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WORK180 recently hosted the September Executives Driving Gender Equality (EDGE) Think Tank: Best Practice vs Next Practice. We were joined by a panel of Diversity, Inclusion and HR experts:
- Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at The Telegraph
- Gemma Mathews, Head of Talent Acquisition at Reward Gateway
- Hannah Lobban, Head of Talent and Development at Lendlease
More women are working than ever before. More than two-thirds of women aged 16–64 are employed, the highest percentage since the Office of National Statistics began recording this data in 1971.
However, in 2018 women were only 23.7% of those employed as Chief Executives and Senior Officials.
Outlined in this article are key learnings, challenges and observations that Senior Executives and Thought Leaders addressed during the EDGE session to combat the above challenge.
Amongst the Diversity & Inclusion leaders, there was a clear consensus that in order to promote equality in the workplace, company policies must be family-friendly and inclusive for all employees.
For example, Lendlease launched their enhanced shared parental leave 4 years ago (6 months of leave at full-pay, irrespective of whether they are the primary or secondary carer). Employees are able to care for their families and are encouraged to share caregiving as much as possible.
Hannah acknowledged that they need to use this progressive policy more as an attraction tool. They do publicise internally as much as possible, but it’s time to share this message externally.
Interestingly, WORK180 Endorsed Employer for Women, Reward Gateway has recently changed their parental leave policy from 12 months full salary to 6 months. This policy change was made by reaching out to parents and asking for feedback on the current policy and how they could be best financially supported. Gemma found that the first few months weren’t actually the most financially challenging, the most difficult part was paying for childcare when returning to work. Instead, the money Reward Gateway saved is used to fund their return to work bonus scheme of approximately £750. This emphasises that feedback is key when implementing policies.
Likewise, Lendlease surveyed their construction staff to see what is feasible in terms of flexibility. It’s important to encourage staff to think unconventionally about their lives, this includes flexible working and parental leave.
The panelists agreed that men taking up parental leave is still a struggle. The concern is always around how this would affect their professional development. Men worry about their role and question if they will even have a role to come back to and how they will be judged.
To combat this, Reward Gateway promotes a culture of ‘speaking up’. They encourage team members to share their experiences as much as possible, via blogs, talks etc. They also reassure colleagues that their job will still be there and this will not be detrimental to their CV.
As an attempt to open up this challenging conversation, Asif ran a flexible working workshop for fathers where men could talk about their challenges in an open and safe space. Asif’s aim was to convert men to be a part of the diversity conversation rather than encouraging men to be ‘allies’. There is a strong need to make sure men know that the conversation is about them as well. If men do not take up the policies, it will have an adverse effect on women.
For Asif, another concern was what to do when people did come back to work. Asif researched the impact of returning to work on both men and women. What he found is that women’s progress is slowed because managers feel they have to ease them into work by giving them smaller projects for example. This has a negative impact on their growth and development. The choice should be with the individual as to whether they want to take on bigger or smaller challenges. For returners, a sponsorship program would be the most beneficial. Sometimes you’re geared up through mentorship but no doors open, and that’s when you need sponsorship.
The leaders agreed that targets played a key role in increasing gender representation in leadership. Lendlease has targets in place for each unit and level, which is tracked quarterly. They have progressed from 25% to 35% representation in the last 3 years and they are moving towards more further equity.
The consensus was that if we do not impose formal quotas, equality at the top won’t happen. We have years of unconscious bias to overcome and we need a formal structure for things to change.
When it comes to internal networks to promote equality, the panelists agreed that we need to encourage employees to participate in different areas of Diversity and Inclusion, not just in the groups they feel they belong to. Sometimes these internal groups can cause further segregation which is counterproductive. Instead, we need to foster curiosity and belonging.
Special thank you to the team at Lendlease for hosting this discussion.