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:


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:


[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

Talent Fueller – Tim Loake, Dell

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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

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.”

Sage advice from Sheryl Sandberg

Lean_in.JPGWe’ve digesting Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead chapter by chapter in this post. It’s an impressive, eye-opening and valuable resource for managers, leaders and EDI practitioners with no less than 35 pages of academic references.


You might prefer to take away this lengthy post as a pdf. It can also be listened to as a soundcloudpodcast (9 short bites totalling 38:28) – click on the soundcloud icon.

Chapter 1 – The Leadership Ambition Gap

In which we discover there is an ‘ambition gap’ between men and women and this partly explains why less women make it to the upper echelons of organisations than men. She rightly espouses the need for more positive portrayals of working women and less ‘I don’t Know How She Does it” type stuff. (A book I read and lapped up as a new mother 6 years ago, although I couldn’t stomach the S J-P film). We get a cultural recommendation – the album Free to Be….You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972).

  • Is the tide turning? “A 2012 Pew study found for the first time that among young people ages 18-34 more young women (66%) than young men (59%) rated ‘success in a high-paying career or profession’ as important to their lives.” I’m undecided whether this is a good thing or a thing to be concerned about given the emphasis on money. Getting to the top is admirable but if it’s all about the wonga I feel there’s more work to do to educate this generation (to which I just scrape in) that happiness is not correlated with money beyond being able to buy life’s basics.
  • Parents beware of our biases: “Parents tend to talk to girl babies more than boy babies. Mothers overestimate the crawling ability of their sons and underestimate the crawling ability of their daughters.”
  • Mothers guilt be gone: “Professor Rosalind Chait Barnett of Brandeis University did a comprehensive review of work-life balance and found that women who participate in multiple roles actually have lower levels of anxiety and higher leveks of mental wellbeing.” This is something I covered in my own book, although the research I cite suggests this is true to a point – women working PT tend to fare better than women working FT.
  • Stereotype threat psychology:“Social scientists have observed that when members of a group are made aware of a negative stereotype , they are more likely to perform according to that stereotype. For example, stereotypically, boys are better at math and science than girls. When girls are reminded of their gender before a math or science test, even by something as simple as checking off an M or F box at the top of the test, they perform worse.”

Chapter 2 – Sit at The Table
Where we discover Sheryl continues to feel like a fraud at times; the power of the ‘fake it til you feel it’ technique she learned whilst an aerobics instructor in the 80s; how the wide-open warrior poses 1, 2 and 3 from yoga can help us take more career-enhancing risks and why women must take the initiative much more than they tend to (the ‘don’t wait for someone to notice your brilliance, ask for it’ philosophy – see the ‘Rocket Women’ posts on The Talent Keeper Specialists ‘latest thinking’ page for ideas and inspiration).  The personal revelations are pouring out about how her hide-my-light-under-a-bushel approach at college backfired, what she’s learnt and how she tries to do things differently. She’s self aware, humble, honest and reading chapter two I feel almost capable of being the COO of Facebook. (If Sheryl Sandberg carries this baggage around with her and is deemed a success,  I must make more of myself).

  • On undoing inaccurate thinking: “These experiences taught me that I needed to make an intellectual and an emotional adjustment. I learned over time that while it was hard to shake feelings of self doubt I could understand there was a distortion. I would never have my brother’s effortless confidence, but I could challenge the notion that I was constantly headed for failure. When I felt like I was not capable of doing something, I would remind myself that I did not fail all my exams in college. Or even one. I learned to undistort the distortion.”
  • Scientific proof for the power of fake-it-til-you-feel-it: “One tactic I’ve learned is to f’ake it til you feel it.’ Research backs up this ‘fake it til you feel it’ strategy. One study found that when people assumed a high-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes their dominance hormones (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.”
  • Taking the initiative and saying yes: “…increasingly, opportunities are not well defined but, instead, come from someone jumping in to do something. That something then becomes his job. Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer, was asked by the Huffington Post, ‘what’s the important lesson you’ve learned from a mistake you’ve made in the post?’ She responded ‘I said no to a lot of opportunities when I was just starting out because I thought that’s not what my degree is in or I don’t about that domain. In retrospect, at a certain point it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters. One of the things I tell people these days is there is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Chapter 3 – Success and Likeability

