International Women’s Day – 8th March 2017

March 7, 2017 | comments

International Women’s Day – 8th March 2017

Blog post by Jo Lyon - Occupational Psychologist, Executive Coach and co-founder of global coaching consultancy Talking Talent

The focus of this year’s International Women's Day, #BeBoldForChange, is something I am deeply passionate about. Forging a better working world which is more inclusive and gender equal is something that is very important to me.

At Talking Talent, we focus many of our interventions on building self-belief, confidence and authenticity. We want to encourage women and working parents, to take control of their own careers and overcome any potential barriers to progression.

Over the last decade, we have coached more than 15,000 women and 4,000 managers across leading businesses and sectors. Day in, day out we see strong evidence of the significant commercial benefits of organisations being bold, inclusive and gender balanced.

For example, following our work with EY, there was a 17.5% increase in retention following parental leave, saving the company £17 million in attrition costs in the first 18 months. At Lloyds Banking Group, 80% of our coaching cohorts took on new roles, increased responsibility or gained promotions within one year. Thanks to our female Leadership Development Programme with M&S, 40% of its senior positions are now filled by high performing women.

And of course there are the more intangible, ‘softer’ benefits of having a diverse, inclusive and gender balanced workforce. It goes way beyond just the ‘number of women in roles.’ Senior leadership teams benefit from diversity of thinking and experiences by embracing gender balance. For example, diversity of thinking ensures that a team has a range of tools and information to solve problems more effectively. And employees benefit from different leadership styles and role models.

The debate around gender balance in organisations is not new. Although things are changing, we are not seeing the dial shift dramatically enough. Yes, organisations are more agile, but there is so much more work to be done around gender, including narrowing the gender pay gap.  This is why #BeBoldforChange is so important.

I believe something that is needed is to get more men engaged in the debate. Recently, we interviewed 40 senior women in an organisation and what became clear is that far from joining the debate, many men were fearful of it.  There was a feeling that activities around empowering women and encouraging them to stretch were seen as positive discrimination rather than positive action.  Men feared losing their jobs and being unfairly treated.

Businesses need #BeBoldforChange and encourage more men to feel welcome to get involved in the gender debate. In organisations where we are making progress, male leaders and line managers play a crucial part in all women’s leadership, development, and diversity programmes.

Organisations need to start with the most senior leaders, those who are in a position to advocate change in an authentic way. They can then support the conversations at the most senior levels, and encourage the cultural shift that is so necessary.

Women need to be more inclusive too. I have seen my male business partner attend lots of ‘women in business’ events with the positive intention of helping to create change - and yet he is very often treated as an unwanted minority!

Now retirement ages are going up, there are lots of senior people who might not want to retire but want to work in a flexible way.  And with the introduction of shared parental leave, many men want to take time off to be there in the first year of their child’s life. Much of what men are facing, women have faced for a generation or more.  Together we can find faster ways to move the debate forward. #BeBoldforChange




Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent