Noted: Why The Favourite is everyone’s favourite.

It’s awards season, and this year The Favourite is proving to be everyone’s favourite: topping the box office, attracting rave reviews, and winning Olivia Coleman a Golden Globe. What’s more it easily passes the Bechdel Test. This measure, which first appeared in 1985 is still only met by about half of all films. It aims to call attention to gender inequality in all forms of fiction and is used as an indicator of the active presence of female characters. It requires that a film must feature at least two women – preferably named characters who remain alive at the end of the story – and they talk to each other for at least a minute about a subject other than a man.

This year could be the one that smashes that stubborn 50% barrier. Movies due out in the next few months include Mary Queen of Scots, Colette, yet more sapphic action in Vita and Virginia, Rosamund Pike playing war correspondent Marie Colvin in A Private War, and Nicole Kidman taking the lead role in the cop movie Destroyer. All look likely to pass the test, with the female leads carrying the film. Not so long ago a big name male actor would be seen as a pre-requisite to attracting proper Hollywood money.

It has been suggested that an additional question for the test should be whether there is a female character whose narrative arc is not solely about supporting the man’s storyline. I’d also like to add that heterosexual male and female love interests should be of realistic relative ages: we’ve all heard of ‘May to September’ romances, but with some male leads playing opposite actresses up to thirty years their junior, this seems to have mutated into ‘May ‘til sometime next year’.

It is tempting to wonder why this is at all important, after all these are fictions, just made up stories. But as Oscar Wilde said more than 100 years ago: “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If women – and other marginalised groups - are represented in films in more complex and diverse ways, perhaps the way they are viewed in real life will also become less prescriptive.

Active Voice: How to tap into the talent of women over 50

Women over 50 are one of the fastest growing economically active demographics. Fewer than a third are now defined as economically inactive. It’s a largely undervalued resource of skills, talent and expertise. Recent research by PwC estimated that should the UK increase its older worker employment rate to match that of Sweden, a potential £80 billion could be added to our economy.

So how can we tap into the potential of older women – both those already in the workplace, and those considering returning after a career break?

Dispel the myths: women report feeling stereotyped as ‘menopausal’ whether or not they’re experiencing any symptoms, so it becomes a taboo subject. Normalise mid-life transition: post advice articles on the office intranet, organise diversity training specifically around gender and age for instance.

Be open to dynamic working practices: flexible working or a returners programme can have a positive impact on brand image. It shows that your organisation is open to and accepting of non-linear career paths and values the role that caring plays in society. This can play a key role in both recruitment and retention of talented employees.

Embrace the changing demographic: The population is ageing. The peak age for caring duties in the UK now falls between the ages of 50 to 64 with increasing numbers of people, particularly women, acting as ‘sandwich carers’, providing support for their parents as well as their children. In a major government survey, carers highlighted flexible working, mentoring, coaching and relatable role models as the most important policies to support them.

Look beyond the c.v.: as a recruiter, focus on the skills and experience a returner can offer to an organisation. By encouraging women to return to work following a career break, businesses are able to tap into an under-utilised, skilled workforce.


For more advice on how to get the most from this demographic, contact us.

Are you Thinking what We’re Thinking?

The latest ideas in Diversity and Inclusion Disected.

It’s January and many of us are setting goals and resolutions. We’re also asking ourselves what will the ‘year of Brexit’ bring. “Who knows?” must be the only reliable answer.

But when it comes to new D&I trends, here are 3 that I believe are here to stay:


  1. EQ is Queen

We all understand the importance of emotional intelligence; thought leaders have been telling us for decades how important it is to develop EQ, for personal and professional success. But it’s only in the past year or so that organisations have started to gain greater interest in exploring what a mature level of emotional intellect actually means for business. Examples of winning over difficult client relationships, bringing in more deals, accelerated promotions and effective leadership prowess are all fundamentally examples of people who have higher levels of EQ.

Companies are beginning to explore whether, and if so how, they can improve the EQ of their star performers, emerging leaders and - in the most forward thinking businesses – graduates and trainees. The trend is likely to continue to expand in 2019.

  1. The Rules of Inclusion

The I in D&I is there for a reason. To gain the benefit of diversity you need inclusion. There is little point in having a diverse team of people if they are not contributing with that diversity to the team’s success. To ensure they do, it’s important to create an inclusive environment in which each team member feels comfortable to be themselves.

