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Series Twelve, Episode Four: Returners, the great resignation, recruitment and retention


In this episode, host Julia Streets is joined by Norma Gillespie, CEO of Resource Solutions and Manisha Patel, Inclusion and Culture Advisor. Together they discuss the ‘great resignation’ and the rise of Returners within financial services. They consider the different types of inequalities around when and why women have left the industry and why they now feel comfortable to return. Together they endorse the opportunities to raise the bar and support inclusive recruitment practices for Returners to become leaders, mentors, allies and to be active voices in discussions around inclusion, equality and diversity.

Norma Gillespie

Norma is CEO of Resource Solutions and sits on the Group Operating Board, responsible for setting the strategy and direction of the global operations and management of our onsite operations and international service centres. With 20+ years of experience in recruitment and advisory services, focussed on Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Managed Service Provider (MSP) and Total Talent Solutions, Norma is among an inspiring cohort of women leading the way and pushing boundaries in the recruitment industry. Norma was named on the Staffing Industry Analyst (SIA) ‘2020 Global Power 150 – Women in Staffing List’ in 2020. At Resource Solutions, Norma actively supports Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, launching a global ED&I forum which she chaired for 2 years. She is an ally and advocate of women aspiring to leadership positions. She takes a proactive role both internally with her staff and externally on issues as diverse as our Rejoin programme (supporting those who have had a career break back into the workplace), creation of strategic partnerships for underrepresented groups and having the goal of a 50/50 supply chain for the business by 2025. Norma is a thought leader on mega trends in HR and the recruitment industry, is an active influencer, mentors globally and is an advocate of driving positive, meaningful change.

Manisha Patel

Manisha Patel is an Inclusion and Culture Advisor, Non-Executive Director, Founder of the Female Executive Mentoring Programme and Executive Coach. She has worked in both the private and public sector in a diverse range of professional roles. Manisha brings interdisciplinary expertise to her consultancy work which ranges from advising Boards, large scale private and public sector organisations to coaching grassroots community leaders. Manisha is also a co -founder of the Female Executive Mentoring Programme which connects leaders across the corporate, public and non-profit sector with diverse senior female mentees, the programme aims to increase gender and race diversity at Board level in every sector. Manisha is currently collaborating with community partners to develop effective initiatives to address health inequalities and to increase community integration. Her mission is to build a world where everyone can thrive, belong and participate both at work and in wider society.

Series Twelve, Episode Four Transcript

Julia: Hello. My name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast. Talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On the podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer lots of ideas to help drive change. Before we get started today, I just want to take a moment to thank our friends at CityAM for their continued support of DiverCity Podcast, publishing and promoting both our episodes and our supporting blog series so their readers can stay at the top of the very latest diversity and inclusion debate. Now, you may want to check out CityAM’s own podcast called, The City View, for all the latest news and opinion from the City, because we, at DiverCity Podcast, are huge fans. So, thank you, to CityAM.

Now, today I’m delighted to be joined by Norma Gillespie and Manisha Patel, and let me tell you a bit about our guests. Norma Gillespie is the CEO of Resource Solutions, specialising in recruitment outsourcing and, in her position on the Group Operating Board, Norma is responsible for both setting the strategy and direction of the global operations and also the management of the onsite operations and international service centres. Now she brings more than 20 years of experience in recruitment and advisory services, and actively supports equality, diversity, and inclusion, having launched and shared a global ED&I forum. She is also involved in a number of initiatives, including The Rejoin programme, supporting those who have had a career break back into the workplace, the creation of strategic partnerships for underrepresented groups, and also the goal of a 50/50 supply chain for the business by 2025. Norma, it’s wonderful to have you on the show.

Norma: Thank you. It’s great to be here. Thank you, Julia.

