Founder of the 30% Club, ex-CEO of Newton Asset Management and mother of nine, Helena Morrissey is full of sage advice for business leaders and women who want to see gender balance in the workplace in her book “A Good Time to Be a Girl”. One of our favourite extracts is the re-counting of Andy Haldane’s advice on how to increase diversity in teams.
I had the opportunity to share this with the London team of recruitment consultants at Huxley/SThree last month and think it’s an idea we need to spread far and wide.
From the chapter How CEOs can break the diversity barrier:
Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, gave an insightful speech on diversity in 2016, entitled ‘The Sneetches’, after Dr Seuss’ children’s story of the same name, a parody of status and discrimination first published in 1961. In his speech Haldane challenged CEOs to consider whether their recruitment process really did encourage diversity.
The Recruitment Challenge
There are two candidates for a position, A and B. They do a test based on attributes useful for the hiring organisation. These tests might be state of the art, including all the diverse attributes one would wish for in an organisation – cognitive, interpersonal and experientail skills.
In this test out of 10, candidate A scores 8 and candidate B scores 4. Which one should be hired? The answer is easy. The evidence points strongly to A as the candidate best meeting requirements for the job. They have quite literally, ticked the right boxes. But let’s add a twist. What if the answers A gets wrong are the ones B gets right? And what is the questions existing employees get wrong are also the ones B gets right? In other words, what if candidate B brings skills to the organisation which otherwise do not exist?
The right recruitment decision for the organisation is then to choose B rather than A. Candidate B adds more to the collective ability of the organisation, even though they are weaker individually. The question is, how often would existing recruitment practices deliver such an outcome? In practice I think rarely. Individuals are typically judged on the alignment between their skills and those of the existing organisation. It takes quite a leap of faith to choose the candidate whose skills are misaligned with the hiring organisation.
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’?
O2 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.
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: email@example.com | @TalentKeepers | +44 (0)1727 856169
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?)
Talent Fueller Interview with Melissa Geiger, KPMG. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’
Melissa Geiger was the youngest female to make partner at KPMG age 32. Now 38 and with two young children she is committed to being a role-model to others and chairs the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW). She was instrumental in pushing female career advancement into the spotlight when the firm went through a leadership contest in 2012.
On influencing managing partner, Simon Collins to see women in leadership as a priority for KPMG:
“I decided the leadership contest was a good time to debate women on boards. KNOW hosted an event which all of the leadership candidates attended, along with a lot of our partners (male and female) and more junior staff. They came because they wanted to hear what was going to be an important part of the leadership campaign. Simon, who already feels personally very strongly about inclusion, has gone on to make diversity one of the key things on KPMG’s agenda and Stephen Frost (previously the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for LOCOG and played a key role in the London Olympics) who is our new head of diversity and inclusion, is brilliant. One of the first things he did was meet with me as the Chair of KNOW. I feel that KNOW has a key role to play in relation to getting the key messages on the table about gender equality at the point when we can really make a difference.
I hope this year there will be more women making partner at KPMG, because we are focussing on the needs of our business and our clients and the identification of talented and successful women for senior roles.”
Melissa’s own team is a 50/50 male/female split of partners which is out of step with the 84:16 ratio of partners across KPMG as a whole as at the time of writing.
Your team is an exemplar for embracing flexible working – a key tool for employees to have a ‘full and rounded life’ whether or not they have children. Tell us more:
In our team, three of the four partners have at some point in the last two years, not worked full time. One partner (a man) has five children and works three days a week. Another partner has done 90% over the last two years to give herself longer holidays – she still works five days but it means that instead of 6 weeks holidays, she gets 9/10 weeks. When I came back from maternity leave I tried different things and then went back to 100% when I was ready to do that. We’ve set a progressive tone for the rest of the team and I think it’s really important it comes from the top.
Amongst our director population some of our male directors do ‘glide time’ – instead of doing 9.30 until 5.30, they officially do their hours as 10 until 6 which means they can do the drop off for school and their spouses/partners do the pickup. And it works in reverse with some people working 8am-4pm. These two recognised glide times enable parents to actively participate in family life, although it’s not only for parents. I can think of rugby players and people who keep horses who taken up glide time to better manage their ability to do these other pursuits.
I think practises like these are very important because the next generation are expecting it. We are competing, and if we are not flexible, we won’t get the best talent. And if we don’t get the best talent, we don’t do the best job.
You mentioned your return to work – how is KPMG helping maternity leavers make a smooth and confident return?
It’s very difficult coming back to work after having a baby, it’s a bit of a culture shock. We do lots of things to help people get back up to speed including technical workshops to cover what they have missed – in my case it was tax legislation – because you really need to know what’s changed. Beyond up-skilling technically there’s support in the form of workshops and having various conversations with a sponsor who will ensure that any issues are resolved. The maternity programme is for everyone, all levels. Melanie Richards, a fellow Partner and Member of the Board, has been hugely supportive to me when I came back from maternity leave. She set a great example for me and so I feel like I need to set a good example for all the people in my team. And there’s a certain amount of supporting each other and that needs to come all the way from the top.
Additionally there’s access to emergency childcare which allows me a nanny for four days a year or a nursery place for eight days – and without cost to me. I’ve used it and been open about when I’ve had childcare issues which is helpful as it sets the tone for others to use it.
Your thoughts on what more there is to do to support mothers’ career advancement?
We need to have what my group is like as the culture across the whole business and that needs to come from the top. I think Simon has done a lot to start pushing that in his leadership, through talking from both the heart and head, and I think the more he does that, the more that culture will push through the organisation and through middle management and the better it will get overall.
I think there is an issue of people either not believing they are entitled to do things, or there aren’t enough people in leadership who are like myself – young, female and a parent, married with two children. When you get promoted, as I have, it is vitally important that you use that position to support others and support best practice.
The question for us is that when women return, how do we keep the progression going? How do you get promoted? The first hurdle is that you come back and into the job you were in; you manage all of the plates at that point and then you get an additional plate because you’ve got to manage your home life and your child also. Hurdle number two is then how to progress my career to the next level? That’s the bit we are focussing on – we get a good level of returners coming back (about 97%) but how many of those get promoted? Asking these questions, and acting on the answers, is what I think will move the number of female partners on.
Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female and/or returning talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch.
Long-term profitable businesses are, in theory, good places to seek best practice on many fronts; their profitability suggests they’re efficient and effective on everything from product design to marketing to recruitment and retention. And whether they’re viewed as such by employees or not, profitable businesses are scientific undertakings – observations are made, data is gathered, analyses undertaken and approaches across all business units and functions refined, axed or substituted according to whether they lead to a desired result. On this basis it’s my view that businesses would do well to incorporate social scientists’ research findings on gender, into their businesses for the sake of long-term profitability (if not the moral argument).
This article sets out five evidence-based suggestions for shaking the gender agenda to increase women’s professional success. And just to recap, research has found that organisations with the best record of promoting women to high positions are between 18 and 69 % more profitable than the median organisations in their industries (see Adler, 2001)[i] and that’s why women matter (from a scientific, profit-oriented point of view). These recommendations may fly in the face of what’s gone before in your organisation; they may seem wild or uncomfortable or appear impossible to implement. They’re anchored in research and they’re here to stretch the imagination.
1. When recruiting, strip the gender from candidates’ CVs
A study by Harvard and Princeton economists Goldin and Rouse[ii] way back in 2000 found a change in audition procedures in symphony orchestras led to a surprisingly large leap in the number of successful female candidates. What did they do? They put a screen between the recruiting panel and candidates so the recruiters could only hear, but not see the candidate. The researchers estimate that the switch to this gender-blind style of audition accounted for 30% of the increase in the proportion of women among new recruits. Whilst it might be tricky to interview candidates in a way that doesn’t reveal their gender, this technique could be used at the CV-sifting/short-listing stage.
2. Ask colleagues to pitch for one another’s pay and bonuses
Research by the Chartered Management Institute[iii] finds that men stand to earn over £141,500 more in bonuses than women doing the same role over the course of a working lifetime. Part of this may be down to men and women’s differing propensity to pitch for resources and opportunities[iv] and part of it down to unconscious bias in the minds of awarding managers. To put pay and bonuses on equal footing it could be an idea to ask colleagues to pitch for one another’s salary increases and share of any bonus pool. The figures could be aggregated and ranked to help awarding line managers make decisions
Male colleagues could also play a role in encouraging their female peers to pitch for rewards and opportunities commensurate with their ability and output through a buddying programme. Such a programme could match male and female colleagues in non-compete roles according to grade/seniority – a sort of peer to peer mentoring scheme – and this could also be useful in building links across the organisation for broader business benefit.
3. Start talking about how negative unconscious bias towards women affects us all
No one wants to think they’re biased and yet research by psychologists Uhlmann and Cohen in 2007 found that people who perceived themselves to be the most impartial were actually more biased in favour of men[v]. One of our clients has positioned line managers’ attendance at a diversity awareness day as essential for their ‘licence to manage.’ Even without formal learning events such as this, there are ways to get the message into people’s consciousness. It’s good practise to ask ‘what assumptions could we be making here?’ in all areas of business so why not extend that practise to include ‘what bias might we/I be exhibiting here?’ in team meetings, recruitment activities, salary negotiations and when responding to any decisions that affects a colleague’s career success. A simple poster displaying these phrases on the walls of offices could help remind.
4. Agree evaluation criteria for job candidates, upfront
Uhlmann and Cohen also found that evaluators of identically described male and female candidates for the job of chief of police shifted the goal posts in favour of men by heightening the importance of a particular characteristic when the male candidates possessed it and ‘down-playing’ a quality’s significance when they didn’t.[vi] An easy way to strip this out is to remove names from CVs and agree evaluation criteria and each item’s relative weight, before looking at CVs and applications forms.
