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 http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/cr-diversity-employee-resource-groups

Whats Next?

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

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

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

Involved fathers, committed professionals

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

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

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

Senior male solicitor, private practice @longmores

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

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

Che Meakins, Solicitor, Rayden Solicitors @RaydensLaw


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

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

Liam Colville, Solicitor, Debenhams Ottaway @DebenhamsOtt 


“Flexible working has made me more efficient.”

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

Chris Purcell, Solicitor, in-house third sector.



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

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


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

Client case study – CIPR

The Challenge

case studyThe Challenge

The 2014 State of the Profession findings were a breaking point in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in taking action on equal pay and gender balance.

Amongst other defining statistics, the survey identified a mean average pay gap of over £12,000 in favour of men, as well as a lack of women operating at a senior level. These statistics are in context of an overall industry that is just under two-thirds female. As a policy commitment the CIPR aimed to tackle this issue across five broad areas:

  • Deliver a support network for women in public relations to successfully navigate the challenges of maternity leave and then return to work confidently
  • Encourage greater acceptance of flexible working practices
  • Increase the number of female role models
  • Provide better mentoring opportunities
  • Reflect on transparent pay structures as a solution to equal pay

London, United Kingdom - Tuesday 23 September 2014, CIPR - Training Workshops.










To specifically tackle the issue of maternity leave and return to work, in September 2014 the CIPR reformed our membership offering. Made available from Monday 1 September 2014, the ‘Managing Your Maternity Leave’ package included:

  • Up to 12 months payment holiday from CIPR membership – to ease the financial burden of Statutory Maternity Pay
  • Up to 12 months discretionary CPD credits – to maintain levels of accreditation
  • Quarterly KIT (Keeping in touch) emails – providing bite-size access to the latest on-demand learning and development opportunities
  • Access to a private online community – to promote knowledge sharing, advice and support

The package was announced in context of research published in August 2014 from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) which suggested that “women begin to fall behind at the age when they are most likely to be starting a family”, and from research published on 12 August 2014 by Slater & Gordon which found that “a third of managers would rather employ a man in his 20s or 30s than a woman of the same age for fear of maternity leave and that six in ten mothers felt side-lined from the moment they revealed they were pregnant”.

This was supported by Ruby McGregor-Smith, CBE, Chair of the Women’s Business Council and Chief Executive of Mitie Group plc, the FTSE 250 strategic outsourcing company.

In publishing this package the CIPR felt they needed to offer more substance and guidance to inform and educate maternity-leavers. The CIPR’s aim was to deliver greater confidence and self-belief, and ultimately deliver a greater number of women effectively returning to work in PR.


The Solution

London, United Kingdom - Tuesday 23 September 2014, CIPR - Training Workshops.The CIPR approached the Talent Keeper Specialists to create a bespoke suite of materials for their members and non-members to specifically address an education and knowledge gap on maternity leave and returning to work.

The guides were to be produced for the benefit of maternity-leavers in CIPR membership.


The Outcome

The Talent Keeper Specialists produced a series of ten guides containing a series of hints and tips on managing maternity leave, and featuring practitioner case studies and points of view. These were published in October 2014.

Guide 10, Best practices for managing maternity leave for line managers, was made publicly available and covers issues facing ‘maternity leavers’ and their managers before, during and after maternity leave. It also features a 12-point plan and reflective exercises, including information on planning and maintaining a structure for Keep in Touch (KIT) days and how to manage broader career progression conversations.

The other nine guides, made exclusively available to CIPR members, covered:


The CIPR’s Feedback

comment“Working with The Talent Keepers was an easy process from day one. After providing a comprehensive selection of prospective solutions to tackle the challenge, a clear structure in planning out the process of creating the guides was delivered, with the team always supplying their work before the deadline.

Jessica’s understanding of the issue led to the additional production of the publicly available guide for line managers, doing this was important in addressing a knowledge gap and has proven to be popular (the third most downloaded PDF in the last quarter of 2014).

Since the production of the guides, we have seen regular stream of downloads and positive feedback on social media. Regular comments from members focus on “the essential nature” and “informative but not restrictive language” of each piece of guidance, always crediting the confidence that they inspire. This is testament to the quality of the final product.