Julia: And we’re delighted to be joined by a second stellar guest, Manisha Patel. She’s an Inclusion and Culture Advisor, non-executive Director, and an Executive Coach, and has worked in both the private and the public sector in a diverse range of professional roles. Now her consulting work ranges from advising boards, large scale private and public sector organisations, to also coaching grassroots community leaders. She is also the co-founder of the Female Executive Mentoring Programme that connects leaders across the corporates, public, and nonprofit sectors with diverse senior female mentees. She also collaborates with community partners to develop initiatives to address health inequalities and to increase community integration. Manisha, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you on.

Manisha: It’s wonderful to join you on the DiverCity Podcast today, Julia.

Julia: I know you’re both exceptionally busy, so I’m dying to hear what you are focused on right now. Norma, let me start with you. What are you focused on right now?

Norma:  I’m sure looking at the news and what’s out there at the minute, we’re experiencing huge volumes in terms of heightened recruitment activity at the minute, and what’s dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’, what I’m using the opportunity to do is really focusing our business to see what we can do in terms of raising opportunities and raising the bar, and to support inclusive recruitment practises and opportunities for both females, but also underrepresented candidates. ED&I, as you said, is the forefront of what we do, and I suppose that leads now to Rejoin, which is our return to work programme. Whilst it’s not exclusively just focused on women, the facts are that women have been, I suppose, disproportionately hit by the pandemic in terms of employment pay and opportunities.

What we are trying to do with Rejoin is support talented and experienced individuals who’ve taken a career break, whether it’s through having a family, a sabbatical, and bring them back into the world of work, and bring them back in full-time employment, not interim, and through a returnship, because we do believe that individuals have the skills and the potential to be able to hit the ground running. I suppose, that’s the unique part of what we’re trying to do is bring people back full time. Also, we created a community online as well, so individuals have the opportunity to talk to each other and then we do coaching through that as well to get people supported for the interviews and then also through the back end of the programme to make sure that once they have landed in roles, that it’s what they expected and if there’s anything that comes up that we’re able to support them through that as well.

Then, as you mentioned before, the other big piece of work for me is what we call our Accelerate Academy. So it’s really looking at the skill sets of what’s needed from our clients, and also supporting underrepresented individuals and talent pools to be able to train them up over either it’s a nine or 12 week programme, to get them the opportunity to get back into the workplace or where they’ve not had the opportunity to maybe pay for education. We’ve had two cohorts so far that have gone into the workplace and it’s been great to see how they’ve progressed in terms of the companies they’ve gone in and the skills they’ve been able to use within those organisations. It’s really about identifying the needs of the clients and also the candidates and then developing solutions for them.

Julia: Amazing. There’s so much of that we’re going to get into in this episode today. You must be so proud to watch these two cohorts come through and really shine.

Norma: Absolutely. It’s been fantastic. Really great to see.

Julia: Manisha, let me ask you the same question. So what are you focused on the moment?

Manisha: My focus is wider. I’d like to focus on systems. So looking at our whole society when it comes to inclusion and integration. For me, it’s about influencing at different levels, it’s multi-pronged. A lot of my advisory work and consultant work is with boards across private sector, public sector, not for profit, and also with my non-executive director role, supporting local government organisations. I’m very passionate about inequalities with regards to health and health inequalities, I have a health background, also that socioeconomic inequalities. Really thinking about local communities and grassroots. How do we actually start building a society where people in communities start integrating together? And for me, that’s really important that we bring all of our worlds together because we are all part of the same society and we need to break down some of these barriers and learn to accept each other, but actually find out about who lives around us, who works around us. How else are we going to progress with diversity and inclusion in its truest sense?

I’m also a co-founder of the Female Executive Mentoring Programme and, for me, this is about how do we start influencing boards, both in terms of gender diversity and race diversity. We have a diverse cohort of senior female leaders who are very talented, who need that support from external mentors to really think about how they can push to the next level. Again, I feel like bringing so many different elements in groups into my work with diversity and inclusion really brings the sort of more holistic approach, to how we think about this area. The other thing I’m really focusing on is governance and accountability, very relevant in the current times that we live in. For me, it’s key to think about how do we empower people, both who work in our organisations, but also in our communities, and how they start speaking up, and how they start holding leaders to account so that there is some progress with diversity and inclusion.