5. Recruit men whose wives workand recruit wives of existing male employees
It stands to reason that if you’re keen to promote women, employees who are in hiring positions need to have a positive regard for women’s capabilities. A robust study[vii] published in 2012 of 718 married male participants found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavourably, (b) perceive that organisations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organisations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
Thinking practically, this could mean looking at your organisation’s approach to who interviews candidates for a job. For instance, a married senior male manager whose wife doesn’t work may be consciously or unconsciously biased against hiring a woman. To avoid capable women being missed from shortlists or passed over for the job in this instance, a mixed panel (in more ways than on the usual dimensions) could be significant.
On the flipside, the research points to ‘does your wife work?’ being a significant question to put to male candidates at job interview – especially if your organisation has a poor reputation around recruiting and promoting women, that it wants to shed. We know that might have employment lawyers squirming in their seats, although we’re not aware of any discrimination cases where a male candidate has taken offence at such a question.
In addition to these five evidence-based suggestions for shaking the gender agenda to increase women’s professional success we make three more radical proposals:
6. Share data about who’s asking for pay rises and promotions
It stands to reason that once a woman is made aware of her male peers asking for pay rises and promotions (often given as a significant reason for gender pay inequality) it is likely to stir her into action. Sheryl Sandberg writes in her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead on what made female promotions rise at Google: “Goole has an unusual system where engineers nominate themselves for promotions and the company found that men nominated themselves more quickly than women. The Google management team shared this data openly with the female employees, and women’s self-nomination rates rose significantly, reaching roughly the same rate as men’s.”
7. Set targets for women with children on UK boards
The 2011 ‘Women on Boards’ report prepared by Lord Davies[viii] which recommended introducing quotas for women on UK boards (on the basis that at the time only 12.5% of positions on FTSE 100 boards were held by women and as of August 2013 has risen to 17.3%[ix]) doesn’t address the ‘mother effect’ on women’s careers. We have a hunch[x] that there are more childless women than childless men in the top jobs in UK businesses because women’s careers are more likely to be negatively impacted by becoming a parent, than men’s. On this basis, wouldn’t it be something to sing and dance about to say you’re an organisation who fuels working mothers’ success as well as women more broadly?
8. Set targets for women at mid-senior management level
Finally, putting aside thoughtful arguments from both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps of women-at-the-top quota debate, there needs to be a strong pool of women at every level below board level for those women to eventually be ready to rise to the top. Yet the research tells us that the number of women drops significantly at middle management (about the time women start to have children).
From the Women on Boards report:
Male and female graduate entry into the workforce is relatively equal. This equality is maintained at junior management positions but then suffers a marked drop at senior management levels. The reasons for this drop are complex, and relate to factors such as lack of access to flexible working arrangements, difficulties in achieving work-life balance or disillusionment at a lack of career progression. The UK will need an additional five million highly qualified workers within the next ten years to compete globally. Raising the proportion of women in the workplace to that of men would cut the gap to three million. However, the wider issue of women in the workplace is beyond the scope of this Review, we would only note that firms are investing in developing talented women, only to lose them before they reach senior management levels.
Targets for women at mid-senior level may boost the efforts organisations make to keep, support and stretch their female talent during the childbearing years. If organisations do this, the quota debate may become redundant. Now that’s what we call shaking the gender agenda.
If you’re keen to consider how any of these recommendations could be practically implemented please be in touch. Our office number is 01727 856169 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Click to download a pdf copy of this post.
[i] Adler, 2001. Women in the Executive Suite Correlates to Higher Profits. Also see Joy, L., Carter, M.N and Wagener, H.M and Narayanan, S. (2007). The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards. Catalyst, which found companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity.
[ii] Goldin, C. and Rouse, C. (2000). Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of Blind Auditions on Female Musicians. The American Economic Review, 90, 715-741.
[iv] See Babcock, L. and Laschever, S. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (Princeton University Press, 2003).
[v] Uhlmann, E.L. and Cohen, G.L. (2007). ‘I Think It, Therefore It’s True’: Effects of Self-Perceived Objectivity on Hiring Discrimination. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 104, 207-223.
[vi] Uhlmann, E.L. and Cohen, G.L. (2005). Constructed Criteria: Redefinign Merit to Justify Discrimination. Psychological Science, 16, 474-480.
[vii] The consistent pattern of results found across multiple studies employing multiple methods and samples demonstrates the robustness of the findings. Desai, S. D., Chugh, D. and Brief, A. (2012). Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2018259 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2018259
[ix] Sealy, R. and Vinnicombe, S. (2013). The Female FTSE Board Report: A False Dawn of Progress for Women on Boards. Cranfield University School of Management.
[x] Jessica Chivers approached Women on Boards UK (www.womenonboards.co.uk) and Opportunity Now (www.opportunitynow.org.uk) 20/8/13 seeking data on gender split of parents and non-parents on FTSE100 boards. Women On Boards does not believe the data has been captured.