Talent Fueller – Katarina Fidler, Carillion

Kat FidlerTalent Fueller Interview with Katarina Fidler, Carillion.

“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.’

Kat Fidler is the general manager of Sky Blue Solutions, part of leading integrated support services group Carillion, which provides recruitment and resource solutions to the UK construction and services sectors. She initiated and led the creation of the Carillion working mums network which quickly grew from being a small self-help group to a network with 200 plus members, senior sponsorship and influence on policy.

Why a ‘working mums network’ at Carillion?

The working mums network was triggered in part by my own experiences. I wanted to create a support network for others through shared experiences. This rapidly evolved into an opportunity to shine a light on some of the issues that female colleagues face, including career progression, at the point they become parents.

Having evolved from a traditionally male-dominated construction environment, Carillion’s policies at that time focused mainly on managing individual areas such as pregnancy and maternity leave rather than the broader gender agenda. When I was pregnant, I was overwhelmed with a well-intentioned attitude, mainly from male colleagues, which said ‘when you have a baby you won’t be interested in coming back’ or ‘you might come back on a part-time basis but your priorities will be elsewhere’. It painted the picture to me and others that if you are having a baby, you won’t be here, and if you are you won’t be in the running for anything else.

I took one year off on maternity leave and returned to a very supportive environment, driven by my line manager at the time. However I still found the process of becoming a working mum difficult. Putting aside the logistical and planning challenges of a family with two full-time working parents, after a year out I felt my concentration span was much shorter and my ability to get my point across was a little rusty. I realised how valuable it was to have a group that working mums can turn to when they go through pregnancy and return to work simply to talk about some of these quite personal insights and worries.  If someone had told me at the time that you have this period of transitioning and adjustment, I’d have stopped worrying about it quite as much.

Creating this peer support for other women in Carillion was the primary reason for the working mums network.

Leadership sits up and takes notice

These difficulties associated with maternity transitions had not previously been highlighted but now diversity and inclusion is firmly on senior leadership’s agenda. Importantly, it is embedded in sustainability targets in the business strategy.  Managing motherhood has been recognised as an important sub-element of our gender agenda. The working mums network was soon seen as an opportunity to get grass-root level insights into the issues faced by working mums which can inform senior-level decision making.

Therefore, there has been strong senior sponsorship for the network from the start. This was really important because sometimes there is a risk that these types of groups can be mis-understood and seen as ‘whinging forums’, if taken out of context. The activity of the network started with a comprehensive piece of research to understand the landscape of working mums in Carillion: what Carillion has to deal with; what Carillion working mums have to deal with; national statistics; and best practice from other companies.

The research evolved into a set of recommendations, broadly around flexibility, maternity pay, line management support and processes.

Working mums network influencing maternity policy

Carillion’s senior leadership team considered the recommendations and asked the network to work up proposals for revised maternity pay. As well as considering responses from our research, we benchmarked Carillion against other companies in the UK – across all industries. We considered the financial implications to the business and proposed a balanced range of options. Our senior leadership team acted swiftly to approve a positive change and Carillion now offers 12 weeks full pay and then an additional six weeks at half pay. This is miles ahead of our competitors in both construction and services sectors, many of which offer the legal minimum.

Personalising maternity time

Our research also highlighted that there was an opportunity to recognise the emotional richness of what  employees experience at maternity time. We felt that connecting with employees in a positive way would help to drive further loyalty to Carillion. The maternity process is under a full review in order to personalise some of the key touch points.

For example, the network has recently trialled sending a copy of a book, Mothers Work! to women who are due to return from maternity leave with a personal note to let them know that Carillion is keen for them to return and will support their transition back to work. The feedback has been really positive. We’ve had people posting messages on our internal social network saying how valued it made them feel. Taking the time to write the card and send the book is an inexpensive thing to do for an awful lot of value; it alleviates the worry about returning back to work as a mum and increases motivation to come back and put value into the business.

Star awards for line managers

Carillion has recognised the need for flexible and agile workforce even before the working mums research highlighted flexibility as one of the key enablers for working mums careers. As a result our flexible working policy was revamped to offer a lot of scope to recognise and make the most of our people’s talents. In the survey we did across the working mum population at Carillion we found we had pockets of excellence where line managers were being really quite creative with how they manage their teams and how much difference it made to the morale, loyalty and discretionary effort of their staff.

We wanted to shape line manager behaviour by highlighting good practice which is making a positive difference. We asked our members to nominate their managers for a Star Award. There have been some really touching stories where line managers had gone beyond the call of duty, not only to show support to their female employees but also to demonstrate openness and creativity in the application of the policy.  These managers fly the flag not just for working mums but also for a balanced approach to work  by sending a message that it’s ok to be supportive and it’s ok not to be driven by ‘bums on seats’ but by output instead.

What’s next?

