I worked at a large financial services firm for many years. I had a great career, which saw me working my way up the ranks. And then I had kids.
I loved maternity leave, but on returning to work I felt much more like ‘me’.
I got a real buzz from my work achievements, not to mention the enjoyment I got from having a cup of tea or going to the toilet in peace! I loved the balance of working four days a week, as I got to be ‘home Val’ half the time, and ‘work Val’ the other half. To me, that felt about right.
However, my progression through the ranks started to slow, if not stop entirely. It became apparent that people were getting promoted over me. I thought that I must be doing something wrong, but couldn’t work out what it was.
The turning point came when I went along to a talk by the sole female director in my business unit, the only one out of maybe 10 to 15 male directors.
Her talk about how difficult it was for women to progress in financial services, and how challenging it had been for her, totally opened my eyes.
From that day on, all I could see was men getting promoted and progressing their careers around me.
Gradually, as the firm evolved, a few more women were promoted or brought in – but all of them were working full-time. There were no flexible working directors or execs to be seen.
My lack of progression made me feel less satisfied with work. I felt I needed more of a purpose.
My solution was to throw myself into understanding issues related to gender balance, and the result was I learned a lot about what was holding me back. After over 20 years of working at a company I’d been with since graduation, I gained the confidence to seek a new role elsewhere.
A different perspective
When interviewing for my Nucleus job, I was concerned that there were no women on the Nucleus board. At each stage of the interview process, I asked why this was the case.
Every person I spoke to had a good level of knowledge about the current position, and the plans Nucleus had to make changes.
It was clear to me that this was a business that was determined to change and everyone in the business was expected to contribute to making this happen. This really helped me make my decision to join Nucleus.
As it stands, there aren’t any male execs who take advantage of flexible working, but there are female execs who do so.
Another thing I made a point of asking during my interview process was around senior management’s thoughts on flexible working, and I was shocked to learn Nucleus has never turned down a request to work flexibly. I think this is something that sets us apart.
I am now eight months in, and I couldn’t be happier with the inclusive culture I’m working within. (Two women also joined the Nucleus board within weeks of me joining, which was really encouraging to see.)
As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s easy for chief executives and senior management to talk about how diversity and inclusion is important to their business, and even to have lots of action plans in place.
No doubt there will be many big corporates celebrating International Women’s Day today, but with little to show for it when it comes to their data on gender pay or on the number of women in senior roles. We don’t want to be about grand gestures – we want to be about delivery.
Yet although we aren’t seeing any material shift in the financial services sector, at Nucleus I believe we are making great strides in creating a more diverse and inclusive business.
As an example, in the past 12 months we have increased our representation of women in senior roles from 18 per cent to 32 per cent. We are pleased with our progress to date, while recognising there is still more to do.
So how do we approach this?
As you’d expect, there was the usual list of actions, which included reviewing our flexible working policy, changing the wording of job adverts and our analysing diversity data.
We also implemented blind screening on candidate applications, and were proud signatories of the Women in Finance charter.
In my opinion, it’s not really the actions themselves that have made the difference (although I highly recommend blind screening and monitoring gender stats throughout the recruitment process to see if unconscious bias is playing a role).
What’s started to move the dial is simply that Nucleus has made a decision to tackle diversity and inclusion, and that decision had the buy-in of the whole company.
Embracing diversity is central to the culture we foster. We take any challenges as an opportunity to learn, which is exactly what the company has done with every other challenge it has faced.