Julia:  When you begin to unpick to a lot of that, not only it’s about supporting the journey and the pipeline, and hearing both of you talk about that, but also the support models around it, in terms of the coaching. But I love the whole piece about governance and accountability and actually encouraging people to find their voice, to speak truth to power, which is incredibly important. Fantastic. What a great way to start the show. I’d love to get into, if we may, the subject of returners specifically. Norma, let me come to you first of all. I’m quite intrigued and I’m sure the audience is too, about this whole concept of returners, we know what it is. It’s basically about people, naturally the moments of returning generally tends to be when people have left to have a family, but I would love to get your thoughts about how long has this concept of return has been around? Also, do you have any insights on when people are most likely to leave the financial services industry?

Norma: Goldman Sachs were the first financial services organisation to offer returnships that was back in 2008 and then it took a little while for other companies to get on board with it. By 2014, there was six organisations that were looking at returnships and by 2019, those numbers were going up to 50, that’s more than 80 employers. But I think during the pandemic, that’s where we’ve really seen those numbers dropping, through the pandemic, and it’s a real shame because I suppose the appetite to the programmes is absolutely there, but I suppose they’re not seen in those terms as being business critical during that period. But now obviously we’ve come through or we’re coming the other side of this crisis and you are starting to see such a gap in terms of individuals that are able to go into roles and the heightened number of open roles we’ve got across globally at the minute.

What we have seen is graduate salaries have started to raise in that instance, but we’re not seeing the same in terms of the returnships programme. I think this is a real opportunity for organisations, because it’s a real bias market and there is more opportunity now to really focus on these programmes and get individuals back into the workplace, because there’s definitely the appetite there. In terms of, I suppose, your question around when they’re most likely to leave, there’s numbers of pieces of research out there, but I know a survey by PWC, which was called ‘Seeing is believing’, talked about the fact that individuals, people started their careers in financial services at that equal level, males and females, but then by the time it got to middle management you started to see women’s progression started to fall back at that point and men were out weighing women by almost three to one by middle management.

In terms of, I suppose, that career advancement as well from that Gen Z population, the same was seen in terms of one of the Deloitte’s pieces of works I was looking at around women are 24% less likely than their male peers to get their first promotion, even though they’re requested it at a similar rate. Then women of colour were even more disadvantaged through that survey, where there being 34% less likely to make their first promotion.

Alternatively, if I look at, our US research as well, McKinsey, one of their pieces of research talked about the fact that it is changing in terms of financial services, but one in five individuals within that female side were reaching the C-suite positions. So there was definitely a real glass ceiling there in terms of, that needs to be cracked in financial services. Then, on top of that, you’ve also got the cultural aspects of it as well, in terms of working at home and offering greater flexibility around career progression, and wellbeing initiatives as well. I think there’s definitely opportunity for organisations to use this as an advantage and to start to bring people back into the workplace.

Julia: As you say, when the fight for talent is so fierce and it feels like it’s only ever going to intensify so it’s a talent pool under our noses. I wonder if I’m going to another quick sort of follow up question, which is, for those who do come back in, the returners who do come back, what particularly inspires them to return? I guess my question is, for organisations that are listening, what are the great things they can do to attract that talent?

Norma:  It’s interesting. I can talk from returner groups in terms of what they said, and what they’re saying is that they go back into, potentially financial services because that’s what they’ve come out of and that’s what they know. They also see those organisations as being more flexible now than they used to be and with good opportunities in terms of career progression, and wellbeing initiatives as well. So they’re some of the key things they’re looking for in terms of the flexibility, the wellbeing initiatives, and the opportunity to progress as well. We have seen even across our portfolio of clients, we’ve seen returnships grow now in the US, India, Switzerland. So it’s there to be taken, but I do think this is probably still a challenge in terms of being quite specific in terms of the skillset, so that makes it more challenging for other individuals from different sectors to be able to return.

