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Sheri Hughes of PageGroup tells us how they have made gender equality a priority

Friday March 8th, 2019 is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter is a nod to the last tumultuous couple of years in the world of diversity rights.

When hundreds of women broke their silence on sexual abuse by high profile figures, the world took notice. #MeToo has changed Hollywood, but has its impact been felt in workplaces on our side of the pond?

As we watched senior staff at high profile British organisations reveal their salaries and jaw-dropping inconsistencies between the sexes became apparent, companies around the UK took the opportunity to strive for positive change. Sheri Hughes at global recruitment firm PageGroup, is a leading light in the fight for gender equality in the workplace. Lauded as a UK employer that is building gender equality into their business strategy, they continue to grow an inclusive workplace culture. We spoke to Sheri about her motivation, her strategies and the outcomes of her ground-breaking work.

Q. How does PageGroup promote gender equality and what's the company approach to women (and men) balancing family with work?

A. We have implemented many innovative schemes within the business to support our female staff.

  • Our Women@Page network aims to create a more inclusive working environment, helping increase the numbers of female senior leaders, and demonstrating the company’s commitment to gender balance. We launched our Senior Female Leadership Development Programme with  The Charisma Connection in the UK and we run annual global campaigns to celebrate International Women’s Day to inspire our female workforce.
  • The W@P mentoring programme has been a key driver in retaining female employees at Manager and Director levels, and in the UK, PageGroup has seen an increase in its female Director population from 25% in 2012 to 41% in 2017.
  • Parents@Page was established to provide all parents and carers support with resources, information and understanding throughout their journey as parents.
  • Maternity workshops for mothers-to-be. Our maternity coaching programme has allowed the business to increase maternity return rates from 76% to 90%. 
  • New Parents Workshops help all working parents cope with their responsibilities at home alongside their commitment to the business and offer useful strategies on managing that home-life balance when they become parents.
  • We have a dynamic working culture which is an enormous benefit for staff. Our high trust, high performance culture allows employees to manage their work life blend in the best way for them.
  • Parenting seminars with Educating Matters help guide our staff through the minefield of parenting.
  • Our Work & Family Space portal is an incredibly valuable service where our employees can access free emergency backup childcare or eldercare as one of many resources.

Q. Your work on gender equality at PageGroup has been exemplary. What motivated you to tackle the issue?

A. It’s always been an issue I’ve been aware of due to press coverage and personal stories of professional women around me but when Lord Davies published his reports on gender balance at board level for FTSE 100, and then subsequently for FTSE 250 and 350, it brought the importance of the issue to the fore. The report recommended that a third of all boards should be women and we started to think about ways in which we, as a business, could start to make changes. Our CEO has 3 daughters, so he was on board straightaway. We got the ball rolling and the rest is history!

Q. Do you feel the recent #MeToo campaign has empowered women in the workplace?

A. I do. We’ve seen so much positive change since the campaign took hold, mostly due to women feeling empowered. But there’s another side to the story. I sometimes worry that we run the risk of men not ‘engaging with’ women in informal capacities in the same way as they would their male colleagues for fear of their behaviour being misinterpreted. Male leaders must treat all their colleagues in the same way and perhaps adjust how they engage informally with both their male and female peers so that everyone is included and feels equal.

Q. How has the recent implementation of compulsory gender pay gap reporting affected women's position in your workplace and others that you know of?

A. We’ve been working hard on addressing gender equality at PageGroup for some time and we had already taken huge strides towards achieving that balance. We’ve been affecting change since before it was mandatory, but since the Gender Pay Gap was introduced we’ve seen a change across the board. The happy news is that now 93% of businesses are taking action to close the gap and increase diversity in their workforce, rather than a disappointing 62% in 2017.

Q. Does PageGroup have programmes in place to support women returning to work after leave?

A. We offer all the initiatives mentioned above as well as a buddy system for all new mothers (and fathers too) and we have signed the Working Forward pledge - a nationwide campaign, backed by some of the UK’s leading businesses figures, to ensure that workplaces offer the best environments possible for pregnant women and new parents.

Q. PageGroup has been recognised in the Times Top 50 Employers list. Can you explain what sets you apart?

A. All of the benefits I have mentioned above are so valuable in the area of corporate equality and our employees tell us all the time how much they have benefited. Other areas that help our workforce thrive and have received recognition include:

  • First recruitment company to sign the Time To Change pledge
  • First recruitment company to reach Stonewall Top 100 Employers in 2018
  • Returners programme
  • Global IWD campaign each year which recognises female talent on a global platform
  • We were awarded the BITC Gold Award for Gender 2018
  • Unconscious Bias/Inclusive Leadership training
  • Global Employee Engagement Survey
  • Career & Executive coaching
  • 360 personal development plans
  • Think Act Report campaign
  • Signed the Executive Code of Conduct
  • Partnered with Smartworks

Q. Have we reached an age of gender equality, or do we still have a long way to go?

A. Let’s not break out the champagne quite yet. We’ve passed some major milestones in a much longer journey to gender balance in business. Leaders are convinced of the business imperative for gender diversity - they no longer ask why they should have better balance in their workplace, they want support and ideas on how to achieve it. There’s still a long way to go but we get closer every day.

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This Can Happen was extremely well planned and executed, with a diverse and informative range of topics. The choice of speakers was excellent, bringing relevance and honesty to the subject matter. The conference demonstrated what other companies are doing to help employees and left us with many ideas about how we can accelerate our own strategy. We cannot wait until the 2020 conference.

James Martin, Bid Manager & Sales Communication Manager, Enterprise Holdings