Career Academy Resource

Steps to increase gender diversity at senior levels


As an industry we all know we have a challenge to create a truly diverse workforce. Diversity is not a one dimensional challenge. It’s not just about having more women, or a workforce that looks more like our society. Redington had focused a lot on cognitive diversity, yet felt there was more that could be done to attract women into senior roles across the firm. They specifically wanted to find women who had taken a career break, and could bring broader life experience to our firm.

So I was excited to work with Dominie Moss from The Return Hub to talk about a return-to-work programme. We are a growing firm, so having support from The Return Hub was crucial. The interest was huge. It’s clear there isn’t a supply issue, but one of demand.

This wasn’t just about helping people return back to work. We wanted to find out how we could offer more flexible and part-time working as a consultancy with large and demanding clients that are used to us going the extra mile.

The answer was a resounding yes, sure there were a couple of teething issues, how to re-jig some team meetings, better scheduling/project management, create clarity on roles and responsibilities, etc. These actually helped us to stop and think about whether what we were doing was right in the first place.

The five women who came in started to add immediate value. They quickly got up to speed and started to contribute much earlier than we expected. They also challenged our thinking, picked up firm-wide issues, built processes and coached others. This is an important part of our culture, so immediately we could see great benefits. I kept up to date both directly with the returners and via their managers and HR. I think it’s crucial to ensure you keep close to how they are feeling, and tackle any potential issues quickly.

As we approached the end of our 10 weeks we offered 3 full time positions and 2 project roles. All five women have an opportunity to continue working with us, adding diversity to mid and senior levels of our firm.

I’d encourage anyone that wants to increase gender diversity in their firm to stop talking and try using this checklist to make a start:

1. Work with a recruitment firm (like The Return Hub) to find candidates, screen, introduce, mediate, coach, feedback and monitor progress independently during the programme.

2. Get buy in from the senior team, especially the specific team leaders who will be managing the returners day-to-day. Ideally, they should meet the other returners, their manager and team before the programme starts.

3. Communicate clear projects, role expectations and timelines before the programme commences.

4. Ensure each person is up and running on all systems from day 1, even placing them on the org chart. Schedule any necessary training/on-boarding. 10 weeks goes by in a flash and even faster if anyone is on a reduced hours schedule.

5. Ensure if flexible working is an option, that at least one day a week, all returners are in the office.

6. Encourage returners to meet weekly and support each other, assign one returner to facilitate meetings/lunches/coffees and task them with providing the sponsor with regular feedback.

7. Set expectations with day-to-day managers and other key team members so that everyone is on the same page and any dead time can be avoided (ask colleagues/clients/etc if the returner can attend meetings), make sure the calendar is sufficiently populated for the first few weeks.

8. Design the programme for success: assign a buddy, set up a mentor (reverse-mentor), find opportunities for them to share their knowledge/experience more broadly, any special projects or firm wide contributions, final presentation, observations/recommendations/feedback to firm, etc.

9. Schedule regular sessions with the managers and sponsor to ensure everything is running smoothly. Ensure final review scheduled at least two weeks before the end, to review feedback and make any job offers before the programme ends.

10. Ensure adequate time is left to have a smooth transition whether that is completion of project or move into new role.

Returners offer not only gender diversity, a wealth of experience and much more. Having people come back to work after a period out brings a different, rounded and mature perspective to a business.

Adapted from an Article by Mitesh Sheth – Outgoing CEO of Redington