In which the need to be liked is explored and what the research says about the links between likability and competence are spelled out. Clue: it’s not easy for women to be seen as both, which is a very big problem when it comes to career progression. The shocking truth of gender bias is revealed in the not-well-known-enough Howard & Heidi experiment by American professors, Frank Flynn and Cameron Anderson. And Ms Sandberg fesses up to unintentional gender biasing herself; whilst giving a talk on the subject no less. She shares how she negotiated with Mark Zuckerberg on her pay when joining Facebook but only after a good talking to from her brother-in-law.

My mind whirs as I synthesize the information, constantly coming up with practical tweaks women and workplaces can make to their approach to make the working world better for women. One is to have peers speak up for one another at pay review and bonus time – women feel much more comfortable blowing someone else’ trumpet that they do their own. And with good reason, as Sheryl explains. This is truly the chapter all managers, business leaders and equality, diversity and inclusion practitioners must read.

I underlined large swathes of this chapter, a selection here (and all assertions are backed by academic research – do buy the book for these references alone if you are EDI professional):

  • Gender biasing “Our stereotype of men holds that they are providers, decisive and driven. Our stereotype of women holds that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal. Because we characterize men and women in opposition to each other, professional achievement and all the traits associated with it get placed in the male column. By focusing on her career and taking a calculated approach to amassing power, Heidi violated our stereotypical expectations of women. Yet by behaving in the exact same manner, Howard lived up to our stereotypical expectations of men. The end result? Liked him, disliked her.”
  • Women are better blowing each others’ trumpets “Jocelyn Goldfein, one of the engineering directors at Facebook, held a meeting with our female engineers where she encouraged them to share the progress they had made on the products they were building. Silence. No one wanted to toot her own horn. Who would want to speak up when self-promoting women are disliked? Jocelyn switched her approach. Instead of asking the women to talk about themselves, she asked them to tell one another’s stories. The exercise became communal, which put everyone at ease.”
  • Double standards for men and women who do and don’t support colleagues “When a man helps a colleague, the recipient feels indebted to him and is highly likely to return the favour. But when a woman helps out, the feeling of indebtedness is weaker. She’s communal right? She wants to help others. Professor Flynn calls this the ‘gender discount’ problem and it means women are paying a professional penalty for their presumed desire to be communal. On the other hand, when a man helps a co-worker, it’s considered an imposition and he is compensated with more favourable performance evaluations and rewards like salary increases and bonuses. Even more frustrating, when a woman declines to help a colleague, she often receives less favourable reviews and fewer rewards. But a man who declines to help? He pays no penalty.”
  • Arianna Huffington on getting over not being liked by everyone “Early in her career, Arianna realized that the cost of speaking her mind was that she would inevitably offend someone. She does not believe it is realistic or even desirable to tell women not to care when we are attacked. Her advice is that we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticised evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on. (Like children do).” This is sound advice and the approach I advocate with clients who seek coping strategies from me on the guilt they experience as working mothers.

Chapter 4 – It’s a Jungle Gym Not a Ladder

In which we discover a powerfully different way to market ourselves to a prospective employer and Sheryl recommends we adopt two concurrent career goals: a long term dream and an 18 month plan. (Recruiters take note: ’and where do you see yourself in five years time?’ is out of fashion, although really, it was always lame). And get this, the dream needn’t be realistic according to Sheryl. How wonderfully liberating is that?

Key points:

  • A new paradigm for career progression “Ladders are limiting – people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.” I read this and feel thousands of career breakers and women returners breaking into a smile. She’s right of course and a client I’m currently working with in is the midst of grappling with her next career move which may be a 75 degree  diagonal move rather than straight up.
  • Seek out high growth companies if you want to get on “Eric (Schmidt, the then CEO of Google) responded with perhaps the best piece of career advice that I have ever heard. He explained only one criterion mattered when picking a job – fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are ore things to do than there are people to do them. He told me ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.'”
  • Get a growth mindset “An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements. This difference has a ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.'” Couldn’t agree more – anyone worth working for recognises potential and ability to learn when they’re recruiting. This idea is something I touch on in this post about imposter syndrome.