Finally, Jessica’s infectious enthusiasm for the issue, alongside her energy and genuine drive to positively effect change make her stand out one of the most inspirational people I have worked with.

Having established an incredibly useful working relationship with Jessica, I look forward to working closely with the Talent Keeper Specialists over the coming years as we continue our work on equal pay and gender balance.”

Thanks to Andy Ross, Public Relations & Policy Manager for this case study.

Talent Fueller – Nikki Gatenby, MD of Propellernet

Nikki ‘Director of the Symphony’ Gatenby is the Managing Director of Propellernet in Brighton, one of the most progressive Search Marketing agencies in the UK. She fuels talent by asking her people to be ‘stunning colleagues’ and they’ve been hailed one of the top 25 places to work in Europe.

In an instant we know Propellernet is a special place to work when Nikki tells us her job title is not so much MD as ‘Conductor of Our Symphony’ – a job she says is about creating unity and harmony from diversity. Propellernet was the Best Place to Work in the UK 2013 and the Top 25 of the Best Places to Work in Europe in 2014 by the Great Places to Work Institute & The Guardian.

Nikki was MD of the Year at the Brighton & Hove Business Awards, partly for Propellernet being recognised as one of the most democratic businesses in the world by Worldblu 2012, 2013 & 2014 and achieved the Investors in People Health and Wellbeing award (one of the smallest companies in the UK to win an Investors in People). Their clients include Marks & Spencer, Sportsshoes, L K Bennett and The Telegraph.

Incredibly high colleague retention



“Attracting and retaining talented people (55/45% male/female split) is my top priority – we put on a high impact experience for our clients, buy pulling together multiple different disciplines and personalities.

Both women and men are equally important here and each person is treated as an individual, based on their own personal circumstance.   One of the outcomes of the way we support and develop our team is really low staff turnover, at less than 10%, with our nearest competitor being c30% – and our clients love it.  Our Net Promoter Scores this year across our client stands at an industry leading 94% and we regularly get new business through client referrals.

It commands leadership that is intuitive and emotionally intelligent, wrapped up and an obsessive interest in others (rather than self). You have to be completely aware of everyone’s personal circumstance and the environment in which they operate best – it’s the same for men and women. Everyone is an individual and we all have needs beyond the company.

You also need to recognise when it is time for someone to take on a new challenge or experience and that may not be with Propellernet. I actively encourage the team to take up a travelling adventure or go for a role with a client if I truly believe it will benefit them.

Personalising flexibility


45% of us are parents, again, pretty evenly split between men and women. The responsibility to care for the children and get back to work can fall on either party and we make great efforts to support the mums and dads. We have enhanced maternity and paternity to offer paid leave and flexibility on hours on return to get into the swing of things, but there’s so much more;

One of our dads became a father to twins who were 3 months premature. We thought about what would support him the most at this worrying time – a mixture of dog walkers, cleaners and ready prepared luxury food parcels were on the menu, along with extended flexible working to allow him to visit the hospital during the day for the 3 month period before his full paternity leave kicked in. It was an agreement we came to together and totally based on personal circumstance.

A lot of our working parents want to have the flexibility to work different hours than the standard working week. 25% of the company work a mixture of part time on 3 or 4 days a week, shorter working days over the full week, 4 longer days over the 5 day week or variable mornings or afternoons at home or a mixture of all of the above! Whatever is needed.

Saying that, it’s not just parents. Recently one of our team was really passionate about writing a book, as we encourage diversity of learning and experience, we changed her working hours to enable her to take a day a week to concentrate on writing her book – which is going great guns.

Each of us taking personal responsibility, makes flexibility work. We have a set of values, but also a set of behaviours that work well for us. We’re focusing on this quite a lot right now and one of the key things in terms of behaviours is ‘to be a stunning colleague.’

This is not about employer – employee relations. This is human to human care and attention.

Education, Education, Education


I’ve been experimenting with better ways of working in competitive digital agencies in London, Paris and now Brighton over the last 15 years.  Having graduated from Kingston University and alumni of London Business School and Cranfield University, I have a keen focus on personal development and continuous learning for everyone in the company.  I don’t believe there is a week that I come away from work without having learnt something and I expect others to be able to feel the same.

We have developed our own internal Propellernet Academy, where everyone in the company, male, female, oldest, youngest , technical, creative, PR etc has a role to play in sharing and learning. We are in a fast moving environment and need the collective energy and intellect of the full team to keep us all up to date is imperative.

