“Where are all the guys?” Why men avoid entering the gender parity debate.

Guest blog by David Levenson*

This article has been a long time in gestation – novels have been written quicker. But its development, alongside the evolution of my views, has given me the confidence (yes, men need confidence too) to write for Voice At The Table. It is also the story of why the men who should be publicly leading on gender equality mostly stay silent.

The inescapable conclusion is that men are too scared to engage on a subject that is so often regarded by them as a hot potato. Alternatively, we just don’t get it – we don’t see it as a problem, certainly not in a business or work context. It ends up that women’s issues are for women alone to comment on.

However, what is needed here is less gender politics and more honest conversation.

To the women who I hope are reading this, my message is simple – get the men in the room, onto the social media feeds and get them talking. It’s time to engage the guys in the gender parity debate and stop them from finding reasons to opt out.

So, here is the tale of my journey through diversity politics and how it relates to the wider issue of male engagement.

Fifteen months ago, I stumbled upon an article by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox of  the consultancy 20-first in the Harvard Business Review. Her argument that gender equality is more than a “women’s issue” rang a bell for me and made me think about my position and indeed my role in helping to achieve parity for women on pay and in the boardroom.

Moreover, it convinced me that successful gender balancing requires convincing the majority of your employees that it’s a good idea. And that cultural change needs to be led from the top. Now, the majority of CEOs are male, so it follows that the equality agenda needs to be pushed… by men.

Having absorbed the article, I ran my eye down the list of comments on the LinkedIn posting that had accompanied the article.  Dozens of comments, all from women.  So, plaintively, I added a thought of my own – C’mon on guys, where are you?

As it turned out, my plea didn’t disappear into the ether.  Other men started to appear and contribute views in the discussion thread.  For me, this first tiny venture into the discussion was the start of a process which has culminated in this article.

Now, I may not be typical; I spent the best part of twenty-five years as a finance director in social housing during which time I worked for women CEO’s, and with many female executive colleagues and board members. It is fair to say that the experience of diverse groups generally, and women in particular, has been better than in most industries.  However, it is instructive to listen to the words of Terrie Alafet, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing and one of the sector’s most high profile women executives, in 2016:

“We know from our own research that as a sector, housing is actually more diverse than average…But at the top of our organisations, in our boards and senior teams, it’s a different story.”

It requires more from CEO’s than just a commitment to balance their executive teams, as Ms Wittenberg-Cox suggests.  It needs recognition that there is a duality of interest in gender equality.  Men have a stake in the decisions that women make about their roles as partners, parents and providers.  Economies and societies work best where there is openness and accountability for the contributions made by women and men in the workplace.

I like to think, notwithstanding all that the #MeToo movement necessarily represents and has had to undertake during the past year, that we have moved on from the battle of the sexes that characterised 20th century feminism and its machoistic counterpart.  Today’s workplace is less divisive and more co-operative.

But we are not there yet as all the statistics show and there is still a cultural battle, if not all-out war, to be fought and won.  And pivotal to this are the men who continue to occupy most top seats at board tables and in executive teams and who should constantly send out the message that striving for gender equality at the apex of companies, financial institutions, professions and public services is in the interests of all of us.

* David Levenson is an accredited executive coach and career strategy coach.  He founded Coaching Futures in 2016 with the aim of transforming people’s lives, careers and goals.

David is one of the co-creators of Raising Roofs.  He is passionate about the workplace of the future and fascinated by how technology is rapidly changing the way we work.

In Praise of Show-Offs

You may have come across the twitter hashtag #ImmodestWomen and wondered what it’s all about.  It caught my eye because it seems another excellent example of the ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ behaviour asked of women:  on the one hand, we are expected to be humble, compliant and supportive of others; on the other hand we’re told to promote ourselves – particularly in the context of our careers – showcase our strengths and talk more about our own achievements.

To give you some context, #ImmodestWomen is a hashtag introduced by Dr. Fern Riddell who dared to insist that her hard-earned PhD title form part of her twitter handle. A backlash of comments from men berated her for being immodest, lacking humility, even being vulgar. By simply showcasing her expertise, Dr. Riddell was publicly shamed for not conforming to society’s expectations of women to be modest, well-behaved, not showing off.

How do we strike the balance between society’s – and frankly, our own - expectations of humility with the need to self-promote at work so as not to lose out to those (mostly men) who do it so well?

At Voice At The Table, we have a talk entitled ‘The Art of Female ‘Blagging’ with Integrity.’ Here’s how it works:

My good friend and associate Cara Moore and I recognised a while ago the double-edged sword society had dealt us. To generalise, men seem to be at ease ‘blagging’ their way into promotions and pay rises by exaggerating their achievements and abilities, while (again in general) employing those tactics made women feel uncomfortable.

After much discussion we came up with a way of ‘showing off’ which we think feels more natural to women. In other words, turning blagging into bragging – but doing so based on actual achievements and confidence in our potential. Hopefully it negotiates the fine line between what feels right, and what we as women need to do to be seen and heard.

We came up with our own acronym BLAG which captures the elements that make the term ‘blagging’ more palatable to women:

B stands for Bright: Being visible by speaking up, contributing without hesitation or self-doubt, confidently applying for stretching tasks, and asking for that title, promotion or pay rise. We should aim to be bright like a beacon and be known for our strengths and unique talents.

L stands for Learned: Many of us are experts in our fields, and this is important. Whatever we say or do, we need to be comfortable that we can back it up with substance. For many women, this is the reason the term ‘blagging’ feels unnatural – we think of it as a cover-up for actual knowledge. Not so for most of us, who know much more than we give ourselves credit for. Learned means not only knowing our ‘stuff’ but remembering that we do!

A stands for Audacious: This is where we must ask ourselves to ‘just give it a go.’ Often, before we try something new or more daring, we talk ourselves out of it before we even begin: ‘I’m not good enough. I don’t have the experience. They would never agree to it,’ pipes up our unhelpful inner voice. We have dozens of reasons for not doing something instead of just going for it. So being audacious is about silencing that inner critic and ‘JFDI’*.

G stands for Gutsy: Gutsy is about being brave enough to tie these three elements together and take action to BLAG by being visible, known for our expertise and knowledge, and unafraid to step up.

So, while shouting from the roof tops about how good we are is something we prefer to leave to others, there is no shame in adding those well-earned initials that follow your name. Thank you, Dr. Fern Riddell for standing up for yourself and for BLAGging with integrity.

* For those of you who are wondering, JFDI stands for Just Flippin’ Do It!

3 Reasons Diversity Initiatives Fail to Shift the Dial on Gender Balance

Advances in achieving gender balance in the corporate space are slow, at best.  Despite the deafening cries for progress towards gender parity, progress is, indeed, evading us.  The latest gender pay gap statistics in the UK prove the point, with the largest pay gap reported in the construction sector at 25%, followed by finance and insurance sector at 22% and education at 20%.   The World Economic Forum predicts it will take the world another 217 years to reach parity, and many other reports show that, while we appear to be inching closer to a more diverse and inclusive world, progress is, well, patchy and sometimes questionable.

I have to ask myself the question why?  After all, in my conversations with clients and other companies, it seems diversity and inclusion is an important part of the business agenda, and gender balance even more so.   Most have already spent copious resources on various initiatives that intend to support and advance women - and, more broadly, diversity - within the organisation.  And yet, few would claim genuine parity at all levels.

If you ask me, part of the problem is the belief that we’re doing all the right things whereas the truth is that most of the current initiatives fail to shift the dial on diversity.

