Daniel Birtwistle

Daniel Birtwistle


Leanne Wallser

Leanne Wallser


Caroline Harbord

Caroline Harbord

Senior Associate

Shifting the dial: Creating a more balanced workforce for Jersey

[Dynamic date]

07 March 2019

At the end of 2018, Mourant and RBC Wealth Management collaborated to stage a roundtable event focused on shifting the dial on gender balance. We're publishing this in the run up to International Women’s Day 2019, with its theme of ‘Balance for Better’: the discussion brought together professionals from leading Jersey businesses including EY, HSBC, Jersey Finance, Jersey Financial Services Commission, Praxis IFM and PwC. 

Inspired by the need to increase the number of women in senior roles in Jersey, at a time when more women than ever are on the boards of the UK’s largest companies, attendees considered successful initiatives that are already working and new ideas that may hasten the pace of change. The most recent report by the government’s Hampton-Alexander Review showed that, while the number of women on boards has increased to 25.5% in FTSE 350 companies, around 40% of all appointments need to go to women in the next two years if the FTSE 350 is to achieve the 33% target it has been set.

While progress is clearly being made, there is plenty more to be done. Those present at the roundtable highlighted their own positive experiences of conscious sponsorship, coaching and mentoring interventions, while calling for an acceleration of change to be driven by more deliberate efforts to identify, support and even prioritise high-potential female talent.

This article highlights the five key ideas put forward at the roundtable to accelerate the shifting of the dial in Jersey.

Providing confidence-boosting experiences

One of the primary issues identified was the need to support women more proactively with career progression. Evidence shows that women do not necessarily step forward as readily as men, with the result that women at the mid-point in their careers can struggle to get noticed. A number of the participants identified the need to provide confidence-boosting experiences to women working their way up to senior levels.

Felicia de Laat, Mourant Jersey Head of Funds, said: “Men naturally seem to get leadership projects or ask for them. We need to create opportunities for women to take even short-term roles that enhance their leadership capabilities.”

Leanne Wallser, Counsel at Mourant, added: “I would take it to the level of allowing women who are coming up through the ranks to have one-to-ones with the CEO. I’d give them some air time. Once they’ve had time to discuss any concerns or frustrations with a coach or someone independent , I would put them with the CEO and give them half an hour over coffee to discuss leadership, how to make it work for them and how we can keep them in the business.”

Tracy Garrad, former Chief Executive of HSBC Channel Islands and Isle of Man, said: “Often women have been afraid to ask, and instead they have waited for something to be delivered as an intervention, whereas men ask. For high-potential, highly-capable women, it may be that we need more of a framework in place for delivering to them, rather than waiting for them to seek it out.”

 When considering the initiatives that are already working and have made a positive impact on the careers of those present, Caroline Harbord, Senior Associate at Mourant, spoke of the impact of coaching on her career: “For me, it was a career-shifting moment when I was allocated a careers coach to work with throughout my pregnancy, maternity leave, and first six months back,” she said. “It was quite a bespoke intervention, which really helped me figure out a way to have a practice as a busy litigator and be the type of mum I wanted to be. I didn’t have any role models, so being able to draw on a coach who had worked with numerous successful business women was really critical for my career going forward.”

Deliberate and conscious sponsorship of women

More deliberate and conscious sponsorship of female talent was highlighted by those present as being an intervention that has a positive impact, and that firms should prioritise going forward.

Daniel Birtwistle, Jersey Managing Partner at Mourant remarked that leaders play a pivotal role in establishing these formal programmes within their organisations, something that Sara Jane Kempster, Director at RBC Wealth Management, agreed with: "I think it's up to us to design mentoring or sponsorship programmes and provide these opportunities to both women and men – it's going to take a societal shift." 

Pippa Davidson, Managing Director at Praxis Fund Services in Jersey and Founder of the Jersey Lean In Circle, explained that one of Lean In's main initiatives has been the setting up of a mentoring plan, so that anyone from graduate through to director-level can have access to a mentor.

Ann Marie Vibert, Managing Director at RBC Wealth Management, explained that sponsoring had a big impact for her: “I was very fortunate to be picked up by a sponsor who helped me and still, to this day, helps me in my career and gives me opportunities.” She said that securing a sponsor can be significant, but does require effort on the part of an individual: “To be that person that people sponsor requires you to be good at your job,” said Ann Marie, “and you need to be recognised as putting in the extra time, going the extra mile and being forward in your thinking.”

Wendy Martin, Head of Tax, Channel Islands, at EY, explained that she had a really positive experience of a very targeted intervention: "I went to EY as a Director, always wanting to make partner, and fairly early on they asked me to attend a course on maximising my potential as a female leader. I really didn’t want to get involved in that sort of programme, but actually it was the best thing I have ever done. It was an opportunity – taking three days out of the workplace, focusing on yourself and really thinking about your strong points and how to get those across.”

