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.

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O2

What and why a ‘hidden talent action tank’?

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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

O2
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

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  • 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

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O2
Ten golden nuggets for improving gender balance

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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

O2

6 pillars of success/what O2 learned:

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  • 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

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Talent Fueller – Allison Page, DLA Piper

Allison Page

Talent Fueller Interview with Allison Page, DLA Piper. “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.’

Allison Page is a partner in the finance team of global law firm, DLA Piper. She works in the Leeds office, runs a team of around 40 people and is married with two children. Colleagues put Allison forward to be profiled as a Talent Fueller owing to her longstanding commitment to supporting and developing female talent. In this post we’ve picked out some of the golden nuggets of our conversation.

Allison kicks off by telling us she believes the glass ceiling still exists and the answer lies in businesses putting the effort into women continuously, right from the beginning of their careers. “One of the reasons I believe passionately in supporting women’s careers is that we recruit more female trainees than men and yet we end up having less than 20% female partners and even fewer in the really senior positions.”

A significant part of the answer is sponsorship, she says.

Sponsorship is vital

“A sponsor is not the same as a mentor. Sponsorship is about a senior person pushing a junior colleague’s career, giving them direction; someone who is prepared to go the extra mile for you and to represent you in the room when you are not there. There’s a direct benefit to the sponsor and the recipient and I think it’s important that the latter is loyal to their sponsor – that’s what really makes it work.  I believe a sponsor has to be someone in a position of power who can change the outcomes of your career and has a vested interest in doing so. I believe we have a greater chance of retaining our female talent if they have that level of support.

“I hadn’t realised I’d been ‘sponsoring’ women for years, probably because I didn’t have one myself. I had never heard the word sponsorship as a form of management and talent development. Licensed careers weren’t really discussed in those terms in law firms. You were either on the partnership track or you weren’t.”

Allison explains that she now has what she calls a ‘half way house’ between sponsor and mentor who’s no longer in the business but who knows it very well. “Now that I have that, life is much easier.”

“Mentoring is important too and I think it’s important to encourage women to look for mentors who come from different sources. Mentoring can mean a long relationships but it can also work in the short-term too, depending on the nature of the issues you want to discuss.”

Pearls and The Two Percent Club

Another signal of DLA Piper’s commitment to women is its support for The Two Percent Club and The Pearls programme, both from ‘An Inspirational Journey’ – a business founded by Yorkshire woman Heather Jackson in response to her discovery that, at one time, Yorkshire was the county with the fewest number of women in board positions.  The Two Percent Club drives forward and positively influences the issue of the under-representation of women at the top of UK business. The club is a national organisation with regional representation and engages with the most senior and influential women across all sectors. The Pearls programme seeks to fix the leaking pipeline of female talent by providing career support and direction for women in middle through to executive management through a programme of events, networking and on-line resources. DLA Piper currently has 55 women on the programme. Allison was the driver behind both of these initiatives coming into DLA Piper – she’s currently Chair of The Two Percent Club in Yorkshire and is on the steering committee of the London group.

Career returners

Of course, becoming a parent is a challenging time and it’s a stage where significant dropout occurs. Allison says thinks there’s probably more DLA Piper could do to support maternity returners, “Certainly when it comes to returning to work, returning to the office space, support is really important. I think for some women, it is actually quite a difficult time. Obviously you can get used to things – you can get used to almost anything – but the transition can be very difficult for new mums.

“I also think we also need to recognise that not everybody, male and female, wants to have an all-singing, all-dancing career. Some people just don’t want that.”

Parents working flexibly

“I really encourage people to work flexibly. I don’t care if you are having your phone calls with your clients from your study or in the office.  I think it is a lot more of a challenge for us, but not impossible, for us to work on the basis that people go home at 5pm and that’s it, they’ve clocked off. Our clients tend to be quite demanding and we’re here to service their needs first and foremost. But if you want to go back to work after going home, having a family meal and putting the kids to bed, I think we should encourage that flexible approach.

“I don’t see my children very much during the week and that’s something that not everyone would be prepared to do. You have to take account of the individual circumstances and find a good way to work. What I often say to people is: ‘your career is a marathon, not a sprint’ and we need to find better ways to accommodate that.”

What’s next for DLA Piper in the inclusion space?

“We’re a very large business and diversity and inclusion is increasingly important to our clients as well as us.  You want to run a business as effectively as you can and to ignore the haemorrhage of female talent would be foolish – it’s an economic issue. I’d like to see diversity training included as part of our development programme so that when colleagues step into a management role they’re encouraged to think about what ‘valuing difference’ means and to live the behaviour.”

It’s clear that Allison is absolutely committed to supporting women not just outside her firm, but outside her industry too. Thanks to Allison’s drive, DLA Piper recently hosted a hugely successful event in conjunction with The Two Percent Club, designed to encourage more senior women across all sectors to join, and to support younger women coming through the ranks.