I have listened in on sophisticated conversations among executives who understand that inclusive policies alone are not going to create inclusive cultures. Managers are beginning to understand what it takes to create and maintain an inclusive team and are developing rules and tools to implement them. One such rule is to welcome and value the voice of every member around the table, regardless of their gender, level of seniority or experience. The junior lawyer on a team has as much of a contribution to make as the senior partner of that firm, and creating an environment in which this is understood and appreciated is one such rule.

The rules of inclusion are not difficult; they just need practice, like any new habit – abiding by these new rules is yet another one of the bigger D&I trends that will properly hit the mainstream in 2019.

  1. Judging the book by its cover

Any organisation aiming to create an inclusive culture should familiarise itself with the concept of ‘Covering’: the practice of hiding certain aspects of one’s person or life in order to fit in with the dominant culture. An example might be a gay person avoiding the term ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ in reference to their partner out of concern s/he will be identified as an ‘outsider’ to the mainstream group.

The term ‘covering’ was coined as early as 1963, but a 2013 research report tells us that the majority of us cover an aspect of who we are when we go into work. More specifically, 83% of LGBT individuals, 79% of black people, 66% of all women and 45% of straight white men have admitted to ‘covering’ at work.

The problem with this is obvious: at a time when we need teams to be more diverse, creative and innovative, covering stifles the drive in our diversity and forces us to fit into a more conventional mould.

Companies that acknowledge the dichotomy between their aspirations for greater diversity and the pressures of their corporate culture to ‘cover’ are starting to talk about this openly, motivating colleagues to ‘bring their whole selves’ to work, pleading for respect of each other’s differences. Becoming aware of this concept and talking more openly about it will be – I predict – one of the main D&I trends in years to come.

These are what I consider to be the big new trends in the diversity and inclusion space. There are of course many others we see.

What do you think are the big trends in this arena? Email me to share your thoughts and I promise to respond.

Dreaming of a green City Christmas: new ways to invest wisely for both ourselves and the planet

by Helene Winch*

At this time of year we are constantly asked to spend our well-earnt cash - Christmas lists, food and wine for the festive period as well as requests to give to those less fortunate than ourselves. This Christmas there is a different feeling with Iceland’s noteworthy anti-palm oil advertisement and the Christmas dinner debate – meat or no meat!

Consumer preferences are changing.  According to Unilever (1), a third of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Additionally, there has been an increase in demand for vegetarian /vegan choices: Waitrose(2) claims 33.5% of people are now choosing this option over meat. These changing behaviours mean organic and vegetarian/vegan food, recycled and natural fibre clothes, and anti-plastic products are all rapidly growing markets.

More than 5% of London’s population (that's nearly half a million of us) works in financial services, so how does this growing shift towards sustainability manifest itself in the City? Investment funds have been slow to respond but sustainability is increasingly appearing in products from mainstream providers. The crucial difference now is that sustainable and ethical investment products no longer require investors to accept lower returns. In fact, sectors like renewable energy are actually outperforming conventional energy(3) and the green bond universe is developing rapidly into a well-diversified and strongly performing market with $500 bn currently outstanding.

And with the launch of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the more famous Paris Climate Agreement, sustainability and the preservation of our planet has never been higher up the global agenda. Following on from the impact that Sir David Attenborough and Blue Planet had on discussions on plastic use in the House of Commons, Sir David is now pleading for stronger government action at this year’s climate talks in Poland(4) (COP24). As the campaign banners say: “there is no planet B”… despite Elon Musk’s proposed move to Mars, this isn’t yet a realistic option!

However, sustainable investing is a wide and often confusing market, not least when it comes to terminology. It encompasses green (often meant to mean lower carbon impact), social (using finance to create jobs, improve supply chains, support diversity) and ethical (the buyer/investor’s personal moral standpoint - such as anti-tobacco, alcohol) investing. With an estimated market size of £1.57 trillion and the range of sustainable investment products and returns often in line with non-sustainable peers, the question becomes why invest and finance non-sustainable businesses and products, especially when they are not in-line with the investors preferences as a consumer? Why refuse to use and buy plastic and then invest in companies that are doing very little to reduce plastic waste? Likewise, there’s a contradiction in making an active choice to buy organic or vegetarian foods in the supermarket, but then investing in companies that support excessive antibiotic use in food supply chains and meat producers that significantly add to climate warming. Why buy recycled clothes yet continue to finance consumer product companies using child labour or polluting developing countries’ rivers?

