This International Women’s Day it’s time to force change and use the pandemic as a catalyst for this

This International Women’s Day it’s time to force change and use the pandemic as a catalyst for this

International Women's Day Pink Symbol 16.9.jpg

I like the hashtag for this year’s International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge because words are great but actions speak louder. If we want more diversity, we need to force the issue and back up our old arguments with fresh activity and hard evidence that shows our progress.

The old business adage that ‘if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count’ is relevant here. We all know that diversity is good for business, for making smarter decisions and for understanding obstacles from every angle. Everyone pays lip service to doing that, but unless we change strategies accordingly then we will be having the same conversations for years to come and seeing change occur only at glacial pace.

At Colt we’re proud of the fact that we’re strong at the top of the company where, unusually, 50 per cent of our leadership team are female. But we know that we need to improve our numbers across the company and that is why we have a target to improve our broader numbers for gender balance in the global business.

Our CEO Keri Gilder has written here before about some of the work we do that counts towards inclusiveness: our Network 25 programme to encourage greater female representation and successes, as well as seminars and informal meetings. We survey our people, engage with groups and also accept anonymously shared diversity data because we want to hear the truth, unfiltered.

But setting targets and measuring your progress are the only ways to create real change and to go beyond values and vision. Our CEO Keri Gilder also chairs the TM Forum’s Diversity & Inclusion Council and is deeply embroiled in how the technology industry can take practical actions to drive new ways of thinking and behaviours. If we learn from each other, we move faster and work smarter. NPS (Net Promotor Score) has become a much-watched measure of how customers perceive brands and Keri’s now building support for a DPS – Diversity Promotion Score – as an industry key performance indicator. Our feeling is that it should and will become a board-level concern.

Coming back

One point I’d like to highlight is that, quite correctly, there’s a lot of focus on education and attracting women into this and other industries. But structures such as apprenticeship schemes should be part of the fabric of any progressive company and it’s just as important to think about what happens later in life. That’s why we spend a lot of time focusing on the lost generation of women (and for that matter men) who have left our sector and can’t see an obvious way back in. With women, that’s often been to raise children or care for sick family members and we need to make them aware that we’re hiring and want to capitalise on the life skills and experience they can bring to us. A career shouldn’t jolt to a stop just because there has been an interruption.

Investing time in getting returners up to speed on the latest tools we use - such as Microsoft Teams - has yielded great results. The knowledge and skills returners have collected from before their career breaks means they add value fast. One returner described the experience as life-changing, which is heartening, and we’ve exceeded our hopes. Our original plan in September last year was to recruit six people and we ended up with 11; we’re currently extending the programme to India.

Breaking the chain

To change and improve, we have to offer a vision of new ways of working and the pandemic may turn out to have been a catalyst in that it has broken the cycle of the daily commute into city offices and the nine-to-five day. Moving away from that to a more flexible, remote and mobile way of working and new structures can help to create attractive opportunities for an extended workforce. We are very open to working models that are far from Business As Usual and we need to break the mould that has, indirectly, been leading to suboptimal results in the workplace for years and decades.

Another area I find particularly interesting is unconscious bias because if we can unpick that in our hiring and across our company behaviours (and by extension across society) then we go a long way forward. Blind hiring in HR, where CVs are assessed without knowing the gender of the applicant, can help but the more we peel away innate prejudices or assumptions then the better we do.

We’re trending in the right direction at least. When I started out in telecoms, I recall looking across 35 sales managers and only one of them was female. So much has changed since then and I’m encouraged by the thought that the current generation just wouldn’t dream of hearing or having the attitudes that once held women back. Today, we start with a better base so there can’t be any excuses.

Finally, women themselves need to step up and demand a domestic support structure that will unleash their ability to give their best selves to work. We need supportive partners and families and we need creative solutions to what are complex, long-running issues. We’ve chosen to challenge, as the hashtag says, and we’ve got an appetite for real change.