Here are my 3 reasons for it:

All female leadership and other initiatives

The intentions behind programmes that support the advancement of women in the organisation are great, but there are a number of problems with this approach: (i) when programmes cater to women only, the overarching message the company is sending to its women is that there is something wrong with them and that it is trying to ‘fix’ them.  This is particularly true of leadership programmes which intimate that women need more development than men to become leaders; (ii) even successful female-only initiatives tend to backfire because, to the extent they succeed to motivate and engage women, by the time women go back to their unchanged work environment, frustration starts to set in as they continue to perform in an environment that fails to recognise the value of their authentic contribution; and (iii) initiatives that are aimed at a specific segment of the population tend to be divisive and fail to attract the requisite amount of support and inclusion to harness lasting progress.

Appointing a female head to ‘tackle the problem’

In many cases, executive teams are genuine about their desire to advance women.  But they don’t recognise it as a central business priority and look at it as a project to be managed.  Having identified it as an issue, they tend to look for the right person to address it which, in many cases, happens to be the one woman on the executive team.  I have heard this story so many times.

These women, or other senior women in the organisation, are anointed as Head of People, or Gender Diversity Sponsor or similar, and are expected to single-handedly ‘solve the issue’.  If they’re lucky, the board will agree to authorise resources to support the position in the form of additional help and/or budget. Yet in most cases, all the resources are going to be insufficient because the ‘problem’ cannot be solved by one or few individuals, and certainly not this particular ‘problem’ (because it’s not so much a problem but an unexplored opportunity).

Parachuting women into senior roles

In many cases, gender imbalance exists primarily at the very top.  Many companies tackle the issue by bringing in lateral hires as they don’t appear to have their own senior female pipeline to address the disparity.  Sadly, this is one of the worst solutions to this issue.  Having spoken to a number of corporates who have taken such measures it becomes clear very quickly that there is no substitute for ‘growing your own’.  Attracting senior women from elsewhere is, at best, a temporary solution.  These freshly-hired women – like the the women who have been at the company for years – will be exposed to the very same culture that failed to produce the senior pipeline in the first instance.  As a result, the new senior female leaders are likely to become disenchanted with their roles as they come to realise that they are not hired for their expertise and contribution but, instead (to put it bluntly), to tick a box.   Even if they do succeed in making a contribution to the company that is genuinely valued, companies have to carefully guard these women from being hired away by others with a similar agenda.  The reality is that there are not that many senior women out there who seem to satisfy the existing requirements for board or senior level hires (although, of course, many more women can indeed to the job) so, unless companies develop their own female leadership pipeline, they stand to lose those recent hires to others that have a similar approach to gender balance.

These are but a few reasons current initiatives fail to advance gender balance at work, and there are a number of others.  If you would like to explore this topic further, email us for a longer version of this post.

What’s a network to do? Do’s and Don’ts for running a successful in-house network

The rise of the in-house women’s network over the last few years has been remarkable.  I watched them grow from informal gathering of a few colleagues to being influential partners to the organisation.  Having chaired a number of networks myself, I understand their challenges and often work with network committees to help them identify their purpose and set strategy for maximum impact.

Here are a few tips of my own to the running of a successful, influential network:

DO have a strategy

It is difficult to have impact without a clear strategy.  A clear strategy makes it easier to ask for resources and to attract volunteers.  Network leaders should identify the network’s purpose, set goals and determine how they are going to achieve them.

DO represent the grassroots

One of the great benefits of a women’s network is that it is squarely rooted in the junior and mid-levels of seniority within the organisations and understands the challenges of women at those levels (e.g. need for flexible working, appreciation and promotion transparency).  Networks listen and represent those challenges up the chain, providing an essential and often-lacking communications channel between management and team members.

DO provide safe spaces

Networks are great at providing a forum for discussion of stimulating topics that may not get aired, such as what it takes for women to thrive or how to treat others so they feel valued.  One crucial function, therefore, is to hold that space for members so that they can discuss challenges, apprehensions and experiences in a judgment-free, supportive environment.  Whether it’s by hosting lunch-and-learns on specific topics or running facilitated discussions, a safe space in which members can debate and think is worth its weight in gold.

