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Vanessa Vallely CEO & Founder of WeAreTheCity talks to Empiric

 Author of ‘Heels of Steel’, CEO and founder of women’s network WeAreTheCity, MD of female job board WeAreTheCityJobs and motivational speaker Vanessa Vallely talks to Elizabeth Hurst about the challenges of being a working woman, Power lists, and taking risks.

It is a privilege to talk to Vanessa Vallely about awards lists, such as her involvement with WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star awards. After all, she has been celebrated extensively over her own career, most recently being named 5th on theWomen in the City Power list 2015 by City AM and most recently one of the Evening Standards Progress 1000 of influential Londoners. We begin to talk about how she got involved on the panel of Computer Weekly’s 50 most influential women in IT and WeAreTheCity’s Top 50 Rising Star awards 2015.

How did you get involved with the Computer Weekly Top 50

“I have been in Technology for over 25 years. I started off in non-technical roles and then moved in the technical field and then up to the management of IT as my career progressed. I had long been a fan of Computer Weekly as I used to read it when I started my own career back in the 90’s. When the team at CW asked me to be a judge and then speak at the awards, I saw it as a great honour”.

You have recently launched your own awards as part of WeAreTheCity, please tell us a little about these awards

“The Rising Star awards were created to showcase the achievement of women below the management level. Our aim was to create 50 role models across 10 industries through a process of nomination and public voting. The response to the awards was phenomenal with 340 entries and over 15,000 votes from 112 countries. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our 14 corporate sponsors and the Government equalities office, all of which played a massive part in getting the awards off the ground”.

WATC Top 50 Rising Stars celebrated the 100 shortlisted individuals at an event at Bloomberg in August, and the 50 winners were celebrated in the House of Commons in September.

I ask about the positive effects these award lists will have on the women featured, and for women in general.

“The awards created a platform for our winners and an opportunity to showcase their achievements. The on going impact is the external recognition for our shortlist and winners, which will hopefully play a part in their future career. Our rising stars are now role models in their industries and will no doubt go on to inspire and support other women”

The career benefits of these awards can be seen in Vanessa Vallely herself. I ask if she could put together her own personal Powerlist and award any 3 people who would they be?

“It would have to be Heather Melville, founder and Chair of RBS Focused Women’s Network, Birgit Neu, MD of neuchange and Tamara Box of Reed Smith. They are all amazing corporate women that alongside hectic day jobs give back to other women. I believe that women should support other women and these ladies epitomise that sentiment in everything they do. They are women I deeply admire, all of which have supported me personally in so many ways.”

In her book, ‘Heels of Steel, surviving and thriving in the corporate world,’Vanessa Vallely talks about her experiences working her way up in London’s male dominated financial district. I ask what prompted her to be so passionate in sharing her story.

“I had a list of 40 things to do before I turned 40, and write a book was the last one. It stemmed from my childhood and my grandmother who owned a number of second hand book stalls back in the 60’s in Soho. One day she was a housewife bringing up two young children and the next she was a young widow who had to literally pick up my grandfathers business when he un expectedly passed away at 40. She knew nothing about running a business, but she just did what she had to do in order to survive and support her family. I think I get my spirit and drive from her, she was an amazing woman. As a child I stayed with her during the summer, which meant I spent my childhood surrounded by second hand books. I think she would be very proud that I actually ended up writing a book myself. By writing ‘Heels of Steel’ I wanted to create a legacy, not just for my own daughters, but for anyone who aspired to a corporate career. There was also an element of sharing my story for the benefit of those who are told more of what they won’t become as opposed to what they could achieve if they work hard and focus. I started off in a tower block in east London, the daughter of a single parent, and not much of an education and yet somehow I managed to carve out a fairly successful career in the city. It wasn’t without its downfalls and I attribute a lot of my success to a number of individuals who took a risk on me and took me under their wing. I wanted to tell my story and to also share that sometimes things don’t always go your way, however if you want something in life, you invariably have to work for it.”

‘Heels of Steel’ honestly maps the ups and downs, and shows that the journey to the top of your industry isn’t always going to be easy. It also gives tips, such as a “Career Toolkit” to aid those starting out. Vallely talks about the greatest challenges that she faced as a professional woman working within the corporate world.

