The Royal Mail is changing. Although it continues to be dominated by postmen rather than women and although only one of its 10 board members are women, there are a growing number of senior women moving up the ranks, says Julie Welch, Director of Human Resources - Commercial and Central Functions.
She cites her own case as evidence. Julie, a mother of children aged 14 and 12, has been working at the company for almost three years. Although she is now working full time, she says that when the children were small and she worked for Sainsbury’s she worked part time. In some ways, she admits, the demands of her children are greater now than when they were small, for instance, they need more coaching with homework. She says that for this reason she is pleased with the amount of flexibility she has in her job.
“Being in a leadership position,” she says, “does bring elements of freedom to manage my own time.” She does the school drop-off one day a week, arriving at work slightly later than on other days and tries to leave the office at 5pm one day a week in order to have a long evening with the family. Some weeks she has a work from home morning or day. She says working from home can work well if she has strategic planning to do.
The flexibility is mutual as she sometimes has to be away from home overnight for business. In that case, her husband looks after the children.
Julie has six people in her team, five of whom are full time and one of whom does a four-day week. All are in management positions and have the freedom to be able to work from home on occasion. “It’s about trust,” says Julie, adding that this flexibility is managed through creating a strong team identity. There are formal one to one meetings every month as well as a monthly team meeting.
Julie says part-time and more flexible working options are being promoted across the organisation. For example, managers have developed a Flexible Working Toolkit, which provides a wide choice of shifts and work times, and a Flexible Working Guide. It is also developing job sharing and part-time work opportunities across a range of managerial operational roles in two test sites. The organisation aims to achieve 10% of management jobs in two work locations on less than full time hours and to promote a career structure which allows those not working traditional hours to progress.
Career progress is encouraged through regular review. Julie says that every six months staff have a review process to look over targets, discuss what is happening and set out a development plan for the future. “We ask colleagues what areas they want to broaden in and if they need training we will look at this,” says Julie. The review process assesses their performance and their potential to see whether they are the right level of seniority for their ability. “We like to do succession planning quite far in advance,” says Julie.
She says several managers have trained as coaches and this helps them to be able to identify ways to nurture future managers.
The Royal Mail also has a Springboard scheme for women which focuses on the development of self-confidence, goal-setting and inter-personal skills. It concentrates on positive role models and provides a flexible support system and networking opportunities. The group also has a women’s networking group that invites both internal and external speakers to talk about their own personal journeys up the career ladder.
Books and material such as “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom” by Peninah Thomson, Jacey Graham, and Tom Lloydare are on offer for people to take away and read. “I find it hugely motivating to be able to chat to people and see the passion they have about their work and life choices,” says Julie. Several senior women managers act as mentors to other women. Positive case studies of women managers are put on the Royal Mail intranet. The organisation also has a Gender Steering Group chaired by a senior female manager which meets quarterly.
Although Julie admits that like other organisations many board members now may be recruited externally, she says that the organisation is trying to grow its own female power base. “It’s all about creating a pipeline of talent,” she says.