Conferences sow seeds of hope for diversity and inclusion

Last month I moderated three panels and presented a keynote in four different conferences and events. While each conference catered to a different market, the emerging theme was the state of diversity and inclusion today and tomorrow.

Since establishing Voice At The Table five years ago, I have observed a rising trend in events for women, events that talk about diversity and those that talk about inclusion. There has also been an increase in demand for these topics in conferences that do not focus strictly on people. It indicates the importance that society places on diversifying the way we run our businesses. This is also evidenced by the number of new positions that are being created and recruited for as diversity managers. So much so that we have added a new service to Voice At The Table (in collaboration with W2O Consulting & Training), offering training to D&I managers and consultants.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and any truly impactful solutions take a long time to produce visible and lasting results. The good news is that there are glimpses of hope that emanate from industry sectors that are particularly resistant to culture change.

Let me summarise this hope in three trends that I observed in my stint of conference appearances:

  1. Inclusive leadership is becoming a commonly used term of art that people understand and aspire to.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion is becoming a genuine concern for companies and there appears to be a genuine understanding for its benefits to business beyond the fairness element.
  3. Women are becoming more open to embracing men as part of the solution.


  1. Inclusive Leadership

In our evening panel event hosted by Withers LLP in early June, it became apparent that senior leadership doesn’t just understand the need for change but knows what that change should look like. Those who are collaborative, humble, communicative and empathetic will lead the next generation of talent. These leaders must lead by example and train middle managers and teams in this evolving art of inclusion.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion as a business imperative:

Two of the four conferences at which I spoke were industry events without a specific focus on diversity. So when I ran my panels, I was curious to find out how the audience perceived the importance of diversity for their businesses. I discovered that 70% of the audiences at both events considered diversity to be important for their organisations on business grounds and many of them already had started to address it internally. This may come as no surprise to most, but in my experience, there was a lot more talking about it than action, and this seems to be changing.   I continue to believe that most of the current initiatives are not sufficiently impactful to create lasting and meaningful change, but it’s certainly a positive development.

  1. Women embracing men as allies

When I started out, there was a lot of interest in ‘women only’ networks, events and training programmes. At the time, it seemed like the right solution to the dearth of women at the top. In recent years, there has been a lot more talk about engaging men as champions for women and opening up networks to everyone. This sat uncomfortably with me because it signalled a ‘knight in shining armour’ and ‘damsel in distress’ approach to gender balance. But I was pleased to observe at the Women in Finance conference that there is now greater recognition of the fact that men and women nowadays mostly want the same thing and that the changes that inclusion and belonging offer will benefit both men and women to break out of the moulds that society has imposed on us for centuries. Therein lies the real solution to gender balance, I believe, so this is a trend to cling to and explore further.

The move towards recognition of women and minority groups as equal and capable peers lies in the acknowledgment that each one of us has a unique value to add that we have not learned to tap into. Focusing on how we can do that is our winning formula.

Six ways women can stand out in a male-dominated workplace

When women are faced with the prospect of raising their profile and gaining due recognition, it is important to own more of who we are and what we have to offer.  Here’s how:

  1. Become a person of value

Recognise your own worth. If you want to work on a project, speak up. If you want to lead a team, tell someone. No-one will appreciate your contributions until you appreciate them yourself. Work to become known as someone who can be counted on.

2. Let your voice be heard.

Studies show that women are much less likely than men to speak up in meetings and when they do speak up, they apologise repeatedly and allow themselves to be interrupted.

If you don’t believe you have anything worth saying, how will others have confidence in you?

Recognise the value of your opinions and believe that what you have to share is worth listening to.

3.  Speak with confidence

If your communication style seems a bit weak, practise being assertive. That does not mean that you have to be aggressive. Simply drop the qualifying words and phrases when you speak – like “just”, “I feel” and “sort-of” - and others will see you as more authoritative and confident.

4. Learn how to handle conflict

Instead of engaging in conflict or avoiding it, learn to communicate forward by acknowledging the conflict and asking, “So how do we move beyond this?”. Don’t make or allow personal attacks, keep it professional. Don’t hold a grudge; once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head up high and return to work.