Julia: And of course in the highly regulated industry, you need to have talents that understands and respects not only the governance and the structures, but also the regulatory complexities and the application to a particular role as well. So, again, it’s wonderful to hear that if people return because they came from the industry, they return because they believe that perception has shifted about being welcome, that actually it’s perfect to have that pool of talent come in. Really interesting. Thank you for your thoughts on that, really helpful to explore that in some detail as well. Now, Manisha, I mean, you mentioned in earlier remarks, your role as a coach, a guide, a trainer, an advisor as well, listening to Norma’s remarks, what do you observe around returners?

Manisha: I actually have to agree with what Norma said about the intersectionality elements with why people leave and why they return. The glass ceiling or the reinforced concrete ceiling, as I call it, for women of colour in particular, it’s much lower when you talk about middle management and when you talk about opportunities and I think it’s very hard to then feel focused or motivated to continue working in a sector or profession where you’re not feeling valued, it erodes your confidence, and it does create that feeling of exclusion and frustration. I think there’s something that we’ve noticed from coaching and mentoring with returners, so many of the senior female leaders that have applied for our FEM Mentoring Programme are really in a transition phase.

They’ve applied for quite a unique programme where they’re going to be mentored by somebody outside of their profession, outside of their sector, so a completely different circle and sphere. For me, that’s something about exploring opportunities. We’ve had potential returners who have worked in systems, such as the public sector where we know it’s been very pressurised for the past 18 months, think about, actually, where can they come back to if they’ve already started in a corporate sector environment, in a financial services environment, and having that mentor, having that network, to comfort you back into how it is in the private sector is really helpful because it’s daunting. If you’ve been in the other sectors and you want to return, it’s really daunting to think, “How am I going to fit in? How am I going to learn what I’ve missed out on?” And also adapts to, I guess, the unwritten rules, the things that people don’t tell you about when you’re return into a system or an organisation.

Julia: When you think about the move from sector to sector, how wonderful to have a mentoring support mechanism around you, but actually, often it’s the unsaid, the unwritten rules, and the culture, that played the biggest impact about why people would move or not. But again, I think if there’s an opportunity for the industry to welcome in others who have been in the sector, gone somewhere else and come back, it’s another dimension to returners as well really interesting to consider as a potential talent pool as well.

What I’d love to do is now just kind of move the conversation one kind of cog shift on, if we may describe it that way, which is thinking about this journey from returners to leaders, because it’s all well and good to welcome people back into organisations, but are we supporting their ascension? If you wants to describe it that way. Norma, I’d love to come to you, really. As you observe the pathway of leaders, if you have any remarks about what you see in the financial services industry and also any notable patterns about women returning to work in the industry and then their journeys onwards?

Norma:  I think just in terms of, I suppose, if I just touch on the reasons they’re leaving from the research, first of all, it’s more general to wider sectors than just financial services. So the first we touched on before, motherhood and it’s quite interesting, a piece of research that the Princeton University looked at, it actually negated some of our original thoughts around that when people actually have more children, it means that they would leave with the fact that they have more children. However, this piece of research was actually contrary to that, that it said that most people that leave actually leave after their first child and they make a life decision at that point, which does actually mean that there’s more opportunity there because if you are having more children and you are leaving at that life moment and you are coming back within a shorter period, you should really be able to return at a similar life moment and skillset as where you left the industry.

I think this is really where the likes of financial services could really focus and capitalise on that pattern of return. Then some of the other piece of research that we’d seen from our return is are, obviously COVID, which everyone knows has had such a fundamental challenge and disproportionately effect of women. The Deloitte’s 2021 report found that 80% of women said their workloads has increased because of the pandemic and also with the greater workload, responsibilities, and that those boundaries shifted between, I suppose, work and home life as well. I think the thing that we found from our research and our returners was that what they were also saying was they felt that it also affected the relationships with their line managers in terms of working at home and not having that ability to, I suppose, be more face to face with their line managers and be available and be considered for promotions as well.

