Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jobs for the Girls

Now I am out of the rain, I thought I'd reproduce my Shifting Grounds piece on HR, women and politics here for your viewing pleasure.

Please do comment either here or over on the main site- I've had a great response to this piece and would love to hear from all sides of the debate. 

And do keep up to speed with all the other writers contributing to this fantastic site- it features voices from across the world of politics, making sense of what Westminster's decisions mean for businesses and individuals.


Traditionally, the world of Human Resources (such a cold expression) nee Personnel (not much better) has been considered womens’ domain.  In business we’re either portrayed as policy-driven, process-obsessed middle aged women in a closed office who tell you what you can’t do, or as mothers- supportive and nurturing of those in favour, punitive if you cross the line.

Men who have opted for a career in HR are often overlooked, or are considered somehow beyond it and into the realms of business advisors, coaches and mentors. It’s a shame. There are some brilliant, creative men in HR, such as Doug Shaw, Mervyn Dinnen, Michael Carty, Sukh Pabial and many others I will kick myself for not remembering to recognise as soon as I post this.
HR has undergone a revolution in recent years, with the perception of our profession being blown wide open in favour of remembering what we’re all about: the People.

The new voices in HR are positive, recognising the importance of engaged and collaborative teams, of living by strong values and preferring productive conversations over appraisal meetings. It’s friendlier, and more about practicalities than creating endless documents and memos that are rarely read or understood. Suddenly HR is a career choice for a wide range of people, rather than something many people end up doing by accident.

As both HR practitioner and political activist, I can’t help but note that as HR evolves to be more relevant to business and people (and how this is driven by both genders) we have seen a changing role for women in politics. Currently, more Shadow Cabinet posts are held by women than ever before.

So how about our Cabinet? There’s precious little diversity at all, even before you consider there are half as many women as in the Shadow Cabinet. It’s disappointing when you consider that the Conservative Party saw more of its female candidates elected than ever before in 2010, while Labour has seen its number decline from the 1997 high of 101 female MPs. Of course this reflects changing electoral fortunes, too- but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Meanwhile in business, the statistics around female Managing Directors or CEOs and the number of HR professionals on boards are grim reading, with only two women heading up FTSE 100 companies at time of writing, and a poorer picture still for HR, despite our accepted purpose of establishing connections with people at every level of our organisations.

So what would I do about it? Well, jockeying women into positions to fulfil some sort of target isn’t healthy for anyone, least of all the women involved.

We've recently seen an EU proposal that would see companies compelled to ensure 40% of board members are female. I have mixed feelings on this. While there is certainly a need to see more women on boards, there’s often little to be achieved in crowbarring people in to roles to fulfil an imposed obligation. A board position- like any promotion- should be awarded on the basis of ability, not gender. 
There’s a risk of boards becoming bloated, with women promoted into non-executive positions to meet the target and fake a commitment to equality- but with the key decisions retained by the existing (male) board members. So in effect, you have women who look to hold positions of responsibility, but with little say in how things really get done. Trust me when I tell you: that’s frustrating, and you often feel more disrespected than if you’d been left off the list all together.

But if working in a male-dominated world, how does a woman make her abilities known, and gain recognition?

I would suggest that perhaps better talent identification holds the key. Business owners should present challenges that will enable problem solvers of both genders to show their abilities. They should hold conversations about personal goals that count instead of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?” Business leaders- and not just HR- must allow employees equal time, opportunity and space to shine in order to learn what their people are really good at. If they do this they can develop them well, foster loyalty and get the most value from them. 

It often requires a drastic change in culture, which sadly doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s not an excuse not to start. If you create a space where women and men can flourish, natural abilities will come to the fore and leaders will make themselves known.
So yes, women need to be board members and Ministers, but let’s ensure they are given the opportunities and resources needed to win their place in the same way as their male colleagues. Let’s identify the talent. Let’s prepare them, coach them and position them in such a way that a seat at the table is the natural progression, not something that’s done to tick a box.

In the same way, I don’t fully support the Labour Party’s use of All-Women Shortlists (AWS) when selecting candidates. This Party already has the strongest track record of all Parties in promoting the role of women in politics- but even that could be drastically improved.

There is too high a concentration of women in the UK in minimum wage and often part-time jobs. They often have familial responsibilities or are politically disengaged, but are usually painfully aware of the impact that decisions made in Westminster have on working people. These are the women we should be encouraging into politics, and as yet I see no evidence that AWS has done that.