5. Take on a leadership role

You don’t have to have a leadership title to be considered a leader in your office.

Whatever your position, find a leadership role in which you can excel – whether it’s heading up a key initiative, solving problems, resolving conflict or calm decision-making in a crisis. Then push yourself to be the go-to person for those situations.

6. Find a sponsor

Look for sponsorship in your workplace by building strong relationships with your boss and other senior leaders. Pay particular attention to cultivating relationships with the individuals who believe in you and who publicly support you – they are going to be your best advocates and your greatest supporters.

Never work with children or politicians

By Melissa Jackson

Have you heard of the word “bropropriation”?

Well you learn something new every day, it seems, when you read the media reviews of the television and radio debates between the “wannabee” Tory candidates for the role of the UK’s next Prime Minister.

I am humbly admitting that I haven’t or hadn’t heard of bropropriation until I read a Telegraph review of a televised political debate chaired by the BBC’s formidable and hugely experienced Newsnight presenter – Emily Maitlis.

Ms Maitlis had the almost impossible job of calling order on the (then five) Alpha-male candidates who perched on their pedestals and pontificated about their “exceptional” credentials in the shameless pursuit of power.

They bleated like over-ambitious parents at a school sports day; squabbling and interrupting each other – in an unabashed bid to dominate the conversation and have the “vote-winning” last word.

Instead of lambasting their pugnacious and hubristic behaviour, social-media critics turned on Ms Maitlis for failing to “control” them. She was also rebuked for interrupting the over-zealously loquacious candidates.

But for all her relentless efforts, she found them unmanageable.

Telegraph columnist Claire Cohen said that many women who watched the debate, would recognise these “mansplaining” and “manterrupted” (also new words to me) behaviour traits, along with bropropriation – which, for the record, is when a woman says something, only for a man to repeat it moments later to widespread approval!

As one woman on Twitter commented afterwards: “Emily Maitlis saying ‘Can you hear me’ to Boris, as he talked over her, is basically any woman that’s been in a meeting full of men ever.”

Springing to her defence, Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman said the candidates were “basically just ignoring the only woman present”.

Ms Maitlis was also stationed in such a way – stuck to one side of the panel – that she could not command a position of control.

Commenting on this in the Daily Telegraph, coach and Voice At The Table associate Katie Driver said: “If you’re at a table and leaning forward, you can use your physical presence more. You can put an arm out to create a barrier to someone speaking, or to bring someone else in. Emily was stuck behind a podium and although she did use her arms, she couldn’t engage in the same way.

A specialist in thoughtful leadership and introvert preferences,  Katie said that whenever she gives a talk or runs a workshop, she uses the floor-space to her advantage.

“It’s about owning the room,” she said.

“I never stay at the front, but I walk around – that establishes that it’s my space and that we’re going to work to my rules. It lets people know that I’m in charge.”

As we are tentatively on the subject of politics, MP Stella Creasy is trying to “take charge” of her maternity rights, which seem punitively restrictive.

Creasy is challenging the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which does not recognise any form of maternity leave and stated that it would not automatically provide extra support for constituency work after she gave birth. She had requested maternity cover, essentially a locum, for work conducted outside the Commons.

This comes as something of a surprise, knowing that IPSA's chair is a woman.

Just a thought, but maybe the eminently capable Ms Maitlis could be persuaded to go into politics herself. She already has support.

Commenting on those involved in the TV debate, former Women’s Equality Party leader Sophie Walker, said: “If we have to have one of the people in this picture as our next Prime Minister can it be Emily Maitlis please?”

Team Talk: Introducing Melissa Jackson

Melissa is a journalist by profession.

She cut her professional teeth on local newspapers, in London and then Norwich, before jumping ship to work as a broadcast journalist at the BBC. The majority of her career was spent at the BBC in East Anglia, which involved covering local stories for the nightly news magazine programme. She moved into news producing and presenting before heading to London to embrace the digital platform, BBC News Online, where she reported on the daily news agenda before specialising in Health and Education journalism.