Then the third ones, obviously the menopause, and I know Standard Chartered and Fawcett Society has done a big piece of research on that, which is really interesting because if you look at the data we’ve talked about so far, you’ve got women leaving before middle management and then the women that are moving up the ladder, once they get to menopause 25% of participants said it made them more likely to leave their job when they hit menopause. 22% said, it makes them want to retire early as well and 47% said they were less likely to even apply for a promotion. So you’re being hit at different age groups through the work life as well. I think there’s lots of work that can be done. I know a number of companies have already put policies in place and are starting to really focus on that as well.

But in terms of, I know you mentioned about other sectors, what we are seeing is tech, we’re definitely seeing individuals from other sectors within technology are finding it easier to return and return into financial services and we’re also seeing, I suppose, more individuals who are from that more infrastructure-type environment, whether it’s finance, HR, or more transferable skills that are open and willing and, I suppose, being considered for those roles as well.

Julia: I’m really staggered by your remarks about the menopause and actually people’s decisions and how it influences their journey to the top. I’d say that’s probably one of the conversations I’ve learned most about in the last two or three months has been around. In fact, we will be planning an episode about the menopause exactly to that point. That data’s really shocking to think that through. Also your remarks about the tech industry and actually the potential for bringing people in and the reasons why they leave the industry as well.

Manisha, again, when we think about coaching and mentoring, it’s clearly very important. I know that’s what you focus on as well. I’d love to hear some examples from you, if you would, about how has actually helps people overcome some of those barriers, whether it’s confidence in applying for the next job or thinking about whether or not you’re going to stay within an organisation, but those coming back in particularly moving into new roles back into the industry.

Manisha: Absolutely. There’s a range of examples, I think I find one of the biggest issues to tackle initially when somebody comes into an organisation from returning is that piece around the confidence. I find there’s a few different ways you can do that. I think building in some style of mentoring or coaching into the onboarding programme is key, but I think there’s also something about the peer support. Is there already a network of people that have been returners that have shared experiences that you can get support from and that you can speak with? I think also what I tend to do through coaching, is I coach managers and leaders to think much more holistically. If somebody’s returning back to your sector, back to work from a period of time of not being in the role or industry, how can you be much more inclusive?

Think about what they’ve learned, what experiences they can bring from their time away, from their life, how you can value their diversity and uniqueness, and also not to make them feel othered. There’s quite a range of things to consider when you’re bringing people back into an organisation. I also advise my coachees and people on our programme to think about developing a personal board. Have you got a group of trusted colleagues and friends who share some experiences with you, but also have a diversity of thinking that you can counsel as your personal board? So you have a support mechanism to deal with the challenges that you may face as you return into an organisation, especially at a more senior level where it can be very intimidating. There’s a number of ways that you can access support and make it work for you, but I think it’s really important to have a safe space to be able to sound what you’re experiencing and feeling.

My second piece of advice would be try to as a coach or a mentor, as somebody who’s supporting a returner, try to get people to think much more with a choices approach. If they are sort of struggling with the elements of returning back to work, instead of being reactive, what are their choices? What are the options? What can they do about it? Who can they speak to? And how can they make the situation work for them or not work for them, depending on what they decide to go with? That can also be helpful in terms of how you use your coach and a mentor.

Julia: Do you find that some of those who have returned, I just wondered if there’s an opportunity here, actually, an opportunity for those who have returned also to play a mentoring role to others and also for new starters coming into the industry. I’m just think about these young women, not just gender perspective for the reasons we’ve just described, but the young talents coming into an organisation who may be looking ahead and going, “Well, I’m seeing a drop off. So I’m guessing that’s probably my pathway too.”

Manisha: Absolutely. I think there’s so much wisdom and experience that can be shared and I think that benefits both new starters and people at the early stages of their career, but also new returners. Developing that peer support network when I was leading and managing teams, I worked in an industry in healthcare where there are a lot of female staff and when they were returning to work from maternity leave, for example, it was really important that we had a peer support network where returners supported each other with the day to day frustrations that can happen when you’re returning from juggling everything in life, in terms of your family priorities and I think there’s something that can be quite self-managed and self-led by returners thinking about how they support each other and how they have a space to just offer that shoulder or that listening ear when it’s required because we know that there’ll be daily challenges.