Chapter 5 – Are You My Mentor?
In which we learn not to ask Sheryl Sandberg ‘will you be my mentor?’ and her belief that women seeking out mentors has become a problem: she believes it’s creating dependency on others and compares the search for one as being the ‘professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming.’ My view on mentoring (mentor = trusted advisor) is why have one mentor when developing relationships with several trusted advisors as any one time is better and why go looking for ‘a mentor’ when people will naturally appear throughout our careers. It is this contrived seeking out Sheryl objects to, rather than having a mentor per se.

Some helpful tips:

  • The difference between a mentor and a sponsor: mentors are people who will advise; a sponsor is someone who will use their influence to advocate for us. “Both men and women with sponsors are more likely to ask for stretch assignments and pay rises than their peers of the same gender without sponsors.”
  • Approach a mentor when your PD rating is strong: “Studies show that mentors select protoges based on performance and potential. We need to stop telling (young women) ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.” Love this nifty nugget.
  • Use a mentor’s time well: It should go without saying that a mentee needs to be respectful of their mentor’s time and highly focused in the way they use it. Whilst Sheryl probably doesn’t label herself as a mentor, she remarks on several people/conversations where that other person undoubtedly sees her as a mentor and praises two of them for ‘never asking a question she could have answered on her own’ and for doing their homework, being crisp, focused and gracious.  “Mentees should avoid complaining excessively to a mentor. Using a mentor’s time to validate feelings may help psychologically, but it’s better to focus on specific problems with real solutions. Most people in a position to mentor are quite adept at problem-solving.”
  • Meet a male mentor for breakfast: A study published by Harvard Business Review found 64% of men at VP level or above are hesitant to have a 1:1 meeting with a junior woman and half the junior women surveyed avoid this kind of contact with senior men. Sheryl says it must end “Personal connections lead to assignments and promotions so it needs to be OK for men and women to spend informal time together the same way men can.” A breakfast meeting in a public place can help put both parties at ease – dinner after work looks far too much like a date.

Chapter 6 – Seek & Speak Your Truth

In which discover Sheryl was parented by a very enlightened mother and the swathes of academic references run dry. It’s a very personal chapter where Sheryl shares her belief that showing emotions in the office (including tears) can be helpful and that we should bring our whole selves to work – no separate sides saved for work and home (which she admits has been an evolution for her rather than the ways she’s always done things). We hear her advice on giving feedback (on this point I recommend The Mind Gym book ‘Wake Your Mind Up’ – pages 166-181 give an excellent overview on offering praise and constructive counsel) and learn her relationship with her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, is strong precisely because of this real-time, free-flowing feedback. There’s more of the ‘here’s where I got it wrong, look at all the mistakes I’ve made, and here’s what I do differently now…’ which makes her really quite endearing and worth listening to. She clearly has a huge need to be liked which resonates with me.

Chapter 7 – Don’t Leave Before You Leave

The core idea of the book, ‘Don’t leave before you leave’ is another way of imploring women to ‘lean in’ to their careers and put to one side worries about ‘what ifs’ (thinking about pregnancies and babies before they’re a reality). In discussions I have with clients who are looking to return to work after children, the subject of ‘is it worth it given the cost of childcare?’ sometimes comes up. I have a role to play in exploring this from different angles with my clients and Sheryl’s view is that not having a bean left after paying for childcare is probably worth it as it’ll help your career in the long run. I agree that this is the case for the vast majority of professional women – there’s good evidence that time out harms pay trajectories as I discuss in my book, Mothers Work! We learn Sheryl is comfortable asking female employees about their child-bearing plans, which she makes clear to us and them that she asks out of concern for the individuals (who may be ‘leaning out’ before they need to). She acknowledges this would give employment lawyers a heart attack but I think she’s making a great point. Sadly I don’t think this level of trust and concern for the individual’s career exists between the majority of line managers and team members in the UK, and without those two elements, the question would indeed lay an employer open to all sorts of charges.