While working hard to build a pension pot and preserve the capital already saved, the potential end of fossil fuels could seriously damage valuations. Global agreements such as the Paris climate agreement have 195 governments across the planet actively working to reduce emissions through the provision of billions of dollars of climate finance, subsidising renewable energy and legislating for the end of coal and reduction of oil and gas consumption. With these risks to the sector, should investors continue to actively invest in the high carbon energy sector?

These are some of the questions that investors are increasingly asking their fund managers. The provision of increased fund level disclosure on sustainability topics should help fund managers share their holdings and investment views with their more sustainable minded clients. Continuing to foster sustainability in finance should help ensure that your investments are as green as your Christmas!

*  Helene has worked in the investment industry for over 20 years and has extensive experience of considering sustainability into investment portfolios.




(1) Unilever

(2) Waitrose

(3) energy investment data

(4) Sir David Attenborough speech



Twerk Alert! Or possibly: Twerp alert! That was the month… December

Rebecca Dalton

by Rebecca Dalton

Ada Hegerberg has become the first recipient of the women’s Ballon d’Or – the highest honour in football. But her achievement was marred somewhat when the award ceremony’s host, DJ Martin Solveig, asked her at the very moment she collected the trophy if she knew "how to twerk". Hegerberg said a firm “no” and walked off stage.

The stunned reaction of some audience members has been described as “straight to GIF.” Solveig apologised and Hegerberg – an object lesson in graciousness throughout – was understanding.

Twitter was less lenient and erupted in righteous anger. Solveig must have wondered if he had any sort of a career left.

In an excellent piece in The Guardian Marina Hyde pointed out that Solveig’s apology fell under what she called the “this-is-not-who-I-am defence.”

The phrase seems to be a close cousin of the “misunderstanding” and “quoted out of context.” Not forgetting their embarrassing uncle “only banter.”

As Hyde writes: “[It] gets a lot of run-outs these days, as camera-phones catch non-racist people being racist on buses, non-homophobic people screaming abuse at gay people outside a nightclub, or any of the other variants that increasingly adorn the age. The point is: this is not who they are.

Very occasionally, the person saying the thing is saying it on a stage, in front of a large audience and multiple television cameras and is deploying remarks they have worked out in advance. But this, too, is not who those people are.”

Now, back to the defence: Solveig had also asked the male winner Luka Modric to dance. If he’d asked Hegerberg if she could waltz say, I don’t think it would have even caused a ripple. He says it was a language problem – he seems to be arguing that he didn’t realise the very sexual nature of the “twerk.”

I’d be useless on a jury. But in this month of goodwill to all men, shall we give him the benefit of the doubt? And reflect that possibly more important, and more “this is definitely what football is,” could be the fact that the Ballon d’Or has been presented since 1956 and it’s only this year that anyone thought to introduce a women’s award.

It’s party time! Eat, drink, be merry – and stay sane. How to cope with family, food, and festivities, without faltering at work.

It’s a cliché to complain that Christmas seems to start earlier every year – but some clichés are clichés for a reason! My first Christmas event was on the 2nd, and I received my first Christmas card on the 3rd.  This month’s diary is laden with a string of festivities with some even spilling over into the New Year. I bet you know exactly what I mean.  Even if you don’t actually celebrate Christmas you'll be lured in by tempting winter pop-up delights like ice-skating, lunches in ‘Alpine pods’ that are a long way from any mountain, special shopping evenings, not to mention endless festive lunches with colleagues and friends.

I like to spend December catching up with colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in a while. But the mix of fitting in social engagements, living up to the Christmas cheer and meeting never-ending deadlines at work makes many of us want to give up before it all begins.   How do we cope with it all?

This is normally when I start to talk about resilience; but not after a young professional said to me: “If I have to attend one more 'how to build your resilience' workshop, I’ll scream!  It seems, work is all about building endurance and I don’t think it’s sustainable.  Why can’t life just slow down?”