Early on it was having confidence in my own ability. As I became more senior, it was more about recognising who I was and realising that the value I added was bringing my true self to work, not the person I felt I needed to be in order to survive in the environment I was in. I also hit problems balancing a career and a young family as I wanted it all and felt guilty for trying to have both.  I spent years trying to be everything to everyone and almost run myself in to the ground as a consequence. It took me a long time to learn that you can’t be everything to everyone and a consequence, I perceive balance in a very different way now and tend not to beat myself up if I occasionally slip off my own pedal stall.”

As a young aspiring writer experiencing the corporate world for the first time, I understand a lack of confidence when just starting out. You know you can get to a point of knowledge but it’s hard to take the first steps. Vallely remembers feeling unsure at the beginning and still admits to feeling like an imposter even when she assumed senior roles.

I ask Vallely what she thinks the key career obstacles for women are, and what she would implement on a company level to encourage women in the workplace.

“It is very easy to rattle off a list of obstacles that women might face and for us to use them as excuses to hide behind, however, I believe time is better spent working out how you overcome those obstacles. Every woman’s journey is different, therefore there isn’t a one size fits all answer. From a corporate perspective I would like to see more visibility of female role models, more internal sponsorship for women, more mentoring programmes where men and women are involved and more opportunities for individuals to build their internal and external networks. This would be a great start, not just for the women, but for all employees.

Companies also need to refresh their thinking about how they support employees. What was right two generations ago isn’t necessarily right for today’s evolving workforce.  There needs to be an understanding that everyone’s career journey is different and it is about being innovative in the ways companies listen to their employees. The method of having career conversations at mid year/year end or relying on outputs of their employee engagement surveys is outdated as it represents a temperature check at a particular point in time. I would like to see more career focus groups, data from exit interviews being analysed and input from internal networks being feed in to HR and line managers as pointers for companies to engage their workforce and support individuals in their careers.”

We ask Vanessa about her main business, WeAreTheCity

WeAreTheCity.com is recognised and respected as the place for women to get career advice, find events, jobs, and networks. We have 42,000 female members, experience 4 million hits per month and rank in the top 5,000 websites in the UK. Aside from offering free advice, they also provide a number of solutions to companies looking to attract and retain women. I ask what the biggest contribution Vanessa believes WeAreTheCity is making, with the most powerful impact?

Our impact is that we centralising everything that everyone is doing for women in to place. If a woman wants to progress in her career, I would like to think that we have the answer in some guise. If we don’t then we will point our visitors in the right direction. We have spent 7 years building WeAreTheCity, if our visitors want to up skill they can join our careers club. If they want to build their network they can attend one of our events or one of our partners events or reference our directory of women’s networks. If they are just seeking inspiration or motivation, I would like to think that one of our 4,500 articles hits the spot. WeAreTheCity has grown dramatically over the past two years, both in the UK and via our sister site in India. I am also particularly proud of our Rising Star awards, which launched this year and the growth of our job board, WeAreTheCity jobs.   We have a vision that we will be the go to job board for women working alongside firms who really want to balance their workforce in terms of gender.

When Empiric asked me to find strong women and interview them as part of my internship, Vanessa Vallely was an obvious choice. WeAreTheCity and Empiric share a passion in wanting to actively push for total inclusion, diversity and equality. I ask Vallely if she thinks the recruitment industry is leading the way or lagging behind in term of performance for diversity, and facilitating equality for women.

“Recruitment has a massive part to play in diverse hiring, as they are effectively the front door of the organisations they represent.  I often hear “where are the women”, however there are plenty of talented women in the job market, you only have to attend one of the many different networking events if you want to find them. I would also like to see recruitment agents really push their clients on their initial requirements. Eg, could this job be part time, do we really need a degree or someone who is in industry. I also believe in balanced shortlists too, not just for women but also from people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

It’s not all bad news. We start to discuss what gives us confidence that we’re moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality.

“Well there’s the 25% of women on boards, 30% women non-executive directors, and of course the equality survey has proven that we are on the way. Everything we have achieved now wasn’t there 10 years ago. There are positive results, but still a lot of work to be done”

I decide to end the interview on a question that many young women just starting out might want to ask, given the wonderful opportunity I have to talk to an industry leader who has achieved and overcome so much; what advice would you give to individuals to succeed in their careers.