During her career, she interviewed prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and a handful of celebrities, including the maverick chef Marco Pierre White, the fertility expert Professor Robert Winston and former Monty Python star Michael Palin.

As a child, Melissa learned to play the clarinet, then taught herself to play the flute and later, as an adult, the saxophone. As a teenager, she played the clarinet in a youth concert band and the pinnacle of their accomplishments was to perform at the Royal Festival Hall.

“I can still remember the thrill of playing the theme tune to Star Wars (it was the 1970s!) and hearing it reverberate around the auditorium, while my parents listened with pride,” she said, nostalgically.

She said that if there was one thing in the world she could change, it would be to eradicate aggression and violent crime. Too many lives have been lost recently to stabbings and shootings and as the mother of two teenage sons, she fears for their safety and those of other innocent young people.

Although she left Norwich more than 20 years ago, she has the “luxury” of owning a small place on the north Norfolk coast. It was handed down to her by her mother, who bought it when Melissa was about five years old.

She said: “As a child, it became our “go-to” holiday destination every school vacation.

“And now, history is repeating itself, as I regularly take my husband and two sons there. It is our bolthole – a place where no-one seems in a hurry and a great escape from the fast pace of London life.”

Aside from her journalism credentials, Melissa is also a qualified civil funeral celebrant and a professional Nordic Walking instructor and in her spare time enjoys tennis, yoga and going to the gym – to offset her passion for good food and wine.

Her new role is to edit the newsletter for Voice At The Table.

She said: “I have revived my love affair with writing in support of a great cause. What could be better than championing the ethos of promoting greater equality for women in every walk of life?”

Women in Finance London 2019

By Ernest Attoh, DiversityQ, What Investment magazine and Bonhill Group plc reveal shortlisted nominations for the Women in Finance Awards Ceremony

After last year’s event which hosted over 500 of the UK’s top finance professionals, Women in Finance Awards returns this year on the 26th June.

This year Women in Finance London reported a record amount of nominations for the London series which made the final shortlist even tougher to finalise. The awards dinner is to be held at the Grosvenor House in an evening of celebrating and encouraging female talent in finance and gender balance at all levels.

Due to the amount of nominations received and the upsurge of professionals getting on top of the ladder, the Fintech Champion of the Year award has been segmented into the following sub-categories: ‘Banking’, ‘Funding’ and ‘Open Innovation’. With over 250 nominations entered from companies such as HSBC, NatWest, Metro Bank, UBS, Zurich Insurance, Visa, Wealth for Women, McGuireWoods London LLP, Deloitte, Voulez Capital, FINTECH Circle, Coutts & Co, LV= and PwC, 160 professionals have been shortlisted for the following awards:

  • Accountant of the year
  • Advocate of the year (Sponsored by Wesleyan)
  • Ambassador of the year (Sponsored by PwC)
  • Banker of the year
  • Disruptor of the year (Sponsored by London Stock Exchange Group)
  • Diversity Initiative of the year
  • Employer of the year (Sponsored by Rolls Royce)
  • Finance team leader of the year (Lead by a woman)
  • Financial advisor of the year
  • Fintech champion of the year (Banking)
  • Fintech champion of the year (Funding)
  • Fintech champion of the year (Open innovation)
  • Fund manager of the year
  • Insurance leader of the year (Sponsored by LV=)
  • Legal adviser of the year
  • Rising star of the year
  • Specialist inventor of the year
  • Wealth manager of the year (Sponsored by J.P. Morgan)
  • Woman of the year (Sponsored by Schroders)

View this year’s finalists for the Women in Finance Awards.

“Many of the women who are recognised in these awards are pivotal in making the industry genuinely more inclusive and attractive to a wider spectrum of employees, beyond the issue of gender.” Says Mary-Anne Daly, CEO of Cazenove Capital, our 2017 Wealth Manager of the Year award winner.