DON’T take on too much

I frequently see networks attempting to deliver the work of another work function, like running soft skills training or helping deliver CSR strategy. While it’s great to cooperate, networks should set boundries between their responsibilities and the responsibilities of support functions.  Networks are run by volunteers whose precious time should be spent delivering on their clearly defined and cautiously guarded remit.

DON’T exclude people

Some women’s networks resist opening their membership to men.  In my experience, this is a mistake.  Men who join gender networks identify with their agenda and want to help.  It would be foolish to turn down members who are supportive and can help raise awareness.  This is also an opportunity to model the behaviours you’d like to see, by treating others the way you’d like to be treated: welcomed, valued and included.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a healthy budget

As women, we tend to shy away from asking for a robust network budget, feeling undeserving or unimportant.  As a result, we often pre-empt the outcome of a budget conversation with our own misgivings.  Yet having a budget that allows networks to achieve their stated goals is crucial and empowering.  Do what it takes by enlisting senior allies, collaborating with other networks and clearly identifying the commercial benefits of the network’s existence.  Above all, don't underestimate the value of your contribution to the organisation.

If you would like me to help your company’s network, please get in touch.

The Gender Pay Gap

Guest blog by Jacqueline Heron

In the beginning

With one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe, in 2015 David Cameron set out to end this ‘scandal’ within a generation. In 2018, Theresa May said she wanted her government to end the ‘burning injustice’ of the gender pay gap.  As a first step, organisations with over 250 employees  published the gap in hourly pay between men and women on April 4th 2018. This will be an annual exercise.

It’s somewhat of a blunt instrument.  A company might have a gender pay gap if a majority of men are in top jobs, despite paying male and female employees the same amount for similar roles  - and there’s no adjustment for employees’ different roles, so CEOs are compared directly with PAs. Gaps can be skewed by a few high-earners.

However, everybody’s talking about it - from Boardroom to shareholders to customers and employees.  And what’s clear is that most of the UK's medium and large organisations pay women significantly less than men, and that there aren’t enough women in top paying jobs.  No surprises there but it’s useful to have it in black and white. And what we’re seeing so far, is that many organisations are recognising that this isn’t good enough and are publishing the actions they plan to take start closing those gaps. Since this will be an annual exercise, we can monitor their progress.  It’s a case of ‘what gets measured, gets done.’

The results are in

Of the 10,019 firms that submitted gender pay gap data  only 2,255 (22.5%) have a median women's hourly wage that is equal to or higher than that of men. The remaining 7,764 (77.5%) pay women less than men. Across the UK, men earned 18.4% more than women in April 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It impacts all industries: The construction sector reported the worst average median gender pay gap at 25%. This was followed by finance and insurance at 22% and somewhat surprisingly, education, with a pay gap of 20%.

And the gender pay gap becomes the gender pension gap

Older women are disproportionately affected, with those in their 50s experiencing an 18.6% pay gap, compared to 5.5% for women in their 20s.  This worsens as they reach pension age.  HMRC data has shown the gap between the amount of pension income received by men and women is widening. Women received just 37% of the total amount of income drawn from pensions last year, down from 39% in 2012-2013. Last year, women received £46.5bn in pension income, while men received £79.3bn.

The reasons are complex

Most industries fail to promote enough women. This is a global issue. McKinsey’s found that, whereas half of graduate entrants in American law firms were women, only one in five equity partners was. A study by SKEMA Business School in France found that, although women made up 52% of banking employees globally, only 38% of middle managers and 16% of executive committee members were women.

Men’s and women’s salaries start diverging from the childbearing years. Women pay a significant financial penalty for being parents. They may also play a non-parental care role – unpaid work looking after relatives, partners or friends with illnesses or disabilities. As a result, they are more likely to work in part time roles which are often lower paid with fewer opportunities for progression.