“There is no magic formula as everyone’s career is so different. My top tips are firstly to ensure you are working for the right firm. Who you work for is of equal importance. I always worked for ambitious individuals who were going places and who could teach me new things. You also need to realise that it is not your line manager’s sole responsibility to grow your career, they are a factor, but it is mostly down to you and the opportunities and risks you chose to take. Having a network is key, both internally and externally. Invariably you don’t achieve success on your own, you need other people, therefore you need to build and maintain those relationships. Establishing your network is more about quality than it is quantity. Seeking mentors and earning sponsorship is of equal importance. What I mean by earning sponsorship is no one is going to put his or her neck on the line for you unless you have demonstrated you can deliver. Think about who your sponsors are and work out ways that you can demonstrate your capability to these individuals as these are the people who will open up doors of opportunity for you when you are not in the room. In terms of mentors, these are individuals who have the past experience to guide you and offer sound advice, don’t under estimate how important these individuals are and don’t just seek 1 mentor, you need a diverse range of individuals from different industries and backgrounds. Finally, take risks! Nothing is achieved without an element of risk. Sometimes the risks you take will be worthwhile and other times they may lead to failure. Don’t be afraid to fail or make the wrong decision on occasions, it is all part of the learning process. I have failed many times, but I have come to realise over the years that the importance is how you come back from those failures. Learn from it, dust yourself off and move on.”

Elizabeth Hurst
Writer and Researcher at Empiric. 

Developing Modern and Contemporary Recruitment Businesses

Developing Modern and Contemporary Recruitment Businesses and Retaining Women in Recruitment

   

Clair Milligan speaks with Paul Jacobs

Women account for over half of recruitment professionals in the UK yet, just 23% of Senior Management Roles are held by women (Recruitment International 2013). Talented women are exiting the Recruitment Industry before they fully realise their potential and become eligible for appointment to Senior leadership roles. New Research from Women in Recruitment  has revealed that family/caring responsibilities has the most negative impact on women’s career development and progression with 66% of survey respondents highlighted this as a factor. I spoke with Paul Jacobs, MD and Founder of LoveWorkLife Consulting to gain his insight as to how the recruitment industry can evolve into a modern and contemporary work environment for women to be retained in and for recruitment businesses to thrive.

Our conversation first turned to another era of change for women in the workplace; the 1970’s.

“Think Mad Men, and Life on Mars; it was all very stereotypical”, says Paul. “You would meet clients in their offices and become immediately aware that diversity not only rarely existed but was suppressed. Recruitment was a reflection of the time but in spite of the culture of the society that it served, recruitment even then was a place where women had a strong presence. The main difference was the types of roles that women were being placed into. We were placing women into “typing pools” – not men. These were roles through long tradition which were exclusively populated by female employees”.

So women had a place in the office, however it was just typically not in the boardroom.

Women in the Boardroom Today

Highlighted by the Davies Report, just four years ago; only 12.5% of women held board level positions on the FTSE UK. To bring about “radical change” a minimum of 25% female board member representation was recommended.  Since the latest Women on Boards 2015 report was published in March, the 25% women on boards in the FTSE 100 by 2015 has been achieved, women’s representation has almost doubled and all-male boards in the FTSE 100 no longer exist.

So the good news is that progress has been made and the Recruitment industry is roughly on a par with big UK businesses. But does this mean a cause for celebration? Paul who is a passionate advocate for diversity thinks not.

“It’s a disaster really in the 21st Century that we are still in the unfortunate position that targets have to be set in the first instance. Why aren’t people being given the opportunity to progress in business and be judged purely on their merit and ability and not as often suspected, upon their gender? If you’re good enough then gender simply should not be an issue with regards to progression into the boardroom. It simply cannot be that women are not as competent as men. That is clearly and utter nonsense. To be pushing for just 1 in 4 women on company boards in FTSE companies in itself is disgraceful and we need to be vocal about it.”

This raises questions as what proactive changes the Recruitment Industry needs to make to succeed in getting its own house in order. Paul suggests that: “If we are an industry that practices equality in terms of putting people forward for roles and we are open minded, proponents of a fair and equitable work society and seen as experts who promote and provoke equality then, we obviously need to be visible in operating on a higher platform than most. We provide staff across every sector; an incredibly valuable resource to businesses. We should be at the vanguard of diversity in every sense.”

What does this mean for Recruitment Business Leaders?