I don’t advocate dropping AWS all together, but I would venture that it could be improved enormously if the shortlists included employees of ASDA and the cafe at the local garden centre as well as the University educated women in higher-paid jobs. For me, there’s a need for local politicians as well as national ones to connect with community groups, where women’s talents often shine and candidates may be identified.

With turnouts falling and an increasing disillusionment with politics and politicians, there’s a real need for all parties to select candidates that look like the communities they represent- whether that’s working class, black, white, gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, women, men, mums and dads- or any combination of the above. 

Let’s make “They’re all the same” something we heard in the dark years post-expenses scandal, before we saw sense and made aspiring representatives of the people representative of the people.

So, from this HR practitioner’s perspective (from her desk amongst the people she works with and for) it doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics or HR: it’s about People, fairness and equality of opportunity- for everyone.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Shifting Grounds and a rainy London!

Forgive the lack of the usual clever gadgetry as I'm posting this from my phone in the rain in Holborn- its quite fun to be doing this update on the fly! 

I've been lucky enough to be invited to contribute to Shifting Grounds Women's Week and the piece I wrote on HR, women and politics appeared today.

I thought there'd be a few boats rocked but I've been thrilled with the feedback so far, and would love to hear from you too. What do you think?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Blogging news

I've been asked by a good friend and someone I greatly admire, Emma Burnell, to contribute a piece for her upcoming takeover of the the Shifting Grounds site. No remit, no brief, other than 'maybe something about women, HR and politics.' She then set me loose...

I won't pre-empt either the appearance of it or Emma's decision to use it or not (and it really is OK if you don't, Em) but I will post a little teaser:

"HR has undergone a revolution in recent years, with the perception of our profession being blown wide open in favour of remembering what we’re all about: the People."

Politicos- take note. I'm comin' for you.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Politics and people

It's been a very active week in the increasingly heady world of employment and politics, with Nick Clegg's announcement on the extension of flexible working and parental leave and good news on the unemployment front.

We've also seen a proposal from the EU that would see companies compelled to fulfil a quota and ensure 40% of board members are female. I have very mixed feelings on this. While there is a desperate need to see more women on the boards of their businesses, I am not a fan of having anyone there to fulfil some imposed obligation. A board position- or any promotion- should be awarded on the basis of ability, not gender. 

I do fear that boards will become bloated with women being promoted into non-executive positions to meet the target and make the company appear to have a commitment to equality of opportunity- but with key decisions retained by the existing board members.

Bias cut

On a similar tack, there's been trouble for the Labour Party in Rotherham this week over their selction of a 'non-local' female candidate to contest a forthcoming by election brought about by the resignation of the sitting MP (and rightly so.) Many oppose the chosen candidate so strongly that they walked out of the selection hearing. The official reason is the fact they clearly had a more 'local' person in mind, but some are blaming the party's policy of adopting all-women shortlists when selecting a candidate to contest certain seats. That wasn't the case in Rotherham, but it hasn't stopped people darkly whispering about and criticising the initiative. 

Sometimes, giving women the advantage just isn't playing fair by anyone- including the women in question.

I have a badge jokingy gifted to me by a friend who knows better. It reads: "Behind every successful woman is a man who tried to stop her." I believe the far bigger problem are the people who pushed her forward when she wasn't the best person for the job.

Thank you

One political person I would like to give an enormous vote of thanks to this week is London MEP Claude Moraes, whose guidance through the minefield of UK-Polish employment law has been invaluable. If MEPs were all as accessible and helpful as Claude, I suspect we in the UK would have a very different view of Europe and our role.

Engaged? More like hung up...

In the week when the Government launched Engage For Success, aiming to promote employee engagement and greater working relationships, its clear there's a big problem with another kind of engagement- and it's one for the politicians to address urgently. The 41 areas electing a Police and Crime Commissioner for the first time reported 0% turnout at some polling stations, and turnout as low as 12% in some areas. The by election in Manchester Central saw the lowest turnout since the Second World War- despite being held to elect a new MP for a traditionally politically active area. The voter apathy on display goes beyond the reluctance to venture out to vote on a chilly November day/ evening- it highlights several issues with how connections are not being established- and it's hard not to draw parallels with what we can see in some businesses.

Just as people have given various reasons for either not bothering to vote or spoiling their ballot paper and the politicians should be worrying, we in business should use this opportunity to consider why employees refuse to connect, contribute, or indulge in protest.

Lack of information

Providing poor information (or no information in the case of many areas electing PCCs) has resulted in many not bothering. Why should they back someone they know nothing about? Why would employees back an initiative they've not been properly informed of? Why would they feel a connection if they feel data is being held back, and they are not trusted to analyse it and make an informed decision?