Structural discrimination plays a part. One in nine new mothers is dismissed, made redundant or treated so poorly that she leaves, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Subtler biases favour men in hiring, performance reviews, pay and promotions. A study in 2016 by Warwick University found that, among workers who asked for pay rises, men were 25% more likely than women to be successful.

As does unconscious bias. Take academia, where studies have shown that unconscious bias comes into play when science faculty members receive applications from students with feminine names, judging women to be less competent and less hireable than a man with an identical CV.

 Working towards a solution

Companies should beware of kneejerk reactions and take time to diagnose what lies behind the numbers. They need to look at how they hire, how they pay, how they promote and ask the question: are our practices fair?

The case for diversity demonstrates a positive impact on the bottom line.  McKinsey found that companies in the bottom quartile for gender and ethnic diversity in leadership were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability. An analysis of the data shows that in companies where women are fairly or slightly overrepresented in the top pay band, the median gender pay gap shrinks relative to the composition of the company as a whole.

Professor Sucheta Nadkarni, Director of the Cambridge Judge Business School Women’s Leadership Centre says: "Whether it is because women are getting paid less for the work that they are doing or because women are not getting equal opportunities to get into positions where the pay level is high – it doesn’t matter what the reason is, but there is a gender pay gap and in most cases it’s an issue of equality and justice. In both cases it’s an issue of an imbalance of some sort."

We should be using the gender pay gap as a means to an end, focusing not solely on the outcome, but rather the lack of equality in opportunities for women.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: Comparing Lyndales’ culture to our Inclusion Criteria

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

This time we look at Lyndales Solicitors, a boutique firm.  With a practice that ranges from civil litigation to family law to commercial property to private clients to company commercial, this firm punches above its weight.

But how well does it fair in diversity and inclusion terms?

The first thing one notices when looking at the team of solicitors at Lyndales is how diverse it is.  The Lyndales team is small and perfectly formed, gender-balanced at 50-50, with representatives of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  Granted, at partner level the firm is striving towards diversity (with only 1 of 5 partners being a woman), but if we judge by appearance only, it would seem the firm is keen to address this nuance. And, while the team of lawyers is relatively small, it also spans a number of generations (the youngest member being in their 20s whereas the oldest in his late 60s), adding to the mix of views, experiences and opinions of the group.

Having interviewed one of their senior solicitors, Noga Kogman, I quickly reached the conclusion that the firm is aware of the benefits of diversity and inclusion as a business proposition and is shaping its work environment to attract and retain a diverse mix of people.

How do Lyndales measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Noga moved to London from Israel and, as a mother of a young child who is ambitious and career-minded, Noga wanted to work at a firm that can offer her an intellectually-stimulating role and also let her be a mother on her own terms.  Lyndales offered her just that.  Working a full 5-day week, Noga usually works from home once a week and on another day leaves the office at 4pm to pick up her son.  Noga is also free to make other arrangements needed to accommodate her role as a parent and a commercial transaction lawyer.   Noga doesn’t have to hide that she’s leaving to look after her son and doesn’t feel judged because of it.  She feels fully respected and valued by all her colleagues and is therefore able to be fully herself in the office.

In fact, one third of the lawyers work from home one day a week (including a male member of the team) and one of the solicitors also works a shorter week in addition to one of her work days being from home.  In other words, the firm accommodates agile working for everyone who wants it.

Noga describes the culture at Lyndales as healthy and open-minded.   The partners trust their colleagues to be professionals and don’t second-guess how or where they get the job done.  Performance is measured by output and everyone’s targets and progress is openly discussed at team meetings.  People are engaged, committed and happy to be at work – a testament to a tolerant, respecting culture.

Noga feels that there is a genuine interest in diversity at the firm, beyond it being a requirement imposed by the SRA.  The firm has an open-minded approach to candidates and views CVs without regard to a person’s background, name or gender.  The firm is genuinely interested in attracting people from various backgrounds (reflected in the composition of the legal team).