Respondents of the UK Recruitment Index 2015 were asked what their top challenges would be to support continued growth in the sector for the year ahead. 62% said that growing headcount will be a major challenge and 31% highlight talent retention as the top challenge.  97% respondents say staff training will be important for future growth. Business leaders need to address both talent attraction and talent retention in their organisation, and avoid approaching these challenges in the same way as before.

Paul reminds recruitment business leaders; “If you have empty desks, this lack of productivity has a major impact on your bottom line. A Consultant or Director vacancy is really going to hurt and impact on both revenue and morale. We ARE in a candidate driven market place and businesses are trying to fish in a diminishing talent pool. This whole issue shines a light upon the issue of diversity in the workplace in my opinion.”

So what is to be done? It’s time to take an enlightened attitude and for businesses to invest in modern and contemporary “enviable cultures” to attract and retain their talent. Paul challenges recruitment business leaders to ditch archaic 9-5 thinking – not that if ever really existed in recruitment. “In not so many years to come, we’ll look back (like we do to the 70’s) and think how outdated it was to work this way”.

Outlining four key ways to focus on attracting and retaining talent in modern recruitment business. Paul proposes that not only will this bring about increased opportunity to retain Women in Recruitment, it will win the hearts and minds of all of your employees.

On Attracting Talent

Alternative Talent Pools: There is an opportunity to attract a latent pool of monumentally capable people. People who have left recruitment to take a career break and who are now keen to get back into the work place. To engage this talent pool, we need to offer flexibility to balance career with other critical and highly valued aspects of their life.

Millennial Talent: As well as attracting Graduates to Trainee positions, implementing school-leavers’ programmes can tap into a growing number of young people choosing to forgo university and head straight into employment. To appeal to this talent, recruitment leaders must acknowledge the role of technology and that living in a 24/7 environment is a way of life. Communication is everything, working environments need to reflect modern attitudes and represent a culture that resonates with lifestyles, values and ideals.

On Retaining Talent

Flexible or Agile Working Policies & Job Sharing Opportunities: In recruitment, you can work from home. It is not impossible; it is in fact it’s absolutely attainable. In our industry there is no such concept as “9-5”. We know talking to candidates is often best achieved before or after work hours. Cloud and Mobile technology also makes this entirely possible.

Sabbaticals & Career Breaks:  Provide and expand benefits to employees who have been with the business for a period of time. Encourage them to take breaks from work by proactively offering sabbaticals and embolden them to work from home if it suits their lifestyle choices. If someone wants to leave to travel for a period of time and then return; then we should support them to do so. We want these highly valued colleagues to remain in our businesses and not join our competitors on their return to the workplace. It shouldn’t be the case that employees are requesting these opportunities; it’s about employers being forward thinking, inventive and enlightened.   

Moving Forwards

Paul and I finished our conversation by taking a step back in time even further to the Suffragette movement. Women over the age of 30 ‘won’ the vote in 1918, not that many years ago. Yet nearly 100 years have passed and we still have so much to achieve.

This is a fantastic opportunity for the recruitment sector and the perfect time to attract and retain a diverse talent pool into our industry.

“We are judged by our clients and candidates not least with regard to our enlightened attitude on equality. You are either completely committed to developing a modern and contemporary work place that is attractive to all of your stakeholders or, you may find that over a period of time your competitors hurt you due to their proactive approach to talent attraction and retention. And really there is no choice; we live in the 21st Century, no contemporary business should be employing ancient outmoded 20thor even 19th Century methodology in their business” if their aim is to grow and achieve their goals”.

 

Paul Jacobs, MD & Co-founder of LoveWorkLife Consulting

Paul has spent nearly 40 years within the recruitment industry, and is the former Managing Director of Office Angels, Board Director of Adecco UK & Ireland, and CTO /COO of Hudson UK, Ireland and Middle East. While with Office Angels, Paul was responsible for their Super brand status with over 100 branches and a workforce of 650 staff – achieving the no.1 position for Profit in the UK Commercial recruitment sector.

LoveWorkLife Consulting is a Contemporary Specialist Management Consultancy and business brokerage providing a comprehensive range of expert mentoring, counselling and coaching services to ambitious, people-focused business owners, directors and key stakeholders.

