The business case for diversity

Sky at Top Employer Awards

Working Mums - Top Employer Awards 2016 at the Soho Hotel

What makes a top employer? Sky, which recently won’s Overall Top Employer Award and its Career Progression Award, impressed the judge because of the strong evidence it showed for its support for diversity.  The judges said: “The commitment to diversity came from the top down and the bottom up. It offered family friendly and flexible working, it had parenting networks, family support packages and backed up all its initiatives and policies with strong data.  It was a truly worthy winner.”

Under its Women in Leadership initiative [WIL], the company has a 50% target for females in senior management positions. Since the initiative, which includes 50/50 male/female shortlists, a sponsorship scheme and  networking events, came in the figures show that it is making progress towards its goal: in the last 20 months the number of female senior managers have risen from 31% to 38%.

The WIL initiative started in 2014 and is led by the CEO with an Executive Business sponsor along with HR support. Indeed the CEO and senior executives host a bi-annual conference which aims to get business-wide ownership of the initiative.

Sky has invested significant budget into the Women in Leadership programme and Shivani Uberoi, Head of Women in Leadership at Sky, says the company intends to continue to support it.  “At the heart was the business case for diversity,” she says. “We found ourselves in a position where we faced more competition than before from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, competition that is very innovative. We had to continue to be innovative and diversity was very important in this regard.”

She says Sky, which has over £30K employees in the UK and Ireland, sees itself as a technology company now rather than a media one. That means it is competing with some of the big tech companies which tend to have had a technology-driven flexible culture from their early days. Sky has only recently moved from being a traditional media company to becoming a tech competitor so has had to adapt it culture. “Culture change takes time,” says Shivani. It is about people adapting the way they work, about senior buy-in and senior executives making flexible working a business priority. “It needs engagement across the board, especially at management level.”

Sky says it encourages all staff to work smartly, doing the hours and working in the location that suits them. It has just opened Sky Central, a new building in London for 3,500 of its staff with 30% fewer desks and where all desks are hot desks. “The aim is to encourage a culture of agile working and to create a more agile mindset,” says Shivani. She adds that role models are important in shifting culture, saying senior leaders are ‘walking the talk’ on smart working, for example, the CEO works from home on Fridays. The company also shares case studies on the intranet of staff who work part time and provides support to line managers about managing remote workers. Agile working is an ongoing priority, says Shivani. “We want to make sure the momentum is not lost and that it is working for everyone,” she says.

From shortlists to local action plans

Shivani says that the increase in senior female managers since the WIL initiative started shows that it is working and she singles out 50/50 shortlists as being particularly effective. “It is the key thing that makes the initiative sustainable in different areas of the business,” she says.

Sky has been monitoring its recruitment statistics and says there has been a 30-45% increase in women applying to the company since the WIL came in. In addition to getting feedback from candidates on the company’s diversity messages, Shivani has been working with the company’s recruitment agencies to look in detail at every stage of the recruitment process to see if there are any areas they can improve.

They found, for instance, that more women than men were rejecting roles once they were offered them. “We thought there must be something in the recruitment process which was putting women off so we looked at it,” says Shivani. They found that at assessment days all the assessors were men so they took action and ensured panels were 50% female. They have also worked with their recruitment agencies to ensure the language they use in job adverts is attractive to both men and women.

Shivani is also working to make sure every area of the business to take ownership and accountability of the WIL initiative. “It needs to become part of the DNA of every department,” she says. Over the next six months, she is working on spreading the initiative to all parts of the business and is creating local action plans which take account of the different challenges some areas of the business face. For instance, in IT the focus is on attracting more women into the department, including outreach to schools and universities and promoting female role models, whereas in other areas it might be more about career progression.

Sky has, for instance, set up a Get into Tech initiative which is a free training course where women with little or no previous technical experience can learn some of the skills necessary to begin a career in software development. It is looking to expand the numbers of women who can take part in the initiative next year and to increase the focus from coding to engineering. “We want to change perceptions about engineering more broadly and this will be a great start,” says Shivani.


As part of the Women in Leadership initiative, Sky also runs a sponsorship programme for 223 high potential women who are matched with a senior sponsor. Each executive area puts its highest potential women forward from all levels. The programme lasts a year and includes a self-confidence development session, a networking session and a speed networking session where women get five minutes with a number of executive level sponsors. There is also a focus on thinking strategically across the business. “It is one of the areas women are reluctant to go in as it means moving outside the comfort zone of their own area,” says Shivani. “The aim is to build their confidence and to set them up for success.” She adds that it is similar to women’s reluctance to apply for roles unless they tick all the boxes on the job specification.

The aim of the sponsorship programme is for the relationship with the sponsor to be ongoing after the programme finishes and that it will become part of participants’ natural networking and development. Sponsors advocate for the sponsees, advise them on how to develop their skills so they can progress their careers, advise on presentation skills and help build their profile with senior executives.

There is also a virtuous circle element to the scheme. The most senior business women in the company are encouraged to sponsor those who are at a more junior level – over 100 women are now ‘paying it forward’. “The aim is to pass on the value of the sponsorship scheme to the next level down,” says Shivani. “When you are at a junior level you tend to focus more on doing your job, but it is important to build sponsors, mentors and a network. You have to do it from the beginning and it needs to become part of your working day so that it is in place when, for instance, you return from maternity leave.”

Being on maternity leave or pregnant does not exclude women from going on the programme. Approximately 20% of those on the sponsorship programme are on maternity leave or about to go on maternity leave. Sky says this shows its commitment to supporting women at all stages of their career.

The sponsorship scheme is assessed and evaluated by HR and Shivani says 43% of women on the pilot wave progressed after 12 months, upwards or sideways. Moreover, 78% of women surveyed six months into it believed being on the scheme would benefit their career and 65% of those surveyed said would take a role outside of their comfort zone as direct result of being on it.

The company also hosts bi-monthly events for women, where inspiring external speakers share insights about their career journeys and personal development as well as role model lunches hosted by its most senior women. In addition, there is an intranet site with TED talks, articles and links to development courses on it and women’s networks were set up in Finance, Sport, Technology. Those areas were targeted initially because they tend to be more male-dominated. The company is looking to create an overarching women’s network while maintaining the ones for individual areas, given the specific challenges they face. In addition to the events and networks, at least two stories a month on Sky’s main intranet pages promote the women in leadership messages.

Unconscious bias training and networks

Sky also offers unconscious bias training to hiring and line managers and says it will refresh the training every six months to ensure an awareness of subjective bias is at the forefront of their minds. The unconscious bias training has been expanded in recent months to include face to face workshops for those working in more male-dominated areas of the business.

For parents, Sky has its Parents@Sky network, which was formed by 15 parents and has 1,500 members, 40% of them dads. Initially the network, which started around four years ago, was dominated by women, but there was a concerted push to get more dads on board and the network is now co-chaired by a dad and a mum. It puts on webinars and events for working parents and Sky provides maternity/paternity workshops to help working parents balance work and family. These take place before leave, during and after maternity/paternity leave. Line managers are encouraged to have conversations with staff going on leave.

There are also parent case studies of parents doing different working patterns on the intranet site and a ‘buddy’ scheme aims to pair parents up to share their experiences and worries and to provide support.

Shivani says recognition for the work it is doing for women’s career progression through awards like the Top Employer Award help to get the message out that it is a company that is committed to diversity.

“A diverse workforce brings more ideas,” she says. “Women are one part of that more diverse workforce and they make up half of our customers too. The business case is clear.”

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