Sponsorship and other proactive support can be required at many points throughout a woman’s career. Elvina Aghajanyan, Head of HR, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, at HSBC, explained: “One thing we need to think about is how we are integrating women who are coming back from maternity leave. This is nothing bold, but how much effort is really being made to help them integrate, because they have fallen behind and need a hand for a temporary period so that they can blossom again.”

Camilla, Fox, Director at RBC Wealth Management added that women need support throughout their careers, noting that "We rightly talk about supporting women on return from maternity, but what about during the menopause? It can often be this stage of a women's career when we're ready to move up to an executive role but experience a loss in confidence". It was agreed that sponsorship programmes which can be called upon to provide support at these key times make a real difference.

A more robust approach to succession planning

Alongside sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and career development programmes, the roundtable identified a need for a much more long-term, structured and robust approach to succession planning on behalf of organisations, to ensure that the able, rather than the bold, are the ones that advance and benefit from succession planning.

Leyla Yildrim, Chief Strategy Officer, Channel Islands, at PwC commented: “The way it works now is the person who is vacating the role, who is usually a male, has his own shortlist of people who should be the successor and they are usually quite similar to him. We need an intervention where we are taking a much more long-term view, managing that process and doing all the things possible to accelerate high-potential females to be ready for those roles.”

Jill Britton, Director of Supervision at the Jersey Financial Services Commission, added: “Women want the opportunities of different projects to be involved with, they want the promotions.” Rhea Munro, Associate Director at RBC Wealth Management, highlighted the importance of ensuring those at the start of the career realise their potential: "I think it's really important that leaders engage with young people so they know they can strive for the job they want and not lose sight of it." The consensus was that businesses need to work harder to identify and support women to achieve them.

Rewiring the business

Several participants highlighted the need for a much more cultural shift within organisations if gender balance is to be achieved. This means putting a lens through every aspect of a business’s activities and introducing the need for diversity into many more day-to-day conversations.

Leyla Yildirim at PwC gave the following example: “We had a big recruitment drive for one of our businesses, and we knew we had this awful track record of bringing in experienced hires that were female, which we set out to address,” she told the group. “The only way to change that is by looking, with a microscope, at every phase of the process. Who has written the job description? Who is vetting the CVs? We even paid additional commission to the headhunter for every female that we hired.”

Mike Byrne, Partner at PwC, added: “We get feedback that sometimes the job we sell sounds a bit ‘macho’ or a bit ‘blokey’ – it doesn’t sound neutral. If you've already built your bias in before the application, it's no good then going neutral and taking names etc off forms. We have looked at things from front to back to make sure there is no bias from the outset.”

Carla Benest, Partner at Mourant, pointed out that organisations often need to consider policies that go above and beyond the requirements set out in law, to ensure they are genuinely offering parity: “The employment law change has made it so that it's equal for men and women to take paternity leave going forward, but I'm not sure organisations will take that on board,” she said. “Many organisations offer enhanced levels of leave and pay over what the statute requires, but they don’t necessarily do that across both genders. Until you do, how can you possibly say that you are encouraging parity, because if you're not actively encouraging men to take the same amount of leave as women then they're probably not going to take it."

David Bailey, Chief Financial Officer at RBC Wealth Management, said: “We have put in matching paternity cover and maternity cover and that could really change things. We've also changed our policy around flexible working, and I'm starting to see that encourage people to have a different attitude around what it means to deliver on their job.”

Targets, metrics and accountability

Finally, there was appetite in the room for more accountability in this area, with a feeling that it may now be time to introduce gender balance targets and KPIs into businesses in Jersey, as a means of radically overhauling the pace of change.

Tracy Garrad, formerly of HSBC, added: “Five years ago, you would never have heard me say that I was in favour of quotas but now, as a temporary, interruptive measure, to make a dramatic change quickly, I think quotas are an answer. People say that the women are not out there. Frankly, the women are out there but the search firms and chief executives just need to look in slightly different places and perhaps make a little bit more effort to find them.”

There is some evidence that – as the saying goes – ‘what gets measured, gets managed’, and that the introduction of publicised and reported targets has a role to play in increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles. The UK government has so far shied away from compulsory quotas at FTSE boardroom level, though this has been done in other countries, and has instead published targets in the hope that doing so will move the issue up management’s agenda and speed up progress.

There is no easy answer and decisive change will clearly require bold ideas and leadership. As Lisa Springate, Head of Technical at Jersey Finance, concluded: “There are steps being taken in the law firms and in other companies to bring in more diversity programmes, but how long is it going to take? If we are really going to shift the dial, we will have to look at more radical measures.”

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