Contact Paul Jacobs

Email: Paul@loveworklife.com

Mobile: 07960 550756

Twitter: @Love_Work_Life

 

Clair Milligan, Head of Talent & Development Empiric Solutions

Clair has over 15 years Talent Development expertise within Sales and Recruitment and is a specialist training and coaching professional. Clair is currently working flexibly while transitioning from maternity leave and is working with Heads of Business, Diversity Leaders and Talent Partners to achieve a compelling Diversity and Inclusion vision that can be translated to improve diversity and make a tangible and positive impact.

Empiric is an award winning Specialist Recruitment firm. Along with Wildcat Resource and Lifestar, Empiric is part of the Tourstan companies serving a global client base in Banking and Financial Services, IT, Energy Markets and Life Sciences.

Contact Clair Milligan

Email: clair.milligan@empiric.com

Mobile: 07949 153331

Twitter: @Clair_Milligan and @Empiric_Women

 

Employee success

Georgie Dunne, Recruitment Year One

 

Georgina Dunne is a Specialist Recruitment Consultant at Empiric. She joined as a Trainee on Empiric’s Trainee Development Programme in June 2014 after studying Retail Business at Bournemouth University. One year on and Georgina shares her experiences of her to date.

 Choosing a Recruitment Career after Graduating

I worked throughout University to pay for my fees, and leaving without any debt, I knew I had no issue with hard work. My parents who run their own businesses, are a great source of inspiration for me in demonstrating what I can achieve, and this has led to a determination to become successful in my own right. I knew a career in retail would mean a financial ceiling, and for the same dedication and commitment I could quickly earn far more in a job where my return was directly related to my performance, which was exactly what I went in search for.

In pursuit of a role in sales, the vast majority of the jobs that my search returned were in Recruitment. At first I was apprehensive of what my family and friends might think, in their eyes I might not be putting my degree to good use. With so many Recruitment roles advertised, I knew I could secure a position but, I needed to ensure it was the right opportunity. My plan was to focus on applying only to Recruitment firms that met the following criteria: clearly defined progression opportunities, a personal approach and where individuals and relationships matter and, a firm that operated in proven and successful markets. For me, this was Financial Services.

Two weeks after leaving university in 2014, I began interviewing across the city. I was in awe of the suggested OTE’s, the numbers I was seeing were so vast, the prospect of being able to earn enough to independently sustain myself in London whilst saving to get on the property ladder was really compelling . At no point did I feel at all cynical, I genuinely thought I could achieve these figures. After meeting Consultants at Empiric who like me had come from no experience to become top billers within 2-5 years, I realised that I too could be that person. There was a very definite difference in the interview process to that of other agencies. It was more personal, the people more friendly and genuinely interested. I found it refreshing to be able to show my potential outside of the usual standard interview questions I had already encountered. In June 2014, I officially became a Trainee Recruiter.

What it’s like to work in Recruitment

I work with some of the most vibrant, inspiring and driven people. We have fun, but we work hard. Most recruiters will tell you they work long hours and that is par for the course. The real hard work is managing the highs and lows along the way.

In recruitment, you are the intermediary of so many tangibles, all of which you need to try and have control over. You can finish the week with a strong pipeline of which 50% you feel confident will result in placement, but come Monday, that could all be up in the air. There are days where offers fall through, candidates are counter offered, budgets and therefore roles are pulled or you struggle to generate new business. It’s frustrating and disappointing to lose a placement. The disappointment is there also for my candidates and clients when they don’t secure the role or the candidate that they ideally want. Sometimes it feels like people don’t want to take your calls, and the phone is glued to your ear just trying to get through to someone.

Something as small as one phone call can completely change your outlook on the day. You can receive a small piece of intel in relation to a large project, and you are not only able to call and secure candidates who are the perfect fit, but you feel you are working ahead of the curve and beating your competitors. A candidate you thought wasn’t going to accept an offer has a change of circumstance, or you headhunt a candidate and just manage to get their mobile number, how can something so small feel so significant? Before you know it you are back on cloud nine! You learn to spread your risk and keep all of the plates spinning, so that if one falls, it hurts less!

Advice for Aspiring Recruiters

Recruitment is not at all what I thought it would be, it has far exceeded my expectations.