As such, we don’t bill out all of our time to clients. We aim to limit it to 80% (in previous agencies, this often goes over 100%). The rest of the time is to learn, share, read books, go to events, take part in the Academy.

Our Academy ‘lunchtime learnings’, ‘bitesize briefings’ and ‘shareback Thursdays’ all take place during the working day, to enable those with time bound responsibilities, such as picking up children, to still be able to take part.

Our weekly ‘New News’ company meeting on a Friday is hosted by me and another of our Directors, but owned by everyone – the agenda self forms each week based on what individuals feel they would like to share to inspire or simply keep each other up to date. It’s like a family breaking bread together around the dining table, sharing stories and experiences.

Opportunity cost of the Academy in terms of billed out hours last year was over £1m. But the actual strategic return across the business is invaluable.

The Academy, headed up by one of our part time working mums, has been recognised by our industry as leading the way in talent development, winning awards most recently of

  • Brand Republic Award 2014 – Talent Management Expertise
  • Guardian Best Awards 2014 – Best Development of Agency Talent

Values. And putting your money where your mouth is.


Our agency values are Creativity, Innovation, Adventure, Fun and Wellbeing.  They are woven into the very fabric of the operation. For example, good health and wellbeing puts us in pole position to develop and grow – so everyone qualifies for Propellernet funded healthcare (extended to their families)and we allocate 5% of our profits every month to specific wellbeing activities. Thus ensuring our individual and collective creativity rises and that we remain energetic about our business.

Wellbeing activities can be anything that the team deem valuable to do; such as subsidised Pilates, attending Improv classes, Community work (such as supporting the Brighton Fringe or Brighton University)and  pre-payday lunch to gather everyone together on a regular basis, just before the payday pinch happens.  There raft of options grows each year.

A spirit of adventure and expand our experiences puts us in pole position to develop and grow – so everyone is given a day a month, a Propel Day, to get out of the office and ‘Propel yourself forward’ – in whichever way you see fit. And after 5 years service, we offer the opportunity of a sabbatical, to take a month off, paid, to go and experience something wonderful.  There is no difference between those who are full time, part time or working flexibly. The opportunity is there for all. The one thing we expect back is for everyone to take on the personal responsibility of delivering great work and being a stunning colleague.  And it works.

Rewarding colleagues – the dream machine.


By focussing on the right things, people development being one of them, we have experienced triple digit revenue growth. But there’s always room to take it up a level. Imagine if your employer could help make your dreams come true? Or you could help your employees dreams come true…

We have a Dream Ball Machine at Propellernet – an old fashioned sweet dispenser filled with individual dream ball capsules.  Each capsule has a person’s name in it who works at Propellerne and when we hit a major milestone or target, we aim to release a dream ball and make someone’s dream come true. I have Dream Consultations with each person at the agency and ask them how they are going to make us more successful and if we succeed, what we can do to help make one of their dreams come true.

When we won the Great Places to Work award, we pulled two dream balls – last year Steve and Jim took the trip of a lifetime to the World Cup in Brazil, something they’ve both wanted to do since they were small.  With a mix of time, connections and a bit of budget, we got them there.

Carla’s dream ball dropped last Christmas and she took a dream family holiday in the Alps for her father’s 60th birthday – all put together based on our connections in travel and people in the Alps

It’s not all about waiting for a dreamball to drop though; Sophie wants to go on Safari so we’ve started working with a company in Namibia to promote their Safari’s and part of this is Sophie living her dream by spending time out on safari whilst supporting the company in their marketing activities. Mark wants to create a sci-fi-rock-opera – we’re in the process of giving him the time and space to do it, with our collective connections with writers, journalists, those in the music and video industry…watch this space

And there’s many more.

The point being, if you create a company that encourages people to lead full lives and follow their dreams, you can land a full roster of creative, innovative, award winning talent – that makes everyone’s lives better.

The motivation to be different – make life better.


We have a real sense of purpose behind our business.  It comes from a vision to ‘Make Life Better.’ If we can make life better for our clients customers online; help them find what they need – great content, great answers to their search queries online, in our connected world, they are likely to talk to their friends about it, to share it and promote our clients

If we can make our clients lives better by having consistent teams, doing great work, getting them results, making them famous, whatever it is they need, they will value our relationship all the more and make our lives better

If we can collectively make life better for each other within our agency team, we are all going to be happier, more creative and productive and enjoy our time at work.

