What would be your advice to an expectant father who would like to take SPL and who works in a long-hours culture where taking SPL is not common practice?

If he worked in Kilburn & Strode, he’d be our first role model.  But that’s not your question – its 6 months, spending time with your children is a precious thing, work can wait.


What we told the Treasury Inquiry on Women and Finance

The average cost of childcare across the UK ranges from £213/week for a registered childminder to £512/week plus tax and NI for nannies, with nurseries sitting in between. In London, our financial centre, the cost rises to £276/week for a childminder, £278/week for a day nursery and £616 plus tax and NI for a nanny (50 hours/week). [Source: Family and Childcare Trust]. This means a family living in London, working full time with one child, without access to free childcare – provided by a grandparent for example – needs to earn a minimum of £14,352 (childminder cost) after tax and the cost of commuting, simply to break even.

Many families take the view that it is better to make the financial sacrifice in the early years in order to keep both careers on track, rather than suffer the huge financial and career penalties that are known to accrue to women who take large chunks of time out. For example, see the work of Mary Gregory and Sarah Connolly.

The financials are only one part of the childcare story though. Women in financial services are often married to men in financial services and herein lies a big problem. Of the hundreds of women we have talked with in financial services who are returning post maternity or a longer career break, many talk about their husbands/partners feeling unable to be as ‘active’ a father as they are a mother. This is because there simply isn’t encouragement for fathers, or men more generally, to work part time or set boundaries about finish times (to collect children from nursery for example) and when they can or can’t travel. This problem becomes more acute the more senior they become and both planned and unplanned (last minute) facetime with clients involving travel (often international) intensifies. We’ve coached many women in financial services who talk about needing to swap roles once they become a mother because they can’t see a way to continue in a ‘demanding’ role and be back in time for when the nursery closes or the nanny needs to leave. “Demanding” is often code for facetime expectations; needing to be able to drop everything for a client at the last minute and work late into the evening if necessary to please the client/win a piece of business. The default setting is that they trade down or switch roles because it’s seemingly unthinkable for their male partner/husband to do so. We believe limits on mothers’ careers in finance will persist until the culture changes such that men in finance are as likely as their female colleagues to:

  • Feel comfortable asking for flexible/part time work options
  • Make requests for flexible working/part-time roles
  • Actually work flexibly/part time
  • Be vocal about constraints such as needing to be at home to relieve the nanny
  • Be the person primarily responsible for thinking about/actioning tasks that relate to the home and children.

Some suggested solutions:

  • A campaign from the Treasury to run alongside or be part of the Women in Finance Charter to encourage men to explore part-time and flexible working possibilities.
  • Individual FS institutions raising awareness of the opportunities and benefits of men working part time and/or flexibility.
  • Individual institutions showcasing senior males who work PT and/or flexibly.
  • Individual institutions gathering data on expectant fathers and encouraging them to take shared parental leave (and paying it at full pay). On this point, also see this helpful article on how employers can increase the number of men taking Shared Parental Leave.

My contribution to this inquiry on behalf of The Talent Keeper Specialists was made in collaboration with Genderbuzz, under whose name this submission appears.

Click here for a full list of submissions.

If employers REALLY want more men to take Shared Parental Leave here’s how

What if employers invited expectant fathers to tell them they are expecting a baby? How might this affect the take-up of Shared Parental Leave?

“They’re just hasn’t been the take-up we thought there would be,” is what I hear most often when I ask clients and HR practitioners about shared parental leave. This week at a WISE Campaign knowledge share event on flexible working Eleanor Silverio, UK Benefits Policy Lead at Shell, was candid about their low take-up of SPL at Shell. She explained that in their experience fathers are not actively seeking to be primary carers home alone with baby, and those who do take SPL leave are doing so for other reasons. These reasons may include practical necessity such as a mother with an injury or a desire to take a sabbatical. An HR Director I spoke to a couple of years ago took additional paternity leave (APL), as it was then, to address troubles with his ageing parents and APL was a good vehicle for taking time out. It was not out of a desire to care for his son instead of being at work.