Interviews are conducted by a wide group of people to ensure a lack of bias and a good personality fit with all.  It is therefore not uncommon that lateral hires come from bigger City firms to find a home that respects their varied backgrounds and values their technical skills.

When asked about the firm’s leadership style, Noga explained that the partners are inclusive and considerate.  Noga and her colleagues are routinely engaged in most decisions that affect them directly, from office moves to new hires.  Partners consult with their colleagues regularly and listen and act on feedback.   Partners can be described as balanced in their attitude, open-minded and professional and the tone for the firm’s culture and business is set by its managing partner.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, Lyndales story is strong.  Most lawyers stay for a long time, with hardly any turn-over of legal staff.  The two longest serving partners are the founders, each with 40 years under his respective belt. The firm recently expanded with 3 lateral hires and a newly-qualified solicitor who trained with the firm.  The female partner at the firm returned from maternity leave to work flexibly, working 4 days per week, one of which is from home.

Lyndales do not offer special arrangements for parenting, such as maternity coaching or specific policies around maternity, although one might argue that, with an open attitude towards accommodating most flexible working requests and a friendly open-minded environment, such support services aren’t strictly necessary.  The firm’s maternity leave is comparable to that of any bigger firm and it encourages fathers to play their role in child care.

The firm encourages lawyers to maintain their personal development, supporting their individual training initiatives.  As a small firm, it doesn’t have a central training department yet encourages each person to think about their own growth.

As with most other law firms, the path to equity partnership isn’t entirely transparent, but according to Noga, the partners are aware of this and are keen to address it.  The managing partner has taken it upon himself to ensure the partnership track is transparent and is actively working on making it so.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

The drive for a diverse and inclusive culture in this case is not coming from the outside world.  While it would be fair to say that clients do think about diversity and prefer to work with diverse and able teams (and, as a result, benefit from their more creative and insightful solutions), in the case of Lyndales the firm culture is naturally inclusive and is designed to give lawyers independence, responsibility and accountability.  As a result, the firm benefits from the diversity of its people by allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and tap into their diverse backgrounds and experiences.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

In terms of the gender pay gap, the firm is too small to have to report on it, but internal sources suggest that there is a gender pay gap at the firm (currently not quantified), as a function of the fact that, at partnership level, there are more men than women.

The firm is not a signatory to any diversity charters (including the legal diversity and inclusion charter) and is too small to need Employee Resource Groups or networks.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Lyndales Solicitors an Inclusion Mark of Growing and Nurturing their existing inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, proving that D&I is not something that pertains only to bigger organisations.  As a diverse and inclusive culture is something that can be nurtured from the outset, the size of the business doesn’t matter. Small businesses like Lyndales stand to benefit from an inclusive environment as much as (if not more than) any bigger organisation that puts D&I front and centre to its growth strategy. Congratulations, Lyndales! You’ve accomplished a remarkable feat without trying too hard!

If you would like us to review your organisation’s diversity and Inclusion Mark, please email info@voiceatthetable.com

 

Do you feel out of it? by Joanna Gaudoin*

How are you feeling about your career? Do you feel you are progressing as you want to? Importantly, do you enjoy the environment you work in?

There can be lots of things that prevent the answers to those questions being positive but one core reason is rife in workplaces - office politics.

The simple fact is where you have people with different values, goals and assumptions, office politics will be there, so that will be everywhere then!

Research shows that at its worst negative office politics is one of the biggest causes of stress at work. As well as a negative impact on individuals, it can be highly detrimental to organisational performance. A lack of trust, high levels of conflict and lack of faith in top management lead to poor and inefficient decision making and ultimately lack of action and productivity. If you experience all of these in your organisation then the political climate is likely to be extremely negative. Some of these will be present in most organisations.