It’s really that simple.

Without this culture….


  • We wouldn’t have such good growth figure or great client feedback.
  • Our turnover would inevitably be higher as would our recruitment costs.
  • Less parents would come back to work.
  • All our key metrics would take a hit.
  • The journey wouldn’t be half as much fun.
  • There would be no point, no purpose.

As our CEO once said, after being blown away by meeting the genius of Nile Rogers and listening to him talk about creating great music with soul last year: “Music without soul is just noise, business without purpose is just admin.”

Talent Fueller – Tracy Groves, PwC


Talent Fueller Interview with Tracy Groves, PwC.

“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.’

Something interesting is happening at PwC on the gender inclusion front and Tracy Groves is the catalyst behind it. Tracy is a partner in the Forensic Services Practice, based here in London, a day job that includes leading the business ethics and integrity practice for clients. In addition she is the Chair of the newly created PwC Gender Balance Network, formerly known as the Women’s Network.


Gender Balance Network Replaces PwC Women’s Network

I asked myself, why when the firm is moving towards a strategy of inclusiveness – so recognising and respecting value and difference on a very positive basis – are we focusing the women’s network just on women?  When I look at the fantastic development programs I have been on within PwC over the years one of my thoughts/feedback was ‘why are we not embracing men as part of this?’ Because all of us need to be educated and informed and helped to understand if we are different, why is that and why is that a positive asset?

In my day-to-day client work I was observing a real appetite for understanding how better balanced decision making is brought about through diversity of thought, experience, age and gender. Taken together with refocusing our strategy on inclusiveness, moving to the Gender Balance Network felt like a natural evolution.

Responses to the idea of a Gender Balance Network

“The vast majority of women said ‘thank goodness, at last!’ When we attempted to name ‘women only’ issues, in response to some resistance, we saw that there are very few and a forum probably isn’t the place to discuss them. If you want to talk, for example, about childcare issues – which have stereotypically been seen as in the women’s camp – there’s the Parent’s Network.

There are different balance equations in different parts of the firm/regions and there may be a greater journey to go on in some places. I think what reassured some of the nervousness was reiterating that the creation of the Gender Balance Network isn’t us saying that there’s a level playing field and that we’ve got it right. My view is that in order for us to move to a level playing field where both women and men have the opportunity to be the best we can be, we need to do that on a far more inclusive basis and not just for a minority group.

Men and women embracing the Gender balance Network

From a soft launch in January to the latest event, the numbers of participants is up. Board members have been involved in each event with curiosity growing on their part as Tracy tells us they’re now asking ‘when’s the next one? When’s it my turn?”

The most recent event welcomed 135 people to a room designed for 50 (because previous Women’s Network events have usually attracted 30-40) and that included 15 men and 10 clients. And the attraction? The title, “Ambition in the workplace.”

“We used the data from the project 28-40 report that we supported Opportunity Now to do, to explore how men and women individually responded to questions relating to ambition. It brought out a huge amount of synergy as well as some differences which we then really began to unpick and explore. People were still talking about it a week later.”

Carrying the conversation beyond events

“It’s important to realise that the role of the networks within PwC is to really enable our wider diversity and inclusion strategy. They’re there to provide a safe environment where we can debate, challenge, question what we are doing and how we are doing it.

If we are to make any impact and real change, it has to happen within the business itself, so if I think about what I am doing within my own business unit (and this is happening across the firm as well), there are ongoing discussions, round tables, and listening groups taking place which are focusing on all the different types of diversity, not just gender balance.

The more people participate, the better.

What’s next?

We have a shortlist of things that we want to talk about, a list we’ve whittled down to three or four topics as well as lunch with leader events. The topics we are going to be looking at include:

  • Power and Politics, including negotiating and influencing.
  • Self-Promotion, including confidence and communication, how do you market yourself and how do you sell yourself – what’s your brand?
  • Making Life work for you, work-life balance – having something beyond work, making life work for you as opposed to working to live. Doing this in terms of getting flexibility in all of our work, given technology, given the way that we work.



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.

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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