Promoting diversity is everyone's job
Walk into the offices of UK99 in Egham, browse through the pages of Enterprise Alive, the recruitment web site, glance through the company’s media coverage, and it becomes pretty evident that diversity is important to Enterprise at the most senior level.
Yet there is still work to be done to support Level 1 and 2 so they push above these levels.
Most recently, a group of Group Rental Managers attended the Women’s Business Forum to learn how other companies are battling with diversity issues and take away insights back to the Groups.
Group Rental Manager Carl Henderson, describes himself as “heavily involved” in promoting diversity through his area. “It’s good to hear an external perspective.
"We sometimes live in an Enterprise bubble. Attending these events reinforces that we’re on the right track, and that we’re actually head and shoulders above.”
“But,” Carl segues, “There isn’t a single female Group Rental Manager and there is less than a handful of Area Managers.”
Adam Lovelock, Group Rental Manager in the South-East of England, agrees that the focus on diversity at Enterprise needs to be how women are nurtured in those vital early years. “We clearly have a huge opportunity here. The talent pipe at entry level has never been stronger, but we cannot neglect the fact that at the senior management level our pipeline is leaking.”
He sees the talent drain on many levels - “We not only leak talent to take up child care or to companies where they are perceived to cater better for women with families, we also leak talent internally. Although it is essential that we hire the best employees into other facets of our business, moving females into other roles such as sales, HR etc. This can inadvertently suggest that there is challenge in being a senior female daily rental manager. We also have a huge task in helping our female managers overcome cultural stereotypes. We have to continue to educate our female managers that they have other options if they choose to start a family, with their partners staying at home or other child care arrangements.”
Like Carl, Adam’s region is dominated by male managers. “Of my six Area Managers, all of them are male. My ultimate role is to ensure the pool is reflective of the communities in which we serve. My goal is to have this at 50% in the next three years. This will not be done by imposing a quota, but by continuing to recognise why the pipe is leaking and promote the business benefits of having a balanced work force.”
Carl sees mentoring as a vital strategy in helping to change this situation, and in particular, to deal with unconscious bias and behaviours which seem natural and normal but which actually result in the sponsoring of same gender employees.
“Our natural instinct guides us to behave in ways which lead to discrimination,” Carl continues. “At the Forum, one CEO shared a story about leaving work on time every day to be with his young family. Feeling guilty about leaving his employees working, he would slink away without saying goodbye. At a company meeting, one employee spoke out, saying ‘You’re the champion of Alternative Work Arrangements. We need you to be accommodating. If you’re not comfortable leaving on time, it sends out a bad message that this is actually a bad thing to do and that we should be staying late.’ So now he walks away smiling with his head held high, setting the example that in his company, families matter.”
Having recently promoted his first female Area Manager, Carl recognised how similar unconscious bias was affecting promotion within his region. “I spotted at an event in our region that in the coffee break the room split between men and women. The men started to talk about sport - male Assistant and Branch Managers talking to male Area Managers. The women were on the other side of the room chatting between themselves.”
Carl sees this apparently natural scenario creating an unconscious sponsorship between male managers and male candidates. “When you get applications, you will be more familiar with the candidates that you’ve chatted to, who might like football like you. It’s hard not to see those CVs differently. Then because you know those people on a personal level, they may feel like they can come and ask you questions or for support which help them in their careers, in a way that women wouldn’t.”
Some of Carl’s female reports became aware that his regular catch-ups with male reports were longer because they would talk about personal matters, whereas women would focus on business then get off the line. “I tell women that I need to understand them as a whole person, and what is going on in their lives, in order to help them to succeed. I told them to keep me on the phone and talk to me!”
He is now developing all his Area Managers to observe how they are behaving on nights out and social events and ensure that they are not unconsciously excluding women. “You have to take a step back and observe. Initially it may feel forced to make a deliberate step to break away from the men and talk to the women, but then it will become natural.”
Adam Lovelock said the forum was “a great opportunity for me to learn and reinforce some of my knowledge and core beliefs.”
Both Adam and Carl remembered the discussion around quotas as being a particularly lively point.
Adam said, “It was really great to hear two passionate speakers with opposing views. I have continued this debate at a number of functions and still find myself on the fence. On the one hand, it worries me that quotas if not used correctly could mean candidates are promoted purely for being female and not necessarily the best for the job. However, unless more focus or downward pressure is applied, progress will be slow in finding this balance.”
West Midlands Group Rental Manager Sakhbir Gill was also struck by the discussion on quotas: “It was interesting that Rosemary Martin from Vodafone was in favour of quotas and it sparked a discussion point not only on the stage but at the table.”
“The support for quotas did surprise me, as a minority I am used to hearing that message in support of race and promotions,” continued Sak. “It was an impactful discussion that made me think, what am I doing to help female talent flourish in a male dominated industry? What can I do and how can I coach my Area Managers to see things differently and see past the obvious. Ernst & Young’s Steve Varley was very inspiring. He talked about not imposing subconscious limitations, think about everything you say and he gave a great example of his daughter wanting to play for Chelsea.”
The argument against quotas has always been one of meritocracy: people should be promoted on ability rather than gender.
However, and especially at Enterprise which has a very structured development programme and which only promotes from within, why would women be less capable than men as they progress up the organisation if the programme treats them both equally? Given that Enterprise recruits almost as many women as men into the Management Training programme, and that they all face the same stringent assessment at the outset, then arguably, the women should be as good as the men - unless there is unconscious bias allowing men better access to more senior input from line managers.
“The day after I left the Forum I arranged a one-on-one lunch with every female branch manager in my City to help me understand first-hand what are some of the challenges of them getting to the next level. I will also act as an informal sponsor for these employees,” said Adam.
“In addition, a group of female managers are in the process of setting up West City female networking group. This is a self-funded group available to all female employees in my city where they will meet sociably bi monthly. This provides a great platform out of the office environment to meet other female employees and share ideas and discuss the challenges they face.”
Sakhbir says he “was very keen to attend the forum to help me understand how I, as a business leader, I can impact customer service and the bottom line by the way we recruit and develop our talent. I was keen to understand the impact of not having female leadership in my business and what I can do over the next 12 months to help move our business forward.”
“The speakers were excellent and their primary focus wasn’t about your need for females in leadership positions, it was about why you need to have females in leadership positions if you are going to move your business forward.”
However, Sakhbir’s view is that having females in leadership positions needs to be a personal mission for every senior male:
“What I’m taking away from the Women In Leadership Forum is I, personally, need to spend time developing our female talent. Naturally some female employees don’t come to the table as aggressively as their male counterparts. I need to coach myself and my area managers to see past the bravado and look for the tangible qualities, skills and knowledge. What can a female manager bring that a male struggles with? How can that impact your business? How much of a role model is this person to my future talent pool? With all that in mind I also don’t want anyone promoted because of their gender or race, it has to be done on ability. Therefore I need to help develop our female Assistant Managers and Branch Managers so they push for these positions on ability and get promoted on merit to the next Area or Group Rental Manager position.”