My advice to anyone thinking about joining recruitment would be around your work ethic. I believe your commitment to hard work will propel you a long way! I often think “goals” and “SMART Objectives” are buzz words used for those who find it hard to define their own personal strategy. Without question, they have a place, but when you step away from the jargon, you will know yourself where you need to go and what you need to achieve to get there. While academics play a part, it is about being commercial, astute and personable with a constant focus. If this sounds like you, then Recruitment should be a strong consideration for you.

Achievements & Future Ambitions

Empiric has a very robust and progressive training program, which has been tried and tested over the years by many of those that now form our leadership team. One of my proudest moments has been entering the program as a Rookie, and progressing to a Consultant within 4 months. Just 3 months later, I progressed to become a Senior Consultant and I am currently one of the top billers for 2015. My aim is to accomplish Top 5 Billers status this year.

There is a wealth of opportunity ahead for me with Empiric.  I have the option to continue as a Billing Consultant, or in time, to become an Empiric Leader, with the objective of establishing my own team. I want to continue being a mentor to other Trainees in my team and be involved in hiring new Trainees. As Empiric grows and looks to enter into new geographical locations and markets, I will be a part of this. For now, my main focus is on my market both in London and Europe, and becoming a very established Billing Consultant.

 

About Empiric

Empiric is an award winning Specialist Recruitment firm. Along with Wildcat Resource and Lifestar, Empiric is part of the Tourstan companies serving a global client base in Banking and Financial Services, IT, Energy Markets and Life Sciences.

Empiric excels in developing Trainee Level Recruiters to become industry Top billers. We are currently expanding our teams in London, Glasgow and Singapore through our Trainee Development Programme and School Leavers Development Programme. Please contact us at careers@empiric.com to find out more.

Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave – a step to equality

The feelings associated with child related leave are too often ones of guilt, worry and uneasiness. A mother may fear her position and value is less after she’s had a child. A father’s need to spent time with his new born might be deemed unnecessary by others, putting him in an impossible position between his loyalties to his family, and to his workplace. The previous system in place was rigid, and didn’t take into account unique needs of families that simply aren’t as clear cut as they used to be perceived.

These doubts are starting to be alleviated, as the parents of babies born/adopted after the 5th April 2015 are now able to get Shared Parental Leave(SPL). When Nick Clegg announced this change in November 2013, he said the purpose of the new system would be to “challenge the old fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home”. The previous system only gave 2 weeks of statutory Paternity leave, and statutory Maternity leave at 52 weeks, with little room for adjustment.

For eligible working parents, the new legislation means that after the initial 2 weeks of maternity leave, the remaining 50 can be split between the two parents, depending on their own personal requirements. Weeks can be taken concurrently, meaning both parents home together for 25 weeks, or flexibly split to their own needs. The mother’s partner is defined as the biological father, or partner of the mother/adopter. When announced, these new measures caused some backlash, with some misunderstanding about workplaces not being able to cope. What’s important to understand is that the length of time and pay remains the same for each child. It now has the flexibility to be split equally between partners indiscriminate of gender and relationship status. It is no longer the government or the workplace calling the shots on the gender roles that workers must fulfil. Any further outcry only suggests that women workers aren’t as missed as their male counterparts, which preys upon outdated misogyny, and an assumption that completely ignores non-heteronormative couples.

Shared Parental Leave is a much needed step to reducing the gender bias surrounding maternal/paternal leave. A bias that benefits neither parent, and causes unspoken workplace tension. Women may feel that having a child is simply an inconvenience to the company, and therefore to their own career prospects, with the fear of being passed over for promotions or even made redundant. For fathers and partners, the option of shared leave means acknowledging shared responsibility – a notion far away from the stereotype of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners. With more and more LGBT awareness, we are currently redefining what family means. Therefore how we approach parental leave is changing, as the issue is no longer seen as a female problem. It is a parent issue, no matter the circumstances.

Perhaps this change in leave practices could lead to greater changes. The wage gap typically becomes more pronounced after maternity, due to part-time work, being passed over for promotion and bias. By reducing the stigma around parenthood and making time off available equally to everyone, we are one step closer to a fairer, equal workplace. The event of a baby on the way no longer bringing feelings of guilt, worry and uneasiness but rather shared responsibility and joy.

Elizabeth Hurst
Writer and Researcher at Empiric.

 

Re-thinking Mentoring

Re-thinking Mentoring to enable development and improve diversity

How do we know what types of mentoring are actually worthwhile?