Book your place for the awards today and come together with industry leaders and inspirational role models. Come and witness female empowerment within the finance industry…Change, Lead, Inspire


How to enlist men as ‘agents of change’ for gender equality

Emma Watson addressed the United Nations in 2014, urging men to join the feminist movement; Barak Obama supported the cause when he proclaimed he was a feminist. Many companies recognise “men as allies” as a critical component of their diversity and inclusion efforts. And yet, support by men for gender equality is waning. Particularly in companies.

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, “[a]lthough company commitment to gender parity is at an all-time high, companies do not consistently put their commitment into practise and many employees are not on board. ” This is supported by research. A 2014 Pershing Harris poll found that younger men were less open to accepting women leaders than older men and a 2014 Harvard Business School (HBS) survey of MBA graduates showed that three-quarters of millennial women anticipated their career would be at least as important as their partners, while half of the men expected their own careers to take priority. Likewise, less than 50% of the women MBA graduates believed they would handle most of the child care, while two-thirds of their male peers believed their wives would do so.

The privilege of invisibility

Why, I ask myself, does this gap in perceptions exist and how do we bridge it?

One reason is the so-called 'privilege of invisibility'.  Michael Kimmel – eminent sociologist and high-profile women’s rights campaigner – explains that because people in power set the norm, they fail to see the privilege this bestows on them. An example of this is race. A white woman looking in the mirror sees a woman; a black woman looking in the mirror sees a black woman. Because ‘white’ is set as the norm by white people, white people don’t understand that other people’s skin colour impacts on many aspects of their lives. Their own skin colour is invisible to them. Similarly, because men think of gender as ‘women’, they do not see its relevance to them and don’t engage with gender equality; they see it as a “women’s agenda” – with little benefit to them.

Societal norms and expectations

There are also societal norms at work. Attitudes rooted in the 1970s predispose men to reject characteristics associated with femininity and define success as wealth, power and status. Men are supposed to be strong in a crisis, take risks and be daring and aggressive to others. Think Axe from the TV series Billions.

Although much of the above is still the benchmark for masculinity, we know that men are moving away from the stereotype and want to embrace some typically-feminine freedoms. They want to spend more time with their children, show feelings beyond the limited repertoire of lust and rage and enjoy life outside the office.

However, most boys are penalised for displaying emotions and are considered ‘weak’ if they are seen in any way as ‘feminine’. They are encouraged to be brave, ambitious and powerful and suppress individualistic urges to express oneself. This type of restrictive behaviour has been linked to an increase in suicide rates in men and underachievement at school for boys.

Compare this to the ideal of sharing responsibilities at home and at work, seeing girls and women as equals, allowing oneself to choose between career paths and redefining success for oneself. Wouldn’t that liberate men from the shackles of societal expectations?

So how do we engage men?

In a sense, men are right when they say gender equality is all about women. What I mean is that, while focusing on equalising the playing field for women, we have neglected men’s voices, concerns and horror stories. There has been a lack of interest in listening to men talk about their experiences and to delve deeper into what they truly think, need or want.

My suggestions, therefore, is to start with an open and honest, non-judgmental conversation that is based on a foundation of support for each other. We need to understand how gender stereotypes disadvantage men and give men a platform to be more than what society expects of them. After all, inclusion is about giving every individual space and freedom to be themselves. In that spirit, perhaps engaging men as change agents for women’s equality is as much about engaging women in understanding the restrictions and stereotypes that society places on men.

“Game on” for women’s football

By Melissa Jackson

Hands up if you know that there is a football world cup happening right now.

Keep your hands up if you can name any of the players!

OK, so I have grudgingly lowered my hand… in dismay because if this was men’s football, even though I do not follow every England match in the calendar in (somewhat desperate) hope that we can close a 50+ year gap of trophy privation and reclaim our global reputation, I would be able to identify at least two or three players in the squad.

Shame on me.

And for that matter, shame on my 14-year-old son, who said, “I didn’t even know there was a women’s world cup.”

Or are we being judgementally harsh on ourselves?

How much media coverage is there not just during, but months ahead of the men’s football world cup? It is inescapable – who could possibly not want to know every intimate detail of the players, both on and off the pitch? It’s almost impossible to escape from the ubiquitous “game on” mentality.