They're all the same

New ideas (and new managers) are too often greeted with groans and "Here we go again..." They assume it's just like before, when they got excited and saw nothing change. Hope is tarnished. Trust has evaporated. People are BORED.

How do you get your message across? Well, we always start by talking to the people any new idea will affect, and identify what they need. Imposing your views and ideas- no matter how brilliant they seem- isn't the way to get them excited. Collaboration and giving people a chance to set out their needs is the way to deliver a quality proposal that they'll feel they have some investment in, and interest in seeing develop.

Anger is an energy

Yep, energy. Just as voting or contributing to a workplace initiative is supposed to be a useful way to get your voice heard, often it's protest that's used to get objections noticed. Objecting loudly or silently distaning yourself from a process can be the only way some feel they can express their uncertainty, fears, concerns and sometimes downright disgust at events. Just because they don't bound into the room asking a squillion questions and demanding to be included doesn't mean they aren't expelling energy. It's also no excuse to exclude them. Find out what they think. Be prepared for emotions, awkward questions and uncomfortable truths- and to go back and consider if you've got things right at all.

Timing is everything

Think about when you're implementing a new idea or making a change. In times where there's been economic upheaval for 4 years now, the old argument of waiting until the storm has passed no longer holds (rain)water. That said, don't make it hard for people to join in. Don't call meetings for times when you are aware they are under pressure. Don't arrange late discussions that can run on when you know they have somwhere else to be, and a home life to go and attend to. Winter elections see a traditionally lower turnout than those in summer months. Your meetings and get togethers will suffer if people feel it's just plain difficult to be a part of it. Make it as easy as you can.

There's no surefire solution to engagement as every team is different and techniques and ideas must be adapted to meet what they're looking for. It's impossible not to notice similarities between recent events and the question of how we can better connect people to their workplaces naturally- without making them feel there's a special effort being made.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Caring for employees' vision

We are big on the benefits of promoting wellbeing at work, as you know. Amongst the questions we get about HAVS, RSI, and other acronyms, a common issue we face is that of employers' duties to display screen users.

Display screens can be laptop monitors, iPads, TVs- even supermarket checkout equipment. Symptoms associated with prolonged screen use include sore eyes, headaches, damaged vision and tiredness. It causes big problems for employees and confusion for employers.

We'd like to point you towards a really useful site, ScreenSmart. This site not only sets out the risks associated with screen fatigue, but tells employers and employees how to tackle and reduce them. It sets out clearly techniques that can help limit the time spent in front of screen, and employers' responsibilities in providing eye tests and basic spectacles for screen work. It also demonstrates clearly what they don't fund- designer specs may look good but are NOT essential!

Where possible, we recommend businesses establish a relationship with a trusted local optician to agree favourable rates for 2 yearly eye tests for their staff. It's also sometimes possible for discounts on spectacles to be negotiated.Your staff will feel appreciated and you won't face absences due to headaches and complaints that equipment use has created serious vision problems.

I do live by our values, and so am off for an eye test myself tomorrow. If your sight matters to you, ask yourself: When was your last visit?

Get in touch with your questions, or if you'd like to talk more about the incredible impact our wellbeing at work programme can have in your business.

Flexible working rights to be extended

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg today announced plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees "as soon as Parliamentary time allows."

Currently any parent with a child under 17, or under 18 if their child is disabled, can ask for more flexible working patterns, but the new plan will see all employees able to request and suggest a flexible working arrangement. 

At present there is no guarantee that any request will be granted, and this is not going to change- so employers have nothing to worry about. They will be given guidance and while they will not be compelled to agree to requests if they adversely affect the needs of the business, it is worth weighing up each request when made, and on its own merits. Refusing a request just to maintain the status quo can put enormous pressure on employees with caring responsibilities, travel difficulties and so on. Too often these staff are forced to move on or reduce hours, leading to a loss of skills and trained personnel. A little flexibility by employers can save huge problems in the long term.

The DPM also confirmed that the UK will look to adopt a new scheme of flexible parental leave. A new mother with time left in her original maternity leave year will be able to share it with her partner- giving women who are the major earners more flexibility to return to work more quickly and allow their partners to take advantage of the leave on offer. In short, new parents will be able to share leave and pay between them meaning they both get time with their baby and share the responsibility of care.

It was confirmed that a planned change that would see extended paternity leave has been put on hold until around 2018 while the economic outlook remains uncertain.