The working mums network activity has only just began. The next steps are to increase the depth and breadth of what we do with our members and their line managers. Our evolution has to incorporate support for working dads and carers. The network is also represented in a Carillion-wide Diversity Group which gives working mums the opportunity to influence strategic action behind Carillion’s diversity and inclusion strategy.


Talent Fueller – Melissa Geiger, KPMG

Melissa Geiger (427x640)

Talent Fueller Interview with Melissa Geiger, KPMG. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Melissa Geiger was the youngest female to make partner at KPMG age 32. Now 38 and with two young children she is committed to being a role-model to others and chairs the KPMG Network of Women (KNOW).  She was instrumental in pushing female career advancement into the spotlight when the firm went through a leadership contest in 2012.

On influencing managing partner, Simon Collins to see women in leadership as a priority for KPMG:

“I decided the leadership contest was a good time to debate women on boards. KNOW hosted an event which all of the leadership candidates attended, along with a lot of our partners (male and female) and more junior staff. They came because they wanted to hear what was going to be an important part of the leadership campaign. Simon, who already feels personally very strongly about inclusion, has gone on to make diversity one of the key things on KPMG’s agenda and Stephen Frost (previously the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for LOCOG and played a key role in the London Olympics) who is our new head of diversity and inclusion, is brilliant. One of the first things he did was meet with me as the Chair of KNOW. I feel that KNOW has a key role to play in relation to getting the key messages on the table about gender equality at the point when we can really make a difference.

I hope this year there will be more women making partner at KPMG, because we are focussing on the needs of our business and our clients and the identification of talented and successful women for senior roles.”

Melissa’s own team is a 50/50 male/female split of partners which is out of step with the 84:16 ratio of partners across KPMG as a whole as at the time of writing.

Your team is an exemplar for embracing flexible working – a key tool for employees to have a ‘full and rounded life’ whether or not they have children. Tell us more:

In our team, three of the four partners have at some point in the last two years, not worked full time. One partner (a man) has five children and works three days a week. Another partner has done 90% over the last two years to give herself longer holidays – she still works five days but it means that instead of 6 weeks holidays, she gets 9/10 weeks. When I came back from maternity leave I tried different things and then went back to 100% when I was ready to do that. We’ve set a progressive tone for the rest of the team and I think it’s really important it comes from the top.

Amongst our director population some of our male directors do ‘glide time’ – instead of doing 9.30 until 5.30, they officially do their hours as 10 until 6 which means they can do the drop off for school and their spouses/partners do the pickup. And it works in reverse with some people working 8am-4pm. These two recognised glide times enable parents to actively participate in family life, although it’s not only for parents. I can think of rugby players and people who keep horses who taken up glide time to better manage their ability to do these other pursuits.

I think practises like these are very important because the next generation are expecting it. We are competing, and if we are not flexible, we won’t get the best talent. And if we don’t get the best talent, we don’t do the best job.

You mentioned your return to work – how is KPMG helping maternity leavers make a smooth and confident return?

It’s very difficult coming back to work after having a baby, it’s a bit of a culture shock. We do lots of things to help people get back up to speed including technical workshops to cover what they have missed – in my case it was tax legislation – because you really need to know what’s changed. Beyond up-skilling technically there’s support in the form of workshops and having various conversations with a sponsor who will ensure that any issues are resolved. The maternity programme is for everyone, all levels. Melanie Richards, a fellow Partner and Member of the Board, has been hugely supportive to me when I came back from maternity leave. She set a great example for me and so I feel like I need to set a good example for all the people in my team. And there’s a certain amount of supporting each other and that needs to come all the way from the top.

Additionally there’s access to emergency childcare which allows me a nanny for four days a year or a nursery place for eight days – and without cost to me. I’ve used it and been open about when I’ve had childcare issues which is helpful as it sets the tone for others to use it.

Your thoughts on what more there is to do to support mothers’ career advancement?

We need to have what my group is like as the culture across the whole business and that needs to come from the top. I think Simon has done a lot to start pushing that in his leadership, through talking from both the heart and head, and I think the more he does that, the more that culture will push through the organisation and through middle management and the better it will get overall.

I think there is an issue of people either not believing they are entitled to do things, or there aren’t enough people in leadership who are like myself – young, female and a parent, married with two children.  When you get promoted, as I have, it is vitally important that you use that position to support others and support best practice.

The question for us is that when women return, how do we keep the progression going? How do you get promoted? The first hurdle is that you come back and into the job you were in; you manage all of the plates at that point and then you get an additional plate because you’ve got to manage your home life and your child also. Hurdle number two is then how to progress my career to the next level? That’s the bit we are focussing on – we get a good level of returners coming back (about 97%) but how many of those get promoted? Asking these questions, and acting on the answers, is what I think will move the number of female partners on.

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

Talent Fueller – Nicki Seignot, ASDA

Nicki Seignot - ASDATalent Fueller interview with Nicki Seignot, ASDA. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

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


What is Mum2Mum?

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

Please tell us about how Mum2Mum came about…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the business value in Mum2Mum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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