Not so, for the women’s championship, in fact it feels distinctly under the media radar. Is it because there is less money to be made in merchandising, ticket sales and TV rights? It does seem to be relegated to the side lines of the prime-time tv schedule and the prize money inequity is scandalous.

The winners of the Women’s World Cup will receive just $4m (from FIFA) compared to last year’s $38m for the men. Even the teams who ranked from 17th to 32nd place in last year’s men’s tournament received $8m. Is it just me or does this seem unreasonable?

If the Sun’s back-page headline after the first England match is anything to go by, potential sponsors are missing a (hat)trick.

“England women attract five times more viewers than men’s team as World Cup opener vs Scotland breaks UK TV record,” it proclaimed.

An audience of 6.1million people watched the Lionesses beat Scotland 2-1; an impressive 38% of the audience share. It was also reassuring to see an all-female line-up of pundits on the BBC.

By contrast, the men’s national team scored an (estimated) audience of just 1.2 million in their Nations League third-place play-off with Switzerland, the day before.

The attendance of just over 13,000, at the women’s match, which was blamed on FIFA’s marketing strategy rather than a lack of interest, was not so impressive.

My friend’s 10-year-old son, Balthazar, who admitted to being a fan of the women’s competition, thought it was “sexist” to call the men’s tournament “the World Cup” and the ladies’ version “the Women’s World Cup”.

He is wise beyond his years, especially when he swiftly addressed the disparity with, “Why can’t there be mixed football?”

It was only when I delved into the history of the women’s game that I gained an understanding of why it has been marginalised.

The women’s sport started in the late 19th century and became popular during the First World War, attracting thousands of spectators.

However, in 1921 the FA declared the game unsuitable for women and FA-affiliated clubs were forbidden to allow women’s football on their grounds. The ban was in force until 1971; so little wonder the men’s game has dominated the professional football mindset. It took another 40 years to establish the “semi-professional” FA Women’s Super League in 2011.

Aside from suggesting Balthazar’s mixed teams idea to FIFA, I’m familiarising myself with the names of England’s key players, to appease my guilt and to alert my friends – both male and female – to the significance of women’s football.

Team Talk: Introducing Jacqueline Heron

This month, meet Jacqueline Heron, Voice at the Table’s resident expert on stress, resilience and natural strengths.

Jacqueline helps people manage pressure effectively and develop resilience, enabling them to deal with unexpected difficulties or extended periods of pressure - and emerge stronger and more able. Jacqueline enjoys helping professionals realise their natural strengths and anchor them to everything they do and experience, making them naturally more resilient.

Jacqueline also works with organisations on ethical resilience – helping them “do the right thing” in times of adversity.  Starting with the leadership team, she focuses on aligning their stated values with accepted practice and behaviour.

Away from work, Jacqueline admits to being a bit of a Thespian and says she used to enjoy “treading the boards” in her local amateur dramatic society.

She also has a passion for helping young people fulfil their potential.

She said: “When my daughters were in Brownies, I found myself in the position of Brown Owl for a number of years to help keep the pack going.  All those years of watching Blue Peter finally paid off!”

If Jacqueline was “God for a day” and had the power to change one thing in the world it would be improving access to good education for everyone. This includes awareness of the opportunities available and the confidence to take advantage of them, especially for young people from low income backgrounds.  She says it is one of the reasons she is a mentor for the Social Mobility Foundation.

Jacqueline has over 25 years’ leadership experience and runs sessions on the following topics:

  • A good day at the office: how to manage stress, take control and improve resilience
  • Are you making the right impression?  How the words you use influence your career
  • Don't leave your career to chance: how to take control and build a resilient career
  • Know your strengths, boost your performance
  • Develop a growth mindset and build your resilience
  • What got you here won't get you there: how to move from a successful contributor role to a successful management role
  • Building inclusive teams with 4 generations in the workplace
  • START: Stress and resilience training (1/2 day and full day only)

Join Jacqueline's webinar on how to have a stress-free summer by registering here