So, instead of offering more resilience advice, here are 3 things any of us can do to remain sane during the festive season

1. Ask yourself: what’s the worst case-scenario?

I’m reminded of the story of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca – credited as the father of venture capitalism – who regularly slept on the floor, ate bread and drank water to remind himself that if he lost everything, he would still be able to survive. This constant reminder of the ‘worst case scenario’ allowed him to take great risks without fear. He never stressed about investments going wrong, plans not working out, not living up to expectations.

I often think about Seneca and my own ‘worst case scenario’ to remind myself that, whatever happens, I will be fine. It may not be what I want or aim for, but my absolutely worst nightmare is probably not as grim as I make it out to be. This thought relaxes me and allows me to confront stresses in a more rational manner.

2. Incorporate pauses into your day

The great part about the festive season is that it is, in fact, festive. There are many opportunities to step sideways and enjoy the calming offering that it brings. I often find myself walking from meeting to meeting in central London, marvelling at the decorations (those who follow me on Instagram get to experience some of it with me). I’ll sometimes pop into one of the many beautiful little churches around the City for a lunchtime concert. When I drive, I often listen to classical music and follow the melody that whisks me away to another, calmer, sphere. These are things that allow me to press the ‘pause’ button and catch up with myself as a human. Like Amy Cuddy’s power poses, they rebuild my reserve and stamina to tackle the next challenge.

3. Keep your eye on the prize

Like in many other situations, it helps to prioritise. We need to understand what is most important to us this season and ensure that, whatever else might get compromised, this one thing should not. We are constantly reminded by emotionally-charged TV ads what our priorities during this season should be – like the BBC’s new Christmas ad (1) – and maybe they’re right. But even if not, it helps to identify the one thing that matters most this season and remind yourself that, no matter what else you may not achieve this year, this is the one thing that matters. For me this year – like in any other year - it’s spending time with my children. Sounds like a cliché perhaps, but I always take time off from work and friends to indulge in this one tradition. We go to the cinema, we shop together, we go ice skating, attend their school performances. No matter where we might be and no matter how much of their lives I may have missed during the year, we are always together in the winter holidays.

So if that long list of things-to-do has to give way for this one priority to succeed, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

These are some of my coping mechanisms for the strains and stresses of the season. What are yours?

(1) BBC Christmas ad

Feeling Burnt Out? You May Not Be Playing to Your Strengths!

strengthsWritten by Ros Toynbee.

The old adage “play to your strengths” is one we are familiar with. And twenty years of research in the field of positive psychology provides us with a body of evidence that confirms that leaders who do are happier, more confident, have higher levels of energy and perform better at work.

But what is a “strength”? Most people will say “it’s something I’m good at”. But they miss what strengths are really about, which is energy. Strengths are underlying qualities that energise us and we are great at. In other words when you are using a true strength, you get that buzz, that feeling of the “real me” coming through. You leap out of bed in the morning excited to go to work. There’s that sense of “this is what I was born to do”.

Compare this to competencies or skills. If you’re good at something but it bores you, it sucks the energy from you, it’s not a strength, it’s a “learned behaviour”. We develop them because we get rewarded at work for doing them – the pat on the head, the promotion, the pay rise. And our performance might be good enough. However, used excessively, and over time, we can and will burn out.

Many clients come to me to clarify what their next career move should be. They know they are super capable people who can turn their hands to many different things, yet there is a huge difference between knowing what you have to offer (your learned behaviour often) and what you would like to, or what would be most energising to you to offer, in your next role. The key is always in knowing what your top seven strengths are, and the combination in which you would like to use them, to maximise your personal fulfilment and performance going forwards.

There are many ways in which you can identify Strengths and in our “Find Your Strengths for Career Success” Masterclass on 02 December 2015 we’ll be using the world’s leading Strengths tool, Strengthscope™ to accurately identify yours. But you can start by reflecting on the activities that give you the most buzz, the places where you feel the “real you” and the tasks that come most effortlessly to you.

The key to avoiding burnout? To know your strengths, but more importantly to use them well. This means finding or shaping roles that play to your natural strengths and allow you to play to the ones you haven’t used lately, as well as harnessing the strengths of your team and others which complement yours.

