International Women’s Day 8th March 2015

International Women’s Day 8th March 2015

This Sunday is International Women’s Day, where the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future are celebrated across the globe. To recognise this, My Family Care, the company dedicated to helping employers support employees with balancing work and family, have asked 30 senior ‘change-makers’ for their views on gender diversity in the workplace. Each of these are very senior members of staff at hugely successful companies who are striving to establish and maintain gender diversity at board level.

The results highlighted the difficulty in making change – and the need for visibility, involvement from senior leadership from both men and women – and the fact that there is no one size fits all answer.

Top nuggets of advice from senior change-makers on introducing gender diversity in the workplace:

  • “Introduce a sponsorship programme for women who show potential for leadership. These provide women with great access to networks and opportunities, upping their visibility. Just as importantly, they work because they require organisations and those who are sponsors, who are predominantly men in senior positions, to proactively and visibly demonstrate their belief in, and support for more gender-balanced businesses.”
    (Donna Halkyard, Vice President of the City Women Network)
  • “Profile role models to bring real people and their stories to life – inspiring others. Use mainstream communication channels to get the widest reach.”
    (Strategy and Development Director, Financial Services)
  • “Create a 6 month programme targeting female talent and actively involve participants’ line managers and sponsors. This unlocks key strengths and skills that are critical for reaching seniors roles, but most importantly starts a meaningful conversation with managers about embedding broader life aspects into individual career plans.”
    (Marina Jankovic, Global Diversity and Inclusion Manager at British American Tobacco FMCG)
  • “Most corporations are designed around male ways of operating such as hierarchy and masculine interactions. Helping women see this is the first step to being able to more effectively navigate it, particularly the unwritten rules of male behaviour, and ultimately help change it to a more gender neutral environment.”
    (David O’Reilly, Group Scientific and R&D Director at British American Tobacco FMCG)
  • “Create a cross-company mentoring scheme for high potential women (in most case also working mums).”
    (Marina Jankovic, Global Diversity and Inclusion Manager at British American Tobacco FMCG)
  • “Always get senior buy-in as without it, nothing will shift and change.”
    (Mary FitzPatrick, Diversity Leader at GE Capital Financial Services)
  • “Flexibility is the key – it can be used as a competitive advantage in attracting highly skilled women to work for your business.”
    (Julian Granville, CEO of Boden Retail)
  • Be agile. Adaptive businesses who flex their people processes to be inclusive of those who work flexibly and/or take leave from the business. For example, organise for promotion panels to take place more than once a year.”
    (Donna Halkyard, Vice President of the City Women Network)
  • “Maternity coaching is much more effective if it actively involves line managers in a timely manner.”
    (Marina Jankovic, Global Diversity and Inclusion Manager at British American Tobacco FMCG)
  • “Ensure the right person can lead the agenda with the right experience, influence and ability to balance strategy and execution.”
    (Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion, Engineering Company)
  • “Don’t focus too much on the business case as this drives the wrong behaviour. Focus on how you want to achieve it, not what the target is.”
    (Strategy and Development Director, Financial Services)
  • “Don’t assume that the reason women are not at the top of their organisation because of childcare responsibilities; some of them have opted out because they have eldercare responsibility, or both. The ‘sandwich generation’ is a fact and a hard place to be.”
    (Kate O’Louglin, Director of Talent, HomeServe Insurance)
  • “Don’t introduce HR rules that are too constraining.”
    (Julian Granville, CEO of Boden Retail)
  • “Be careful with how you position ‘women’s networks’ – they’re all about the greater good, invite some men to join!”
    (Alison Hughes, Group Head of HR Policy & Diversity at Centric plc Energy)

The change-makers also shared anecdotal insight into how they had succeeded in inspiring gender diversity in their company. For example, Audrey Elliott, a Solicitor at Eversheds Law said: “One of the most powerful ways in which we have made an impact on career progression for the women in our business who are mothers, or prospective mothers, is engagement with, and honest exposure to our most senior women. As part of our Coaching Plus programme we held a panel session with eight of our female equity partners. We asked these eight to tell their story, warts and all, the ups and the downs. This made a massive impact on the coachees. They had heard of these ladies but most had not met any of them, let alone heard of their breast feeding challenges when returning to work! A benefit we did not anticipate was the way in which this process has secured the engagement of our most senior women in our gender initiatives.”

Helping companies introduce family-friendly working practices enables gender diversity across the workplace, something My Family Care has feels very strongly about. These practices make companies more attractive, engaging, and enabling for people who balance family life with successful careers.

Ben Black, Director of My Family Care says: “The advantages of being a family-friendly employer are massive. Give everyone in your organisation who combines career and family a bit of flexibility and some cultural empathy and they will be far more engaged, loyal and productive. It’s easy to write about family-friendly, and encouraging female talent, but the reality can be very complicated. Helping employers turn good intentions into meaningful conversations is the first part. And underpinning it all with good effective childcare is the second. This agenda only has a future in the private sector if there’s a return on investment. Career and family do not need to be mutually exclusive and we have been very busy helping most of our clients prove the point.”

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