Another key indicator that office politics is in a negative state is rumblings of people "just wanting to do the day job and not wanting to get involved in other stuff". This state of mind frequently leads to people not progressing in their careers and in many cases the loss of valuable talent. Research also shows that women typically have less time for negative politics and are more likely to try to avoid it, which can affect career progression

However, politics can be positive, it can be turned around. Once people understand what politics is, why it happens, their current behavioural profile and the effect their own behaviour can have on the overall environment, progress can be made.

As a licensed practitioner with the Academy for Political Intelligence (http://www.tafpi.com/), and an associate of Voice at the Table, I run diagnostic profiling with groups and individuals, so they understand their current behaviour and understand that of others. This is looked at in the context of the organisation, it is not simply a personality test. This is supported by looking at the behaviours that need to be focused on going forwards at an individual, tailored level to influence the overall political environment and the progression of individuals in their careers.

Imagine the impact better decision making, increased action taking and a more trusting office environment could have on the performance of your organisation and the career progression of those in it?

What could it mean to your organisation to have improved morale, increased knowledge sharing and productivity, together with increased retention rates?

As an individual, imagine if you knew the key things to focus on to progress in your career and manage the challenges of how you work with others with less stress?

Testimonial from one of my recent one-day workshops on positive organisational politics:

“We were hoping for an off-site event at which our Business Services team leaders would pick up useful skills and insights to help them deal with the increasing pressures of a demanding ‘high touch’ professional services environment.  Joanna exceeded our expectations.  She won the confidence of the group from the outset and proved an open, insightful and action-oriented facilitator.  Our group came away energised by Joanna’s skills exercises and universally positive about Joanna’s impact on the group.”

Director of Business Services, Leading Global Law Firm

*Joanna is Founder of Inside Out Image - Personal Impact & Influence Consultancy

If you'd like to understand more about how this works at an individual or group level, contact us to find out more. This is not something that is taught in business schools and very rarely on training courses. Typically, progress can be made in this area in a day with a group or 4 short sessions with an individual.

Your company’s Inclusion Score: How does your culture compare to our Inclusion Criteria?

At Voice At The Table, we’ve been working on developing inclusive cultures for some time now: identifying the starting point, describing the look and feel of an inclusive workplace, and supporting our clients in designing and developing their own inclusive and diverse teams.

In this new series of posts, we will be scoring organisations on their attitude to diversity and inclusion.  Assessing companies’ culture relative to our own Inclusion Criteria, we give them an Inclusion Mark, gauging where they are on the journey towards a strong inclusive culture that nurtures diverse thinking and garners its many benefits.

Our 7 Inclusion Marks describe the various stages of that journey:

  • Don’t Get It! – organisation doesn’t see any benefit from Diversity & Inclusion
  • Window Dressing – organisation understands the need to be seen as valuing D&I
  • Let’s Fix It! – organisation sees lack of diversity as a problem.
  • Seeing The Opportunity – organisation understands the strategic importance of D&I
  • Building the Foundation – organisation is actively building a foundation for D&I
  • Growing & Nurturing – organisation is starting to reap the benefits of D&I and continues to embed them into the business
  • Immersed & Fully Benefiting - organisation has established a successful inclusive culture that benefits from the full value of its diverse workforce

Our first participant is international law firm Withers LLP.  Withers caught our attention because of its impressively-gender-balanced global partnership. It prides itself – rightly so – on a partnership that is 42% female, a statistic that many law firms find, at present, unattainable.  This is a commendable statistic and a great starting point to our investigation into the type of culture that makes this number possible.

A quick glance at Withers home page gives you a clear idea of where this success might come from.  Front and centre on its website is a blog by a male associate talking about the recent Presidents Club debacle, voicing not only his view on the event but also providing guidance, seeking to mitigate clients’ potential exposure to similar outrage.  A law firm that isn’t afraid to openly address topics that others prefer to avoid.