The plans will be considered in Parliament soon and we will keep our clients updated with changes and what they mean for them. 


Friday, 9 November 2012

Four more years, two (and a bit) great lessons

A lot has been written about Barack Obama's election victory which was sealed in the early hours of Wednesday morning (UK time) and a lot of it has been insightful, educational and wise. Some of it's been funny, some mocking. Some of it's been plain bad. 

I don't want to offer 'X Things Business Can Learn From Obama's Victory/ Romney's Loss' or swamp you with footage that I have analysed and pored over to share a point with you- though I do recommend you take a minute to watch Mitt's gracious concession speech as well as the one I am about to talk about.

This video of the re-elected President speaking to his campaign office workers and volunteers in Chicago made it online last night, and thanks to the 'Obama cries' headline many are tagging it with, it's blazing a trail across the web. 

I watched it first thing and thought "That's good- it's nice to show appreciation to people who've kept faith in you." I rewatched it just now with my 19 year old daughter who cut to the chase pretty quickly. 

"That's what's missing in too many leaders: that humanity. That's why people hate most politicians."

Inspired by this (and knowing it's also why people disengage from their leaders at work) I offer two lessons from this video.


When did you last say thank you to a colleague or employee properly? Not just a 'cheers' or 'yeah, great', but a real look 'em in the eyes heartfelt 'Thank You'? When did you last tell them they made a difference? What do you think the effect would be on their connection to you and the business if you did this more?

Conversations we have with many employees show that even when things are good, if they haven't been shown any recognition, they feel their efforts aren't appreciated and all the great stuff that's happening isn't felt. The single biggest issue we hear about is this: "Nobody ever says Thank You around here."

In business we know that a successful transaction is nice, but repeat business is what we really want. If someone helps you or does a great job, tell them. They'll be more likely to help you again. So when you complete one task, secure future business; it takes a moment to seal the deal with a proper, genuine Thank You.


Working with someone who doesn't share isn't much fun. Relations between leaders and colleagues who never share an emotional connection rarely thrive. I do not suggest you pour your heart out to everyone at work, but by sharing a little of yourself you show what drives you, what antagonises you, what you love and what you need. Done well, this can create a better understanding between colleagues and enables better working relationships to flourish. 

Not everyone can be a natural comedian, but you don't have to be a cold fish either. Of course there's a time for emotional distance- but every day is not it.

The last little tip I will share to wrap up the whole election thing is this: if you're a sore loser going public, be sure to get your facts right.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Light the blue touchpaper....

I used to say that there are two things you should never go back to: ex-boyfriends and lit fireworks. Having proven myself a liar in the first instance (with happy results, may I add) I still absolutely cannot condone breaking the rule on the second.

However, the kind of fireworks I’ve got in mind here are HR Fireworks.You know, commonly known as People.

As their HR professional, you’re responsible for their safety and their security. It’s down to you to see that they’re handled with care, positioned right and have the spark required to ensure that when they shine, they draw ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s, and put smiles on as many faces as possible. Neglect their needs, chuck them in a damp corner and they fizzle out in a wave of disappointment and confusion - or go off in your face.

There are fireworks in your business right now that are on the edge of fizzling, exploding, or delivering a beautiful display that draws gasps of admiration- but they need that TLC, that spark, and that care. Those fireworks need you.

Go back to them.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Lynas Architecture

We're delighted to share the news that in recent months we have begun work with Lynas Architecture on developing a suite of HR policies and procedures for their growing team.

Michael Lynas heads up this talented team to create remarkable living and working spaces in London.

It's always a pleasure to visit Michael and the team but more so because he designed the mixed-use building in Hackney where they're based- so when we meet I am able to look around me and see the talent in his team for myself.

Lynas Architecture is a business that's set out determined to do things right. It's Michael's belief that this is essential if he is to create an effective plan for the future.

This is what has led Treacletiger to work with Lynas Architecture. Recognising that he would need to look after his business and his people, Michael has engaged outsourced professionals to deliver, freeing his staff to focus on their own roles. Effective HR systems are being adopted alongside expert IT advice; the systems and quality being built into the fabric of the business will support Michael's aim of growing his practice and take their people forward to greater success.

Michael's vision and commitment to quality systems shows that whatever size a business is, having the right frameworks in place is essential to support goals and visions.

Michael tweets as @michaellynas and is also sharing updates on the renovations of his own home over on Facebook.

Quite apart from runnng a fascinating business, Michael is a top guy- I do  recommend you follow and cheer them on as his business goes from strength to strength.