Talent Fueller – Melissa Geiger, KPMG

Melissa Geiger (427x640)

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.

Talent Fueller – Carolanne Minashi, Citi

Carolanne MinashiTalent Fueller interview with Carolanne Minashi, Citi. “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.’

Carolanne Minashi heads up diversity, employee relations and engagement for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) at Citi – a role comprising around 55 countries and approximately 35,000 people. Beyond Citi having a positive, pioneering story to tell on the maternity transition front – our initial point of connection – what attracted us to profiling Carolanne  is her commitment to spreading their learning externally. She says she’s recently accompanied Citi Relationship Managers to client meetings, “We’re basically trying to share our journey in diversity with the client. We’re adding value to them in a different way.”

In this piece we hear about using the ‘diverse slate’ approach to attracting more women to Citi; retaining female talent and Citi’s approach to maternity and paternity transitions. Of her role she says “I think my role is to help shape the organisation – it’s to create the policy that meets the needs of the business and creates an environment and a culture where talented people will grow and develop and thrive.”

Simplifying the gender agenda 

“As far as our gender agenda is concerned, we want to see more women in senior roles. There are only three levers we can use to achieve that:

  • You can hire more women than you have done in the past.
  • You can promote women faster (and more women) than you have historically.
  • You can lose less women.

It’s really simple and two things work in your favour: 1) the size of the opportunity that the lever presents you and 2) how hard you work at it.”

Hiring from a diverse slate

“Looking at those levers in the context of an industry in challenging times, , our opportunity  to make an impact by hiring is limited. Losing less women or ‘talent keeping’ is key. But when we do have opportunities to hire at the senior level, its really important that we are attracting women. Part of our hiring strategy is a concept called ‘diverse slates’ which basically says, any senior position – director, managing director level role that is open should have a slate of candidates considered for that job, i.e. more than just one person and where possible, there should be a diverse pool. We track the appointments made and how many came from a diverse slate.

Having that metric has meant we’ve had different conversations with our hiring managers and recruiting partners to make sure they are seriously searching the available market to get diverse talent, because it matters to us. It just might mean they have to work a bit harder to find where those women are.”

Stoking the female graduate pipeline

At the junior level the challenge is helping young women at university, or even before, to think of financial services as a career option worth exploring. We’ve done a number of initiatives around creating relationships with young women at university and bringing them into our organisation for a week to see what it’s like. The important thing I’ve learnt from looking at junior talent is connecting them with senior people – women who are living the life that they may have – to start to create a relationship where they feel free to ask the women what their career has been like, how they got into it, what the pressures are.

Maternity metrics

Citi are hot on the metrics surrounding maternity and paternity transitions. Carolanne says they’re measuring pretty much everything they can measure on the diversity agenda and that the gender element is the one that can be measured most accurately. She knows:

  • How many women a year in her business go off on maternity leave (200 this year)
  • How many men are taking paternity leave
  • How many people are adopting
  • How long women are taking off for maternity (about 75% take nine months, less than five percent come back within three months and the rest trickle back at the 12 month period – she encourages women to take the time they need by reassuring them that over the span of their whole career a few months won’t have much impact)
  • How much it costs (maternity leavers are paid in full for the first 26 weeks and paternity leavers are paid in full for their two weeks of Ordinary Paternity Leave and of the matched period of  Additional Paternity Leave)
  • How many people become parents every year (five percent)
  •  Retention rate both on immediate return and also 3 years later

“I wouldn’t say we’re perfect but I think we’ve made a lot of progress on how we support and engage women and dads during their maternity/paternity transitions. It’s a very quick win for an organisation to pick up on. It’s about understanding the profile of the women who are going off on maternity leave. I know that when a woman takes her first maternity leave, she’s got about 10 years worth of work experience. So these are women who are highly invested in their careers and predisposed to want to come back. I also know that a high proportion of the women who work at Citi are the main breadwinners for their family and so there is an economic orientation for them to want to continue their career.”

The role of line managers in maternity transitions

Citi’s retention rate was high before they introduced what we call ‘support the returner’ and ‘shape the landscape’ activities so we asked what made Carolanne choose to implement them.  “One of my roles is to agitate the system so the fact that something’s working well doesn’t mean to say it can’t be better and certainly doesn’t mean to say it’s perfect. I was talking to lots of women and lots of managers and what I was hearing was although we were doing a really good job providing the policy, the pay and the backup childcare, the single biggest impact on women going through their maternity experience was their line manager and the quality of their experience with their line manager. When I probed that, I knew we could do a better job.”