The barriers to men taking SPL have been well-documented (the two biggest ones being lack of financial viability, as men are on average the higher earners, and it going against cultural norms). In a piece I wrote three years ago on the business benefits of active fathers I argued that SPL would flop unless parental leave was sliced into three with a proportion dedicated to the father on a use-it-or-lose-it basis that is well paid. This would serve to speed up cultural change.

But who wants cultural change? Do employers? A shift towards co-parenting and it being equally likely a father takes a significant period of leave to care for his baby as a mother is good for women’s careers and children’s development. HOWEVER, it doesn’t make sense for individual employers to expend much energy convincing their daddy employees to take SPL unless:

1.      The mother of their child is an employee at the same organisation and

2.      She occupies a middle to senior role and

3.      The organisation is keen to keep female brains in the business (because they’re aware of the commercial benefits of a gender-balanced senior team).

If employers really do want fathers to take-up SPL they need to start asking these employees to let them know that they are expecting. This is the start of cultural change and can be achieved through some simple internal comms, including stories of high profile men in the organisation or wider industry who have taken time out. This raises awareness of what SPL is, that it’s OK to take it and how it could be of benefit to the individual. Women returning from maternity leave are fresh, motivated and come with  new perspectives and solutions to their organisation’s challenges – and with support they quickly return or exceed their previous peak performance. They’re assets and it’s about time we treated them as such and encouraged fathers to get in on the act too.

The Talent Keeper Specialists are in the business of keeping, engaging and boosting the performance of returning employees be they on maternity, adoption, shared parental, sick leave or sabbatical. We want to do more work with fathers and hope the profile of participants at our Comeback Community workshops changes to include more men over the next five years.

This post was first published on LinkedIn 2/3/17. Today, 18/2/18, the UK Government has announced a ‘Share the Joy’ campaign to encourage more men to take Shared Parental Leave.

APPG Women & Work Report 2017

Are you struggling to find the right people for the vacancies in your organisation? Is gender diversity on your agenda? Last year we hosted a ‘hidden talent action tank’ to help employers tap into the increasing number of skilled women who want to come back to work after an extended break. This week, we attended the launch of the ‘Women and Work’[1] report from a cross-party group of MPs and bring you the highlights from an employer perspective. 


The report makes nine recommendations, three are aimed at employers: 

5. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carers policy detailing organisational support available for those with caring responsibilities. 

This could be cumbersome and unnecessary. In our experience what really matters to employees is being trusted to get the job done and being trusted to use flexible working in a way that works for the organisation and meets family needs. Line manager behaviours are the lynchpin.

6. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice and support. 

Returner programmes can be a useful tool but they‘re not right for every organisation. See “What is a returner programme?” for the key questions to decide if a returner programme is likely to fulfill your talent pool shortages. Direct recruitment from the hidden talent pool using ‘reverse headhunters’ such as Inclusivity may be a faster, better value option.

8. Employers should promote best practice through a flexible working kitemark with official accreditation and assessment to increase flexible working visibility and actively encourage the uptake of flexible working.

Many employers we talk to are struggling to recruit women into specialist, skilled and senior roles. Employees who have built social capital in their current organisation and have crafted a flexible working arrangement that works for them are reluctant to move. We discussed the problem of ‘trapped talent’ and flexible hiring on BBC Breakfast – watch the clip here. We believe employers will benefit from advertising roles as flexible and support the APPG’s recommendation.


Shared Parental Leave

Have you found it tricky to implement Shared Parental Leave in your organisation? You’re not alone. 77% of respondents to a CIPD survey said they had to access external advice to understand the process. This headache has been for little gain as another survey of 200 employers found only 1% of men had  taken the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave.

The view at The Talent Keeper Specialists is that SPL was introduced to normalise men caring for their children and lessen the impact of having children on women’s careers. We believe the best way to achieve this – and make it easier for employers – is to divide parental leave into three chunks: one for each parent on a ‘use it or lose it basis’ and a third for either parent.



67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working said the high cost of childcare is a barrier to taking on more employment. [2] The Government is increasing free childcare to 30 hours from September 2017 for working families, to address this.

Our view is that employers who are experiencing talent shortages could significantly widen their candidate pool by being open to flexible working, and making this clear to candidates at the point of hiring. Read “Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when hiring.”