The over-used term ‘glass ceiling’ is defined as an “invisible but real barrier through which the next stage or level of advancement can be seen, but cannot be reached.” Talented and qualified employees cannot advance to higher levels of management, even if they arguably deserve to. This is often put down to unconscious bias because of gender, ethnicity, age or other reasons. Mentoring is often seen as one of the solutions to accelerate the development of individuals, particularly women who sometimes struggle to climb to better positions. Benefits can be seen for mentor, mentee, and companies that then reap the rewards of potential that could have been left untapped. So why aren’t more companies encouraging it?

The merits of a well organised mentoring scheme are obvious. It retains knowledge, wisdom and experience of successful, long-term employee’s and nurtures it in lower levels of leadership. This ensures that as the company grows, consistent understanding is passed on. Mentees can learn more about the sector, and build invaluable networks of people. The relationship is often mutually beneficial, as the senior mentor gets to invest their time in passing on their knowledge and experiences. Kram (1985) suggests that the role modelling process can help mentors rediscover valued parts of themselves and rejuvenate their confidence. Mentors might experience a raised profile from being deemed worthy and successful, and can be savvy and use it to network with emerging talent.

In the study ‘Women as Mentors: Does She or Doesn’t She?’ by Neal, Boatmman and Miller, they found that 74% of women mentor because they themselves have benefited from the scheme in the past. This suggests that mentoring has positive effects on women, as they go on to achieve senior positions and become role models, and then further encourage others both by mentoring. It makes sense that even visibility of a diverse senior management can even encourage ambition and drive – if they can do it, why not me?

The study also found that 56% of organisations have a formal program for mentoring in place, but sometimes these have no strategy and leave the success of the program to chance. There is no doubt that the general concept of mentoring is a good one. The problem lies with how it is implemented. Without a formal program in place, an attempt could be half-hearted, and produce little results. Another issue is one of finding the Mentors in the first place. The sad fact is that some businesses simply wouldn’t have enough, if any, representative senior women to effectively roll out a mentoring scheme. If not enough is being done to invest in women and retain them, setting up a scheme to push them to their full potential becomes difficult. Where suitable role models lack, there is always the option of external mentoring, looking outside the company to find a willing Mentor. Companies such as Board Mentoring and Women On Boards can be useful in providing experienced mentors, who offer more formal mentoring without the issues of internal politics. This might be a better option for those who desire a mentor, to find one outside of their workplace, instead of waiting for a company to step up.

The results of mentoring are hard to quantify and compare, as it depends on quality of human interaction. If a scheme improves confidence and happiness for the mentee, but she or he doesn’t progress or get a promotion, is that unsuccessful or successful? The nature of mentoring means it is highly variable – pairs might meet regularly or infrequently, face-to-face or online. They may produce measurable results (i.e. the subject is promoted) or be virtually undetectable. Some might argue that sponsorship is more important than internal mentoring. Whereas men tend to more eagerly ask and offer to mentor, women typically need to be encouraged. (Laff, 2009) If this is true, then the push for women to break the glass ceiling might be more effective to come from a champion demanding their recognition through referral for promotion. The definition of mentorship that leans towards sponsorship remains accepted in the U.S., where ‘hands on’ help is expected. However the European and Australian definition would find this unacceptable. Perhaps a mixture of both external mentoring and internal sponsorship is the way to encourage improvement.

Until you can remove all unconscious bias from the business world, and effectively measure the benefits of mentoring against plain sponsorship, it remains difficult understand how best to approach this subject, be it on a personal or company-wide level. Though the benefits of mentoring are no doubt there, working out how to develop a program that ensures diversity at the highest levels of management is still a long way off.

Elizabeth Hurst
Writer and Researcher at Empiric.

Diversity Event

As a preferred recruitment partner to over 170 financial services firms globally, enabling our clients achieve Diversity is a key objective and a priority in our business.  We recognise that Diversity begins at home.  Through increasing diversity amongst our workforce we have seen considerable growth in our business:  we have increased the number of females hired into our business from 29% to 42%, 33% of our senior management team are female and 30% of our work force compromise ethnic minorities.

Empiric hosted an exclusive Diversity Panel and Networking Event in September 2014. This was a panel discussion, led by Denise Keating, Chief Executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion. Also on the panel, will be Ann Swain, CEO from APSCO and Abbas Jaffer, a FS Diversity expert.

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