  • Trying for a baby shouldn’t preclude you seeking a new job: “In 2009 we were recruiting Priti Choksi to join Facebook’s business development team. After we extended the offer…I went for it (saying) ‘If you think you might not take this job because you want to have a child soon, I am happy to talk about this.’ I figured if she didn’t want to discus it, she would just keep heading for the door. Instead, she turned around, sat back down and said ‘let’s talk.’ I explained although it’s counterintuitive, right before having a child can actually be a great time to take a new job. If she found her new role challenging and rewarding, she’d be more excited to return to it after giving birth. By the time she started at Facebook she was already expecting. She later told me that if I had not raised the topic, she would have turned us down.
  • Watch the small decisions: “When it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them. I have seen this over and over. Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make lots of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices tat they believe will be required to have a family. Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.” She’s right and I consider my own departure from the corporate world and into working for myself six months after I got married in 2004, partly due to this.
  • Lean in: “The time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives not before, and certainly not years in advance. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back , but the critical time to lean in.”
  • Your career may depend on how many hours your partner works: Men who work 60+ hours a week have wives who are 112% more likely to quit work than women whose husbands work 50 hours or less/week.

Chapter 8 – Make Your Partner a Real Partner

In which Lean In and my book, Mothers Work! overlap greatly, specifically chapter three ‘See your family as a team.’ Sheryl and I have a shared outlook on equality in the home, both believing it is a mindset more than anything else. I write ‘…partnering up, like equality, is an attitude more than anything else. Equality is when you both recognise the need and see the merit in deciding together how you can best manage the totality of your lives. Equality isn’t about dividing everything down the middle.’ Sheryl writes on her marriage to Dave ‘We are never at fifty-fifty at any given moment – perfect equality is hard to define or sustain – but we allow the pendulum to swing back and forth between.’ We learn 18% of women in the UK earn more than their husbands (trailing behind the US by 12%) – which Sheryl explains can be a problem as there’s still significant discomfort for many around this – and that Sheryl herself has experienced the ‘double-bind’ of working motherhood despite having such a fantastic husband.

Note-worthy points:

  • The single most important career decision: “I truly believe that the single biggest career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully – and I mean fully – supportive of her career. No exceptions. In a 2007 study of well-educated professional women who had left the paid workforce, 60% cited their husbands as a critical factor in their decision.”
  • Fathers please lean in to your family: “Women who breast feed are arguably baby’s first lunch-box. But even if mothers are more naturally inclined towards nurturing, fathers can match that with knowledge and effort. If women want to succeed more at work and if men want to succeed more at home, these expectations have to be challenged. As Gloria Steinem once observed, ‘It’s not about biology, but about conscientiousness.’”
  • Let men do it their way: Another point on which our books cross-over, “Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal – and equally capable – partner. And if that’s not reason enough, bear in mind that a study found that wives who engage in gate-keeping behaviours do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a more collaborative approach.”
  • Benefits when men ‘lean in’: “…children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological well-being and better cognitive abilities. When fathers provide even just routine childcare, children have higher levels of educational and economic achievement and lower delinquency rates. Their children even tend to be more empathetic and socially competent. When husbands do more housework, wives are less depressed, marital conflicts decrease and satisfaction rises….the risk of divorce reduces by half when a woman earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” All of these assertions are carefully referenced and the last point on divorce risk comes from a 2006 study of US and German couples.

Chapter 9 – The Myth of Doing It All

With lines such as ‘no one has it all, ‘done is better than perfect’ (on a poster hanging at Facebook HQ) and ‘perfection is the enemy’ Sheryl and I are back in the same space. This chapter pedals the same message as the chapter ‘Go for good enough at home’ in Mothers Work! As I read a thought bubbles up – I hope there isn’t value in authors still writing this stuff when my daughter becomes a mother.