Supporting maternity returners

You know the ‘cost’ of replacing an employee is more than just the recruitment fees. Keeping and fueling existing valued and talented employees should be a priority for business. The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the ‘Working Forward’ campaign last autumn to make UK workplaces the best they can be for pregnant and new mother employees.

We run maternity comeback workshops for returning employees and a separate session for line managers. Find out more: http://talentkeepers.co.uk/shape-the-landscape/


About The Talent Keeper Specialists

Since we started in 2012 The Talent Keeper Specialists have delivered on time, within budget and to glowing feedback from our clients and their employees at places such as Boots, Anglia Ruskin University, The Law Society of Scotland, The Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales, Boots, Enfield Borough Council, Oxfam, Channel 4, PayPal, Carillion and Twinings. We work with employers to shape inclusive workplace cultures and support the transitions of returning employees and women stepping into leadership roles. Watch our 2 minute film here: https://vimeo.com/187137094.


[1]  The Women and Work APPG was formed at the beginning of 2016 in response to the increasing public and political focus on the role of women in the workforce, and the acknowledgement from Government that the UK economy underuses women’s talents and misses out on a “huge economic prize”.

[2] Careers and cares: childcare and maternal labour supply, Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, 2014

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.”

Involved fathers, committed professionals

Committed professionals can be involved fathersOn a recent project for the Law Society of Scotland we heard some great examples of men doing their very best to be active fathers whilst still delivering commercial goals. Here are men in their own words reflecting on how to get off to a good start as a new father. 

“Be involved, be upfront with clients, prioritise sleep.”

“Your kids are only young once. If you don’t read to them or put them to bed now, you never will. And the benefits to your mental health are amazing. If you are zombified by a poor night’s sleep, tell your clients. Most of them will understand. Those that do not are likely to be “those clients” anyway. Sometimes, moving to another room is a survival technique if you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep – just be prepared to make up for it in other ways. Keep a picture of your children in easy view in your office; if your clients/colleagues/whoever are difficult, a look at your kids will make you smile no matter what. If you hadn’t before, learn to say no and leave the office promptly from time to time. If the culture is such that you’re expected to be there all hours God sends, you probably need to re-examine your priorities. First day of school? Take the day off and be there for them.”

Senior male solicitor, private practice @longmores

Chea Meakins“Draw boundaries, be focussed, get home for bathtime.”

“My wife and I worked out a routine fairly early on after our daughter was born. I would always be home to do the evening bath (subject to the unavoidable marketing/seminar engagements, but I try to limit these to 1 per week where possible). This means that I always have to work to a deadline and leave work at a certain time. Without this there is always the temptation to stay that little bit longer because there is always something else that can be done… The bath/getting ready for bed routine means I am always guaranteed at least one hour with my daughter per day. This sounds so little on paper but in reality a lot can be achieved within that time. I usually get back home an hour before bath time so in practice I get 2 -2.5 hours. This is also a huge relief to my wife who appreciates me taking over at the end of the day for those last few hours.”

Che Meakins, Solicitor, Rayden Solicitors @RaydensLaw


“Eat together and have a planned weekly late night at the office.”

“I’ve been very lucky to be able to balance work and fatherhood to give me lots of time with my daughter, and I am now nearly a year qualified and I feel I have also progressed hugely as a solicitor in the same time.   As I live walking distance from the office I would go home most lunch times and see my wife and child. I tried to ensure that I took my lunch each day to guarantee this time at home. I also designated Thursday evening as a ‘late night’ which I would work late before heading to my regular football practice. This meant I could head home on time the rest of the week. Having that one evening each week was really important allowing me to catch up or get on top of things outside office hours.”

Liam Colville, Solicitor, Debenhams Ottaway @DebenhamsOtt 


“Flexible working has made me more efficient.”