I think Norma touched on a great point about working from home and how you actually access support and so, again, it’s really thinking with a more innovative mindset about how we build this into our virtual world of working and still get the support that you need.

Julia: Let me pick up then on that point about some of the challenges, some of the barriers, if you like, and Norma, let me start with you in terms of what focus do you pay on supporting the progression of women as leaders and also on boards at the highest level when you think about intersectionality? Then, of course, we talk about women of colour, but also other attributes as well, women with disabilities, neuro diverse women, and also introverts as well.


Norma:  From a resource solutions perspective, we spent a lot of time on this, obviously through the recruitment process looking at best practise. I commissioned our in-house innovation team to create an end to end audit, which we’ve actually put our own business through as well. What that really focuses on is all elements in terms of the socioeconomic, ethnicity, LGBTQ+, disability and what they did is they looked at 77 different touchpoints and the recruitment results were quite shocking actually in terms of the changes that need to be made through that recruitment process. One of the key things that stood out, for me specifically, were around women of colour and also women who are more senior as well within the organisation. The data was really interesting in terms of what came out of that and especially if you look at how individuals are disadvantaged, it would be things that you don’t even think about in terms of how people actually log on to do a recruitment process.

If you look at ethnicity, for example, Android phones, you can’t go through a recruit process on an Android phone. You’ve taken out a large chunk of individuals that can’t apply for roles to start with and looking at that framework as well. We also looked at that third party exec level as well, and that really stood out as well, because then you had a third party bias as well because they were recruiting for executives that they felt were right for that organisation. We found that there was quite a lot of bias in that process as well and that’s why one of the actions that I’ve done off the back of that is created our 50/50 supply chain. Our target was to get there by 2025, but we pushed it up the agenda and we’ve actually just completed it now.

Half of the organisations we work with are minority owned within our supply chain now, so that we do have a more well rounded candidate group as well. So I’ve been really pleased with the results so far and also from a client perspective, we’ve got large FS organisations that have completely changed their whole process on the back of the results as well. It does show that when, I suppose, the results are there and individuals at senior levels can see what changes need to be made, they are making those changes, so that’s been really pleasing.

Julia:I suppose, one question that then comes mind as well in this about intersectionality is we mustn’t exclude men in the discussion. What are your thoughts on that?

Norma: I completely agree and I must admit when we first did our Rejoin launch, I was probably quite remiss in terms of thinking who was going to be on that programme and there was a number of males that were on that programme. That made me think then as well, “Goodness, me, we need to make sure that we’ve got this written in the right way that we’ve got the right kind of dynamics in terms of the interview process as well.” What we’ve seen with the returners that are males are in our programme now, paternity has changed as well, and people are taking advantage of that, which is fantastic.

Also, I think from a US perspective, specifically, we had a number of individuals that have contacted us who want to be part of the programme because they’ve had to care for individuals through COVID and from a healthcare perspective as well. It’s absolutely focused on everyone who wants to return to the workforce, but it’s definitely been more of an eye opener for us than I thought it would’ve been when we first put the programme together. We need to make sure, as you say, that everybody is included within that process.

Julia: Yes and that’s why they’re very zeitgeist of what the reality is right now, as you say around paternity, about people thinking about having been at home during COVID, and their roles and responsibilities in the home, and then the balance with partners, whatever their partners may be, or indeed if single parenting too, really wonderful to hear your thoughts on that. Manisha, let me bring you in, you’ve been listening sort of very patiently, while we’ve been exploring this subject as well. What advice are you giving when people are thinking about those barriers they have to overcome? Also, I’d love if you would, to make some remarks about the importance of allies, we’ve talked about mentors, love to hear your views on the importance of allies as well.

