How to connect, recognise and support employees during times of uncertainty: Navigating the coronavirus for HR leaders
I strongly identify as a feminist. I’m passionate about equality in all aspects of life and I’ve been incredibly lucky to find myself in a job where I’ve only ever been judged on the quality of the work I produce. That said, I spend a lot of my down time reading up on the equality issues that are capturing international attention; marriage equality, reproductive rights, the underrepresentation of minorities in the media, the gender pay gap, and even ‘mansplaining.’ The more time you spend thinking, reading and speaking about these issues, the more you notice them in your day-to-day life.
So when Reward Gateway’s April 2016 restructure was announced, when I read through all the great information provided I was looking at the reasoning behind decisions, the new teams, and the plans for FY17, but I also couldn’t help but notice that while some women had made great sideways moves, both the significant new hires and promotions had gone to men. Now I’ve never felt that I’ve been judged on anything but my ability to do my job at Reward Gateway, but the lack of women in tech management roles is such a hot topic at the moment, and if we’re aiming to be even more of a powerhouse company in just a few years, surely we want to be leading the way with social change while we do it, right?
We had been asked to submit any questions we had on an anonymous form that would be presented to Glenn at our staff conference, the Global Business Update (GBU), but I sat on it for a couple of days, unsure if this was the right forum to question our diversity direction. Besides, surely someone else would ask about something that will have such a huge impact on the way we grow and position ourselves as a company.
I was out about a week later with one of my wonderful female colleagues and the restructure questions came up. I mentioned my observations about women in leadership and she instantly encouraged me to Speak Up (one of our company values). I have to confess if it hadn’t been for that conversation I probably wouldn’t have said anything. But like so many other things in life if you don’t say something nothing will ever change.
I headed home and formulated my question as best I could. I wanted to be firm, fair and open to conversation. I read it over a few times, hit submit and went to sleep with the smug satisfaction that I’d been rather clever.
Time for more honesty: I woke up with entirely different questions running through my head; What if I’d miscounted and we were actually more evenly split than I thought? What if it came across as rude? What if this was too much Speaking Up? Issues around gender and diversity often elicit very passionate responses and perhaps this wasn’t the right forum to begin this conversation? Even though there was nothing I could do to take it back, there were many times over the next week or so when I wished I perhaps hadn’t spoken with quite so much candor.
On GBU day I filed into my seat with all my peers with more than a little apprehension. Liam Jones, one of our content editors, would be interviewing Glenn on stage using the submitted anonymous questions. Question time rolled around. Liam read through his list; questions about reporting lines, the information cycle, figures and targets, and then…
“The new restructure means that the percentage of leadership and senior management roles held by women has reduced to a figure that, while higher than the industry standard, is not even close to being representative of our general demographic split. What is your opinion of the number of women represent in leadership roles at RG, and has there been any consideration given to this in our expansion plans?”
For a moment it felt like my worries were being confirmed; to my ears it did indeed sound pretty harsh, people were whispering, it felt like surely I must have crossed the line for what’s appropriate to ask your CEO in front of 300 odd colleagues.
But then something wonderful happened; Glenn started talking. Yes, he was clearly surprised. I could tell that while he was clearly very au fait with the happenings of our company and had up to date figures about our wider gender split, our wonderful CEO who has only ever hired on merit had simply never sat down and done the maths on gender split in management. And yet for all this thorny question came pretty left of field, Glenn was far from upset. The response was open, curious, eager and above all wonderfully honest. He didn’t have the answers but he would find out, and not only about gender but about ethnicity and religion as well.
Over the following weeks I watched with growing pride as information started feeding through about our diversity audit. It had started, we were using tech giants like Google and Atlassian as a guide, it was coming next week, and finally- it was here. The morning we received the notification that the report was up on the Reward Gateway SmartHub® felt almost surreal. It was so thorough. There was the proof in black and white that while we were doing better than other tech companies we still had a long way to go in all aspects of our diversity. And it went further, committing to put in place a peer-reviewed diversity statement and a leadership plan of how we’ll encourage more diversity in teams that have been shown not to represent us as a whole. It was a big, heartfelt statement covered in Glenn’s characteristic honesty, and I helped it happen. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Of course the story doesn't end there. If Glenn and the leadership team were going to put their neck on the line by opening the doors on our diversity, surely I should have the courage to do the same. Again the final push came from a colleague, the same one in fact who helped me speak up in the first place. Of course she reasoned Glenn would want the chance to speak with me about it, and of course she was right. His reaction was wonderful and understanding and he immediately accepted my offer to be involved in the future of the diversity project.
It was really important to me to be able to share the story of why I spoke up, and why this project has been so incredibly meaningful to me. There have been many times over the past three years when I’ve been proud to work for Reward Gateway, but this experience tops them all. My company cares about my opinion. It cares about its people. It cares about its legacy. It cares.