Citi started a workshop for line managers of maternity leavers five years ago and it’s since become mandatory. We talk about how to handle it well for the woman going off on maternity leave, for the team, for the client that needs to be covered. “It’s not rocket science; by bringing people into a workshop where you can just share some views, give them some stats, what we found was the quality of that management intervention went up and so that was great. It’s really about facilitating good conversations and I think you could do that if you were a small communications company with 20 people or if you were a manufacturing company in the north east employing 100 people, you could do that – you don’t have to be Citi with all of our resources in order to achieve the same things.”

The difference supporting maternity and paternity transitions makes

Citi’s maternity retention rate in the EMEA region is currently 95%. The line manager training has played a role in that as have the maternity comeback workshops Citi offers all maternity leavers. Out of these workshops has grown a workshop for new dads which Minashi says is making a difference in terms of being valued by the organisation. She says that to date six dads have taken Additional Paternity Leave and in every case so far, mum has been the main breadwinner.

“There’s a new generation of fathers who want to be much more involved with their kids and are with partners who expect them to be much more involved and expect that there is going to be much more of a shared work and shared care deal going on. If I look ahead, I think the majority of the leave will still be taken by women but I think it opens up the space for men to have much greater access and time off from their job.”

Retaining women more broadly isn’t necessarily about flexibility

“We’ve just completed a global study looking at the root causes for senior female attrition.  We did qualitative research with 500 senior men and women who had left Citi in recent years and approximately 30 deep-dive follow-up interviews. Before when I asked senior leaders why they thought that senior women were leaving Citi voluntarily most of them didn’t know, but within a very short space of time said it’s something to do with work life balance, family commitments or flexible work and we found no evidence of that.”

Minashi says that of the women who left their EMEA business, not one is at home looking after the kids. They’re all back in financial services (63% of both the men and women who left Citi have stayed within the industry) or running their own business. The reason for leaving? Frustration with pace of career growth and stretch, not an absence of ‘balance’ or flex options.

We found some very interesting data on flex work and work life balance and some very strong feedback that from their perspective they had the balance and their flex options about right so it wasn’t about that, but about career growth and stretch.

“Maybe it’s like a hierarchy of needs,” Carolanne reflects, “when flexibility isn’t a pressing need the next pressing issue is career development and what we found is that what women want is really stretching career opportunities that continue to grow their skills and for some of these women, we weren’t able to accommodate that quite quickly enough and completely enough and that’s why they left.”

What’s really clear from the energetic conversation we had with Carolanne is that she’s on the front-foot and committed to constantly striving to make improvements. She says her job now is sit down with Citi leaders and to talk to them about the findings (such as how women are not quitting to stay at home with the kids) and to help them understand what they can do. Helping leaders prioritise career development conversations with their team members  and mid-year feedback discussions are key.

Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch with him or her.

Talent Fueller – Nicki Seignot, ASDA

Nicki Seignot - ASDATalent Fueller interview with Nicki Seignot, ASDA. “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.’

Nicki Seignot is part of Asda’s HR team at the home offices in Leeds. She’s also the bright mind behind their Mum2Mum mentoring scheme which helps maternity leavers bring their ‘whole selves’ back to work. After a spot of mutual admiration (we love that it came about through Nicki’s commitment to CPD and she says our founder’s book “Mothers Work!” is the book she wishes she wrote) we got into the nitty-gritty of Mum2Mum.

 

What is Mum2Mum?

Mum2Mum is a maternity mentoring programme, specifically designed to support women returning to work. It connects women coming back from maternity leave with a mentor who has recently made it back and supports them through their transition to becoming a working parent. We flex the approach depending on what stage of the journey she’s at and it’s a very inclusive scheme. We don’t discriminate by job grade, MumtoMum is a scheme open to all women taking maternity in the Asda Home Offices.

Please tell us about how Mum2Mum came about…

Two members of my close team were newly pregnant and I was mentoring them as a pair. In starting this as an early pilot, it became clear to me that as a business we needed to do more and there were lots of other returning mums who also could benefit from support.

At the same time I was talking to one of our executive coaches who had links to the Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. That was a bit of a tipping point, because her recommendation was to explore opportunities to take my practice to the next level and as a result, I started an MSc in Coaching and Mentoring in January 2011.  I was busy working my way through Senior Executives and Directors and members of the People Team, saying ‘Look I’ve got this idea, what do you think?’ I was careful to select both men and women because I wanted to get a balance of challenge to my insights and proposals.   Nobody said ‘I don’t think that’s going to work.’

So I started Mum2Mum with a pilot of 12 working mums and 12 mums to be.  This was absolutely the part of the job that I loved.  It unlocked a passion and enthusiasm in me.  My experience with these colleagues showed the value in pregnant colleagues being able to talk to someone independently other than their line manager. Mum2Mum also became the focus of my Masters dissertation and I graduated November 2013 with a distinction!

