Karen Govier of outsourcing company Mitie talks to Workingmums.co.uk about her recent Opportunity Now award for Excellence in Practice.
Karen Govier, Group Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Mitie, was recently awarded the Directing Diverse Talent award, as part of this year’s Opportunity Now Excellence in Practice Awards.
The award is a collaboration between Opportunity Now and the CIPD to recognise “an exceptional HR director or senior HR practitioner who has demonstrated a real commitment to inclusive management of talent”.
The judges praised Karen for her “exceptional drive and commitment” and said she had been “instrumental in working with clients to drive gender balance and support and explore their diversity agendas”.
Karen was recognised for her work in a range of areas, including outreach and her role in setting up the strategic outsourcing company’s burgeoning women’s network.
The women’s network has only been going since October and was launched following the work of the Women’s Business Council, which Mitie’s CEO Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE chairs. At the launch event in London, McGregor-Smith gave a speech and external guest speakers spoke about issues such as how women can build the confidence to go for promotions, why they are reluctant to apply for jobs if they don’t have all the listed skills and the differences between men and women around networking. Other sessions have covered areas like childcare and flexible working. Mitie is a founding member of the Agile Futures Forum, a network of businesses that promotes the business benefits of smart working. The next women’s network session is at the end of the month and will focus on business resilience.
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One of the reasons Mitie has not set up a network before is that many of its employees work on client sites and often absorb the culture where they are working. “If clients have women’s networks our employees are often active in them,” says Karen.
She says the new network is already a powerful force. Some six per cent of its more than 250 members are men and it aspires to a 10% male membership. Karen says encouraging men to lean in more at home is something the organisation is increasingly interested in, for instance, its energy management arm is in the process of researching how fathers feel about work life balance issues. “It’s an area that is evolving,” says Karen.
Mitie, whose work covers everything from blue chip clients like Vodafone to caring for people in their homes, has also been working with Opportunity Now on women’s career progression as part of its Project 28-40 and hosted one of its recent focus group workshops focusing on women over 40. The feedback was interesting, says Karen. Women were keen to be good role models for their children. They were also clear that it was a lot more acceptable nowadays to visibly be a woman manager rather than aping male leadership models. Karen says that ideas about leadership have changed dramatically in the last 15 to 20 years. Leadership is no longer top down, but about forming groups and committees. “You can be a leader who is part of a team. This tends to be more acceptable to women and plays to their strengths,” she says.
Mitie is currently looking at how it will approach the Opportunity Now research.
The company is keen to retain senior women and has a good maternity coaching scheme for senior female talent which is managed by My Family Care. It prepares women and their managers for the maternity leave period and their return and allows them the space to talk about the issues that they might be concerned about. It is not offered to all staff as its main purpose is retaining key talent. “It’s a value investment,” says Karen, citing the case of a senior female manager who was promoted to the board within three months of her return from maternity leave.
Mitie is also keen to do more work on carers and has organised roundtables with Business in the Community around intergenerational work issues. “There’s a lot of focus on maternity returners and parents,” says Karen. “But we also need to focus on the ‘sandwich effect’ of parents who are also carers of elderly relatives and on people who are nearing retirement. A lot of people we employ, particularly in domiciliary care, are over 65.”
In addition to the work Mitie does internally on women’s career progression, it also does outreach work with schools challenging perceptions about women working in fields like engineering and about men working in the care industry. It also partners with Working Knowledge, a social enterprise that creates chances for young people to open doors into employment. This involves going into sixth form colleges and talking to girls about being entrepreneurial and acting as Dragon’s Den type experts advising them on their business ideas. In addition, Mitie runs an awards scheme for female apprentices to showcase what they do.
Mitie has submitted its statistics on gender to Opportunity Now for benchmarking and has won three silver and one bronze commendation. “We are prepared to wash our linen in public,” says Karen. “We want to be brave and to say these are the challenges we are facing. There is a good business case too – we know if we work on diversity we will win business from like-minded clients. We will also attract and retain the best talent so it is helping the business to get better and stronger and to improve our brand as well as being ethical and the right thing to do.”
Mitie has built on this by allowing staff to nominate themselves or to be nominated to be diversity champions. They can do this for their own personal development and can gain a qualification in diversity through the Institute of Leadership and Management. There are over 60 diversity champions in the business so far, Some have personal reasons for becoming champions, for instance, they might have a disability. They build an interest in diversity from the grassroots up, supported from the top by the senior leadership team.
Karen says that there is strong evidence that Mitie’s diversity strategy is paying off in terms of the calibre of graduates the firm is attracting. “They are looking at what makes us different. Diversity is always top of what makes them apply to us. It’s a real winner and a measure of how powerful this area is.”