Sheryl shares her evolution as a parent and how she didn’t get things right with baby number one (checking e-mails constantly, exhausting herself by working when he newborn was sleeping etc), but learned to relax and set boundaries with her second child. I nod away emphatically as she puts the ball firmly in women’s courts with “the best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.” This chimes with one of the key messages I’ve conveyed in many a talk on how to unravel the grip of the triple-bind of working motherhood: we must take charge because no one will do it for us. I do wince though at the ‘life’ and ‘career’ dichotomy – this implies the two are separate, which they are not. A good, rounded life involves both.

I’m dismayed that Sheryl almost applauds another executive for putting her children to bed in their clothes to save 15 minutes in the morning. Behaviour like that should ring alarm bells for a family and be a trigger for re-evaluating priorities.

Noteworthy points:

  • Colin Powell, output not input at work is important: “I wanted them to have a life outside the office. I am paying them for the quality of their work, not for the hours they work. That kind of environment has always produced the best results for me.” This makes complete sense yet most organisations do not work to these principles. A ‘bums on seats’ culture flies in the face of research of by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow who found Boston Consulting Group consultants forced to work less became more effective (see note 14, p 212)
  • The ‘always on’ culture: “A 2012 survey of employed adults showed that 80% of respondents continued to work after leaving the office, 38% checked e-mail at the dinner table and 69% can’t go to bed without checking their inbox.” And later “Sleeping four or five hours a night induced mental impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit.” Whilst I only became aware of this fact whilst reading Lean In I’ve often thought the ‘baby on board’ signs people display in their cars are a useful warning for other drivers to stay clear of what could be a dangerous, sleep-deprived parent at the wheel. My view on overcoming the ‘always on’ culture is to make a point of regularly unplugging. Constant communication has become a fact of life and because there is never a state of ‘finished’ or ‘job done’ when you are combining career with family you may as well draw your own markers in the sand. I now hold myself back from checking my iphone before I go to bed asking myself ‘what are you going to do if there’s something ‘urgent’ in there? Attend to it now, right before bed when you want to achieve restful sleep?”
  • We’re doing more parenting than we ever did: Sheryl and I draw on the same reference in making the point about parents doing more parenting than we did in 1975. It is all the evidence we need not to feel guilty about combining careers with a young family. “In 1975 stay-at-home mothers spent an average of about 11 hours per week on primary child care (defined as routine care-giving and activities that foster a child’s well-being, such as reading and fully focused play). Mothers employed outside the home in 1975 spent six hours doing these activities. Today stay-at-home mothers spend about 17 hours per week on primary child care, on average, while mothers who work outside the home spend about eleven hours. This means an employed mother today spends about the same amount of time on primary child care activities as a non-employed mother did in 1975.”


Chapter 10 – Let’s Start Talking About It

In which we learn Sheryl was rightly incensed as a teenager when patted on the head by ‘legendary’ Tip O’Neill (Lib Dem speaker of US House of Representatives) and told over her head ‘she’s pretty.’ Although oddly, in the following years, she denounced feminism, believing it wasn’t something she wanted to be associated with and that it was redundant. The end of the chapter makes clear ‘feminism’ as a concept needs to be properly understood as only 25% of US women consider themselves a feminist, yet when offered the definition ‘a feminist is someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes’ it rises to 65%. I wonder if the other 35% need their ears syringing. We learn how and when Sheryl decided to start talking about gender equality: seeing large numbers of female friends leave the workforce and having the support of colleagues Susan Wojcicki and Melissa Mayer at Google.

I’ve scrawled a lot in the margins of this chapter, picking out counter-intuitive ideas on meritocracies and anti-discrimination laws. As well as those there are some positive points of change in some well-known organisations:

  • Increasing female promotions 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.”
  • American Express CEO pauses meetings to point out discrimination: “Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, openly acknowledges that in meetings, both men and women are more likely to interrupt a woman and give credit to a man for an idea first proposed by a woman. When he witnesses either of these behaviors, he stops the meeting to point it out. Coming from the top, this really makes employees think twice. A more junior woman (or man) can also intervene in the situation when a female colleague has been interrupted. She can gently but firmly tell the group, ‘Before we move on, I’d like to hear what (senior woman) had to say.’ This action not only benefits the senior woman but can raise the stature of the junior woman as well, since speaking up for someone else displays both confidence and a communal spirit. The junior woman comes across as both competent and nice.”
  • Eradicating the male-female performance gap at Harvard Business School: “Even a well-established institution like Harvard Business School can evolve rapidly when issues are addressed head-on. Historically at HBS American students have academically outperformed both female and international students. When Nitin Nohria was appointed dean in 2010, he made it his mission to close this gap. He began by appointing Youngme Moon as senior associate dean of the MBA program, the first woman to hold that position…he also created a new position for Robin Ely, an expert on gender and diversity. They visited each classroom and discussed the challenges women and international students faced. Without calling for major overhauls they tackled the soft stuff – small adjustments students could make immediately. They held students responsible for the impact their behaviour had on others. (They) introduced small group projects to encourage collaboration between classmates who would not naturally work together. They also added a year-long field course, which plays to the strengths of students who are less comfortable contributing in front of large classes.

By commencement, the performance gap had virtually disappeared. In a result many considered surprising, overall student satisfaction went up, not just for the female and international students, but for American males as well. By creating a more equal environment, everyone was happier. And all of this was accomplished in just two years.”

Chapter 11 – Working Together Toward Equality

In which Sheryl encourages us all to be supportive of people’s choices, most notably her friend and newly appointed Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer’s decision to take a very short maternity leave. She touches on getting over the mommy wars; that is, ending competitions to prove that staying at home or going out to work when our children are young is the best or right thing to do. This is a message I open with in Mothers Work! Still on the theme of choice, Sheryl makes clear that both men and women need to be able to choose to stay at home or have full careers, she writes “Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have a real choice.” The key word in that sentence is ‘colleagues’ which could have been prefaced with ‘male’ because if women are working alongside men who don’t do domestic stuff and whose wives stay at home, the evidence suggests they can have a negative impact on their female colleagues’ careers. See note 10 p217 for more on this. She goes on to say “And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have a real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible.”

Lean In is a remarkable piece of work which clearly sets out the many ways employers and employees can contribute to righting the imbalance of ease and opportunity for women in the workplace. As an emotionally-charged scientist I’ve relished the rigorous research and heavy academic referencing interwoven with Sheryl’s personal stories and feelings. I thoroughly recommend reading the whole book – indeed I implore you to read it if you’re an EDI practitioner or people manager – and I leave you with a selection of sound-bites from the final chapter:

  • “Sharon Meers tells a story about a school parents’ night she attended in which children introduced their parents. Sharon’s daughter Sammy pointed at her father and said ‘this is Steve, he makes buildings. Kind of like an arhitecht, and he loves to sing.’ Then Sammy pointed at Sharon and said, ‘this is Sharon, she wrote a book, she works full-time and she never picks me up from school.’ If more children see fathers at school pickups and mothers who are busy at jobs, both girls and boys will envision more options for themselves. Expectations will not be set by gender but by personal passion, talents and interests.”
  • “It is a painful truth that one of the obstacles to more women gaining power has sometimes been women already in power.”
  • “Research suggests that once a woman achieves success, particularly in a gender-biased context, her capacity to see gender discrimination is reduced.”
  • “There is hope that this is attitude is changing. A recent survey found that ‘high-potential women’ working in business want to ‘pay it forward’ and 73% have reached out to other women to help them develop their talents. Almost all of the women I have encountered professional have gone out of their way to be helpful.”
  • “The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results. In 2004, four female executives at Merrill Lynch started having lunch together once a month. They shared their accomplishments and frustrations. They brainstormed about business. After the lunches they would go back to their offices and tout one another’s achievements. They couldn’t brag about themselves, but they could easily do it for their colleagues. Their careers flourished and each rose up the ranks to reach managing director and executive officer levels. The queen been was banished and the hive became stronger.”

And that’s what I call a result. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg, for giving us Lean In. We also applaud James Allworth’s thoughtful reflections on ‘Lean In’ via Harvard Business Review. He says “it wasn’t the women who were lacking confidence – but it was the men who were too confident. To put it bluntly, a lot of (Lean In’s recommendations) are making women more like men, without proper consideration of whether that would actually be a good thing.”

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