You have a strong view about employees literally investing in themselves…

Nobody should underestimate the amount of time, effort and energy required to do a Masters level qualification – it’s phenomenal! I’ve worked flexibly since I had my children and I’ve been fortunate to have had time and head-space away from work to devote to other things. In the last few years, this other significant thing has been the Masters as well as the family!

Asda and I co-funded my studies, which I believe is an appropriate way forward because there is a shared commitment to your development. Probably for the first time, I was signing up for a significant investment in me, and that changed my relationship with it as a learning journey. I wonder that in some programmes where the company makes the investment, you go in preoccupied and with a busy head – but this was a joint thing and I was consciously more focused.

I made a very clear business case to say ‘I’m really passionate about doing this – here’s where the opportunities are, we’re busy building a coaching culture, yet, there’s a load more to do, it will offer new insights and external thinking, and it will improve my practice as a coach and mentor.’

Asda became the most amazing fertile ground to start something of immense value both at an individual level and business level, firm in the belief that what we were doing was the right thing.

What’s the business value in Mum2Mum?

I know I needed to make the case for Mum2Mum from a business perspective, so I ran an internal survey with the maternity returners for the whole of one year.  What that gave me, was a rich picture across those colleagues, of their experiences, the length of time they took on mat leave, the specific benefits and difficulties associated with returning to work as working mums.

The survey indicated many women were working as close to their due date as possible to allow maximum time on maternity leave.  This has implications for health and well-being and the role of line managers in being mindful of changing needs as leaving dates approach. Women were returning to work, across a range of working patterns, though it was clear that a majority of colleagues had returned on reduced hours.  Furthermore, there was an over riding sense that pre-maternity optimism about ease of returning, was often at odds with their actual experiences of returning to work and combining this with parenting.

The survey provided the burning platform and we had some incredibly powerful quotes to put into the strategic Mum2Mum documents. The overall purpose of the programme is about using mentoring as strategic support to improve the experience of women returning to work. There are also clear links to the diversity agenda.  It’s clear to me there is something about recognising the significance of this point of a woman’s career and for organisations to engage in planned support around maternity. It’s not enough to leave it to a briefing session.  With appropriate preparation and support, there are real benefits in harnessing the experience and expertise of existing working parents.

There’s also a potential benefit of new connections being made across the business that probably wouldn’t exist ordinarily – that’s because we match people from different areas of the business. I’ve found that a number of the mentoring relationships have turned into mutual friendships and as one mentor said to me recently ‘it’s an intimate time, you grow together.’

It sounds very positive for all involved, so just who is it that accesses Mum2Mum?

Overall it’s becoming more widely known – people are talking about it and coming to talk to us which is great. We have a spectrum of women taking part across the Asda Home Offices.  It isn’t something that only more junior or more senior colleagues do.  We we match on the basis of peer-to-peer support, so both mentee and mentor are at the same level.

We publicise Mum2Mum through our intranet and word of mouth. We also run a monthly maternity briefing session called ‘Mums to be’ where we bring together pregnant colleagues for an afternoon’s workshop covering the essentials of going on maternity leave as well as opportunities for networking and sampling Asda’s fantastic ‘Little Angels’ products.  As one mum put it ‘It’s nice to be in a room and just be pregnant!’

In these sessions we also invite mentees and mentors to share their experiences – the mentor’s perspective of why they want to be a mentor and the type of support they offer. For the mums to be, it’s really critical that they have somebody to talk to them, who has come back relatively recently. The reason I say that, is that for a lot of first time mums, when they think about mentoring, they don’t think they are going to need any help! There’s a requirement for us (as scheme owners) and our mentors, to be quite proactive in the early stages, to build relationships and prompt thinking before the colleague goes off on maternity leave.

All our mentors are enthusiastic volunteers who have come to me and said ‘I’ve come back to work and I’d really like to be a mentor and help someone.’ We also have a number of Mum2Mum mentees who have returned and now want to offer back the support they enjoyed through Mum2Mum.

On that note of ‘future possibilities’ and shared parental leave on the horizon, are their plans for a Dad2Dad scheme?

We’d love to have a Dad2Dad scheme and this has been on my mind! Becoming a parent is a significant time in people’s lives both men and women and there are lessons we can take from Mum2Mum which could be adapted.

 

Is there someone in your organisation who’s making efforts to keep, support and stretch female talent that we could shine a light on? Go on, make their day and put us in touch with him or her.

Shaking the gender agenda

A talent-keeping comment piece by Jessica Chivers

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).

You might prefer to take away this lengthy post as a pdf.

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.

Original image source: Your Loss, Ioannidis C & Walther N, 2010 (www.yourlossbook.com)
Original image source: Your Loss, Ioannidis C & Walther N, 2010 (www.yourlossbook.com)

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 work and 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 hello@talentkeepers.co.uk. 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
[viii] Davies, E. M. (2011). Women On Boards Report. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/women-on-boards
[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.

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