“There are 3 options in my view: Option 1 is ‘the continue as before’ in the knowledge that others are looking after your child well. Option 2 is to say that being a father is considerably more important than a career so you shift towards the “work to live” view. Option 3 is a mid-point between the other 2. If you intend to take option 3 then my suggestions would be as follows. First try to build a platform of a work pattern that is agreeable to both work and home. Come to an agreement with your partner that you feel allows you to be the involved Dad that you want to be whilst still allowing you to maintain your career progression (albeit at a slightly diminished rate for a period). Be disciplined. Leave work when you have agreed. This may mean having to say no to certain meetings etc. Equally, agree regular days when you will work late so you know that you can focus on work on those days. I have also found that my focus on making the flexible working pattern work (and be seen to work) has made me more efficient at work. My time management has improved due to my focus on, for example, getting everything done so I can leave to be home for bath time. Having both the set agreement and the discipline has, paradoxically, given me the flexibility to adapt such as to busy times at work where some flex in the agreement is needed or to take calls at home etc.”

Chris Purcell, Solicitor, in-house third sector.



The following prompts are designed to help you consider how you can make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career.

  1. 1) How much leave will you take and when?
  2. 2) How much time will you strive to give to work and family each week?
  3. 3) What are your top professional priorities and how will you fit them into the time you have allocated to work?
  4. 4) What points do you need to discuss with your line manager?
  5. 5) What one thing can you start to do differently for the good of family life?


The Talent Keeper Specialists help men adjust to fatherhood through in-house seminars and one to one executive coaching. If you got something from this post you might also like:

Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when recruiting

Employers benefit from talking flex

In this opinion post Jessica Chivers shares her views on the competitive advantage gained by employers who state upfront on job adverts and at interview that there’s scope to talk flexible working.

“Should I mention that I’m really looking for four days a week rather than FT?”

“Will I put them off if I ask about flexible working at interview?”

“At what point in the hiring process is it best to ask about flexible options?”

These questions, and variations of, are commonplace in executive coaching sessions where women are exploring how to move on and/or up in their career.

It strikes me that many employers are missing a very real competitive advantage by not placing the words “up for talking flexibility’ on job adverts seeking mid to senior professionals for full time roles. This is particularly relevant if the organisation has made a public commitment to increasing the number of women at the top of their business, as say McKinsey has done. The employer is under no obligation to offer flex but by including these words, they’ve probably doubled the pool of people who might apply. A winning strategy, surely?

As an aside, McKinsey have just revealed their latest gender equality research (in conjunction with LeanIn.org) and show that women’s journey to the top is still appallingly slow. Change needs to come quickly.

In reality the onus is all too often on the candidates’ shoulders to ask about flexibility, and with so many stories about women noticing a negative change in the recruiter when they ask, it’s no wonder women hold back from applying for FT roles.

Where jobs adverts make no mention of flexibility, it would be useful if the recruiting manager ‘put it out there’ at the start of the interview (and not just when they’re interviewing females of a certain age – men want more flex too). “We’re advertising for a full time member of the team to be based predominantly in Manchester but depending on who we meet, there’s scope for the role to be done flexibly. We can talk about that further down the line.” There, easy.

I’m noticing a growing problematic pattern of women ‘choosing’ to stay in jobs they’ve outgrown because it gives them the flex they want (or more likely need) to be able to have a decent, wholesome family life where kids get help with their homework and at least one meal gets eaten together as a family.* There’s a belief that the only way to maintain this flex is to put it on hold, work full time for a new employer and prove oneself again (a hazy concept, but that’s an issue for another post) and then negotiate flex. The difficulty with this is it’s usually not that easy to switch to being an FT worker if you have children too young to have a key to the front door. For starters, the chances are you won’t be able to up your childcare to cover it.

A final point to ponder: could it be that the journey towards gender balance at the top of our organizations is slow because women are staying put when it’s time to move on? That they’re sacrificing stretch for flex and just not going after the next job? Giving women and men permission to discuss flexible working could be the key to change.

I’m optimistic that smart employers will soon start to print words to the effect of “up for talking flex” on their job ads and that their businesses will be all the better for it. I suspect we need some ballsy HR Directors to tap their CEOs on the shoulder to make it happen. Are you out there?

What do you think? Are you explicit about flexibility in your recruitment activities? Have you asked about flexibility at interview and had a good response?


* Yes, there are people without children who crave flex too. There are people with horses that need turning out each morning, there are people with elderly caring responsibilities and there are people who just want to have a darn good time at the weekend living a different life by the sea. They all want or need flex too and if they can get the job done without having their backsides on their swivel chair from 8.30-5.30pm every day then why not?)


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