Withers’ London office has been managed by a female partner since 2002, and is also the first City law firm to appoint a woman as chair in 1999.  And, while its management committee needs an uplift in terms of gender balance (evidencing only 2 women on a group of 13), within the EU, 5 of the 6 regional leaders are women while the global management board comprises 4 women and 4 men.

How does Withers measure up to our Inclusion Criteria?

  1. Working Culture

Suzanne Todd, a partner in the London’s family practice group, describes the culture of the firm as a ‘why not?’ culture, where it’s more common to ask ‘Why couldn’t a woman be the Prime Minister?’ or ‘Why couldn’t a woman be our chairperson?’ then to stick with convention.  Although traditional law firm etiquette and approach continue to dominate, the firm is open to change if it considers the change to be in the best interest of its clients and its workforce.

Suzanne describes the vast majority (upwards of 75%) of female partners as mothers, with a return from maternity rate that is second to none.  Virtually all 1st time mums return to their employment.  There is of course attrition at various levels, yet there are no noticeable discrepancies in attrition between the genders.

Many of the female lawyers work 4 days a week, serving as relatable role models to others, and there is a myriad of other flexible working arrangements across the firm.  In pockets, the firm continues to reflect our traditional views and expectations of private practice where men tend to work full time, yet this is starting to shift gradually, as well, with a few male lawyers routinely working condensed hours, i.e. 9 out of 10 days per fortnight.  The firm recognises that parenting is not the only reason that warrants the need to work flexibly and is fully supportive of agile working across the entire firm, both for lawyers as well as support staff.

On the recruitment side of things, the legal field does not suffer from lack of female graduates, so at the intake level, Withers takes on more than 50% of female trainees – and with a 42% female partnership record, it seems that it also is able to retain many of them.

Recently, Withers have been working very hard to widen their candidate pool to make it more diverse.  From using ‘Rare’, a contextual recruitment tool to expand the diversity of the group of universities from which it recruits, to sourcing a wider range of talent through the legal apprenticeship scheme, which enables qualification without the need to go through law school, Withers have been actively addressing this point for the last five years.

  1. Retention, Development and Promotion

In terms of retention, there are no noticeable patterns of attrition that indicate gender inequality.

The firm is very keen to ensure the path to partnership is consistent and clear and has put in place programmes for trainees and new hires that explain the firm’s criteria to partnership.  Transparency of the process does tend to vary from department to department, but there doesn’t appear to be an innate preference for promoting men over women.  The gender balance of partnership promotions may swing one way or another from year to year, depending on the business case, but women at the firm would agree that the partnership opportunities are as accessible for them as they are for their male colleagues.

  1. Diversity as a Market Force

Suzanne explains that Withers understands the need for a diverse workforce on two levels: (1) the firm’s clients are very diverse and the firm needs a workforce equally as diverse to understand and relate to its client portfolio; and (2) legal transactions are becoming more and more complex, and the firm understands that the best way to tackle complex problems is to approach them from a very diverse range of knowledge and experience.  The need, therefore, not only for diversity but also for an environment that nurtures and values it, is seen as a strategic business requirement.

This is also echoed in the firm’s Global Chairman’s statementOur client base is diverse. It is an imperative that we have a diverse workforce to ensure we are effective at meeting those clients’ needs. It means we can build better relationships with them and innovate to find solutions that work better for them.

  1. External Evidence of Commitment

The law firm is subject to the new Pay Gap regulations which will require it to report on the discrepancies (if any) of their pay between women and men.  Moreover, the firm is also a signatory of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter and is a member of the International Women's Forum, First 100 and One Loud Voice.

This short overview of the firm’s culture against our criteria leads us to award Withers an Inclusion Mark of Building the Foundation towards a strong inclusive and diverse culture.  This puts the firm in a prominent position in the legal industry, where female leadership and strong female representation among partners and senior staff is still the exception, rather than the rule.  Congratulations, Withers! You’re well ahead of the pack!

If you would like us to assess your organisation’s diversity and inclusion, please email info@voiceatthetable.com