How Meritocracy Failed Me and How You Can Outsmart it!


When I first embarked on my career path, I whole-heartedly believed that the only obstacles in my path would be my own capabilities and efforts.   And for a while, that is how it was.  My career progressed steadily and predictably, navigated solely by my own will.  Until about 15, 16 years into it, when I reached and got stuck in what is endearingly referred to as the ‘marzipan layer’ – that sweet, sticky time in your career life when you feel you’ve achieved a respectable level of seniority and find it quite difficult to progress beyond it.

Having worked in more or less the same environment my entire life, all of a sudden, I realised that I didn’t appear to fit the mould of those in the layers above me and that they – the most senior management team - didn’t fully appreciate all I had to contribute.  And then I noticed one other phenomenon:  other senior women  have started leaving the organisation.

In an attempt to understand what was going on, I embarked on self-awareness and self-development training, naturally assuming there was something wrong with me.  I read, researched, and spoke to other women.  Once I was satisfied that my experience was not unique to me, I came to the conclusion that I was in a meritocratic system that was biased against me, a senior woman.

In my research, I learned that, when selecting between men and women with the same qualifications, companies that adhere to a ‘meritocracy’ were more likely to select and progress men over women.

I was startled.   My entire career was based on the premise that I could achieve as much as wanted.   In fact, the whole point of merit-based systems is that they are based on the assumption that merit can be achieved equally by men and women.

That’s where I was wrong.

The premise of a meritocracy is that men and women share the same attributes, and that assessment criteria apply equally to men and women.

But what about that unconscious gender bias?

Consider the following research published by the Harvard Business Review in 2010* regarding gender bias in the workplace:

  • Married women with children are perceived as less flexible, less available, less committed and, hence, not leadership material.
  • Senior unmarried women are seen as “different” or even threatening and are, therefore, less likely to be supported.
  • Pregnant women are perceived as less authoritative and more irrational, irrespective of how they actually perform.

These biases skew the perception of competence towards those candidates who display the same attributes as those in similar positions, and 'merit' goes out the window.

A useful illustration of this is the story of the New York Philharmonic.  This orchestra (not unlike many others) was plagued by a low representation of female musicians within its orchestra body.  The management of the Philharmonic believed that the reason for this was the fact that male musicians preferred the style of music that the NY Philharmonic was known for.  Nonetheless, the orchestra decided to to put its theory to the test by holding blind auditions, i.e. auditions where the gender of the musician was unknown to the recruitment panel.

Will it surprise you to hear that, based on blind auditions alone, the number of female new hires in the orchestra body went from 10% to 45%?

The blind auditions showed that, in fact, it was a hidden bias towards male musicians that influenced the auditions.  Once the bias was “turned off” by not seeing the musician, gender was discounted as part of the equation and women joined the ranks with just as much “merit” as men.

What is the point I’m trying to make? Simply: women cannot rely on ‘merit’ to do them justice when it comes to career progression.

So what should we do?   I'm a big advocate of embracing the differences that we bring to our organisations and marketing ourselves on the basis of those differences.

Easier said than done, you say?  Consider the following:

Recent studies show that employees and stakeholders across the world prefer leaders that showcase the following traits: trustworthy, adaptable, supportive, selfless, empathetic, conscientious, intuitive, and social.

Research also shows that:

'the historical "great leader" that is macho, infallible, omnipotent, know-­it­all leader has been replaced by a new type of leader, a servant leader who exists to make others a lot better.'**

So, ask yourself:  what can I do for my organisation that is not already being done at the top?  Do I have any of those other people skills that the current management team doesn't?

And if the answer to this question includes a number of feminine attributes that aren’t represented in the existing decision making bodies, then by all means DO use them as the added qualifier for that next career step!

So to summarise:


  • rely on merit;
  • compare yourself to those currently ahead of you; and
  • hide the experiences/qualities that make you different from them.


  • point out the differences that you will bring to decision making bodies;
  • talk about how leadership is changing and how you have the necessary skills for future challenges and opportunities; and
  • promote yourself on potential to take your company into the future.


* What holds back women? by Charu Sabnavis, LiveMINT, 30 August 2015

** Why Organizations Thrive With Feminine Leadership, Huff Post The Third Metric, 17 September 2015