Top Employers Awards – full report

Employers need to do more to advertise new flexible roles if working mums are not to be limited to the flexible jobs they already have through negotiations after maternity leave or forced to stay at home, Gillian Nissim, founder of told the Top Employer Awards yesterday.

Nissim said the need for new flexible roles was the reason one of the newest Awards was about Talent Attraction.

Too many women were put off applying for jobs because they did not appear to offer the flexibility they needed, she added.

She emphasised, however, that important progress had been made this year on flexible working with the Olympics serving as a spur and praised the very strong shortlist for this year’s Awards, but said more had to be done to aid women’s career progression.

Nissim introduced keynote speaker Lynne Berry [pictured], Deputy Chair of the new Waterways Charity and a former head of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Berry said lack of flexible working, unequal pay and lack of decision-making power in the boardroom were the three main challenges facing women in the workplace.

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She said flexible working was the key to making work life balance possible for working parents and carers.

She added that transparency on pay was also vital for women. Forty years after the Equal Pay Act there was still a 14.9% pay gap between men and women. The situation would not change unless people knew what their colleagues were earning. She hoped that the recent equal pay case against Birmingham City Council would signal a major change on equal pay. “Employers need to take equal pay seriously,” she stated.

She cited a recent report from the Chartered Management Institute which showed that the pay gap at top management level was even worse than the average and that women at senior level were more likely to be made redundant than men.

“Women are paid less and are more insecure in their jobs than men even when they get to the top,” she said, adding that it was vital women had a role in decision-making and that boardroom diversity was good for business.

Berry has been involved in a recent Cass Business School initiative to look at whether women from leading voluntary organisations, such as Oxfam, could make it onto corporate boards as a way of increasing diversity.

She said some “really exciting conversations” were beginning as a result of the initiative. “It is opening eyes and doors,” she stated. However, she said one director had dismissed a woman with vast experience in managing a huge organisation saying it was “just a bit of charity work”. “That is worrying and shows the blocks to diversity that are still there,” said Berry.

Berry was speaking just before the announcement of the winners of the Top Employer Awards 2012, the third annual awards ceremony.

Q & A

The winners ceremony was followed by a Q & A session with Award judges Andy Lake, Editor of, Jennifer Liston-Smith, Director of Coaching & Consultancy at My Family Care, David Dunbar, Head of BT Flexible Working Services, Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organisation at Cranfield University as well as Lynne Berry, Carole Donaldson resourcing manager of last year’s Top Employer Overall winner John Lewis Partnership and Melanie Forbes of Carlisle Managed Solutions, which sponsored the session.

It touched on a range of issues, from quotas to how to build a flexible working culture. Berry spoke of the need for companies to promote flexible workers and for the leadership team to show leadership in flexible working by themselves working flexibly. Melanie Forbes said it was important to establish a culture of trust and transparency. Clare Kelliher said the true test of flexible working was when it became the norm. “Flexible working is successful when it is no longer used in exceptional circumstances and people and organisations come together to come up with arrangements that suit everyone’s needs,” she said.

The panel, chaired by Jennifer Liston Smith, were asked what could be done to encourage employers to advertise new flexible jobs. Andy Lake said this was a challenge. He had dealt with employers who said roles couldn’t be done flexibly then when they were challenged about the tasks that made up the job and saw that they could shuffle things around so the job could be done flexibly they accepted someone doing the job in that way. However, when that person left the organisation the tendency was to advertise the job as a traditional 9-5 one. “The challenge is to keep flexible work going,” he said.

Zoe Lewis, UKI Human Capital Strategy and Diversity Lead at Accenture, asked what else mums and dads needed besides flexible working. Carole Donaldson said organisations should ensure flexible workers’ benefits were similar to other workers so that meant access to training that fit their flexible work patterns. Dave Dunbar spoke of the need for stability and profile for flexible workers. He mentioned the importance of social media, for instance, blogs, as a way that staff could raise their profile.

Lynne Berry talked of the “power of stories” – telling staff and others how other people had managed their career while raising children.

A spokeswoman for Barclays, which won the Family Support Award, said role models, especially male role models, were vital for promoting flexible working as well as employee networks. Having top managers involved in promoting family support and events linked to that was very important. Barclays holds virtual sessions giving family support which allow people to share good practice and their own stories. Tonight they are holding an event on adoptive parents which includes a dad who took a year’s career break when he adopted his son.

A spokeswoman for Unilever backed the importance of sharing stories via the company intranet. It has a job share at director level in marketing and the two people involved have been talking about how they make it work.


There was an interest in how smaller employers make flexible working work for them. Alice Carty from Martin Carty Gardening, which won the SME Award for smaller companies, said that the company had devised a flexible working approach as a question of necessity because Martin had to work around her shifts. Gardening also has a high turnover so the company wanted to work on retention. By offering annualised hours and reviewing hours every six months they had managed to increase their turnover by 20% each year and had got staff to stay with them.

Andy Lake said it was when companies grew slightly larger that there tended to be more resistance to flexible working. “Where the personal relationship between staff disappears is where the command and control model tends to come in,” he said.

Panel members were asked how to argue the case for flexible working in today’s insecure working climate. They recommended making a strong business case. “Convince them before they can think of an argument against it,” said Carole Donaldson. Dave Dunbar counselled taking a sideways approach. “Ask them to make the case for why the job has to be done in a certain place at a certain time,” he said. He added that individuals who championed flexible working needed to link up. “Find someone else in your organisation to push for change. It’s down to individuals. Boards don’t change things; people do,” he said.

Lynne Berry added that it was important to be aware that some of the resistance to a changing work culture might be from employees not just managers.

The session concluded with a discussion about quotas. Lynne Berry said she felt there would not be serious change without quotas at board level. “They wouldn’t have to be in place for very long, but we have got to get to a position where having women on boards is regarded as the norm,” she said.

Melanie Forbes disagreed. She said she thought women wanted to be promoted on merit. “It’s important that women earn their right to those positions and that it is not just about ticking a box,” she said.

Berry replied that promotion to boards was not necessarily just on merit now. “There is not a level playing field now,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of white men on boards now because they happen to be friends with someone else,” she stated.

Dave Dunbar said he was against discrimination, even positive discrimination. Jennifer Liston Smith preferred “targets with teeth”. “A lot can be done under the threat of quotas,” she said.

Clare Kelliher said the evidence from research on countries which had quotas showed those countries had not suffered economically as a result. “The evidence suggests a convincing case in favour of quotas,” she stated.

The panel discussion was followed by a networking session, sponsored by sponsored by Unilever and Co-operative Employee Benefits, which allowed audience and speakers to share good practice.

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