Manisha: Absolutely. I think for barriers, definitely, it’s important to think about the support, but also to think about how much of the barriers are self-limiting and how much are as organisational and systemic barriers and where you can raise that if you’ve got a fantastic organisation, like Norma’s, who’s really looking into that and where you can flag some of these barriers. In terms of allyship, I think allyship has to go beyond allyship into advocacy as well, that’s really important. Allies have to be active in what they’re doing and so, an example of that is it goes beyond self-development. It’s about how do you use your position, your privilege, your platform to uplift others and if there are barriers, how can you call something out? How can you call something in, but also how can you sometimes stand back and offer opportunities to those who are not seen in a room to those whose voices are not around the table?

For me, there’s that continuous dialogue that ally has to have to look at where the lack of representation is and that will include the returners, because you may be looking at specific age groups, women of colour, men, as we’ve mentioned, people who have been carers, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds and so that active allyship is a continuous process where you bring in people who are not in the room, but also create opportunities.

Julia: Can I ask you a follow up question, which is I’d love to know what advice do you give for those who are keen to identify allies? However, the allies might be perhaps a little reluctant.

Manisha: Thank you for the question. I think there’s something interesting happening there if the allies are reluctant, I would say if you are looking to find an ally, it’s almost about observing who you feel would actually have the confidence and the ability to be an ally and advocate and speak on your behalf and sometimes that means attending meetings, attending events, if you do have some in-person events and seeing who’s actually there and who’s able to use the voice and challenge when you’re thinking about diversity and inclusion, because they’ll always be somebody. Observation would be my first point. I think it’s very difficult to ask somebody who’s reluctant and they may not feel safe to be an ally because they’re not confident enough to challenge. Just to be mindful of that as well.

Julia: I think this is really fascinating dynamic of change at the moment, which is the attributes of an enlightened leader and the appreciation of not only thinking about your hiring practises, your managing practises, your communication, and all of those executive presence attributes, but also to be thinking about your active – I love the way you describe that, by the way – your active kind of allyship, that also  turns into advocacy as well. Fantastic.

That’s a great moment to bring in Cynthia who has some research to support today’s discussion. 

Cynthia:  According to return to work specialists, the Women Returners, their UK Returner market data, recorded that in 2014, there were only 3 returnships across 3 employers in the UK.  However in 2020,  there were 28 returnships recorded across 32 employers.  That’s promising progress in the right direction.

Julia: Thank you as always to Cynthia Akinsanya for her research and if you do want to find the research, you can go to our website,, and you can also then sign up there for early notifications of future recordings and our wonderful newsletter called DE&I That Caught Our Eye, so you get the very latest thinking and reporting straight into your inbox. Do follow us, please, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and DiverCity Podcast is available on BrightTALK and all good podcast channels and, by the way, we’d love a rating because it does all help to promote our wonderful guests and the show.

I’m really intrigued when we talk about mentor programmes is, let’s delve a little bit deeper. Talk to me about the construct of the mentor programme, but also I’m really keen to hear about the impact that it’s had. Manisha, tell us more.

Manisha: Yes. The mentoring programme is quite unique in terms of it’s a self-served programme. You do not need any sign off by your manager or organisation. Our mentees apply and they explain why they want a mentor from outside of their sector, but also what their career goals are. We then connect them up with a board level mentor from outside of their sector. It’s up to them to then be autonomous and develop that relationship. It’s very unique to them in terms of how they progress with that. We also offer a range of workshops and varied networking opportunities. We check in with them sort of halfway during the programme and the impact has been just immense. We’ve been so surprised by how positive the outcomes have been for our first cohort, which was in 2020.

We’ve seen people progress and bloom both personally and professionally. You can just see the change in the confidence, but also that thinking about transferable skills and again applies to some of the returners thinking about how they can take transferable skills from previous professions and sectors, from work, from life experience into new areas. But also, from my own personal experience, having a mentor who’s really senior, very accomplished, to tell me that I can sit on a board or that I can be in these roles that I never imagined. It really is a game changer.

Julia: Norma, I’d love to hear it from your point of view because I understand you’ve been both through the programme and you are a mentor. I wonder if I could ask you a supplementary question, which is what advice would you give to people who are thinking about offering their services as a mentor about what they must pay attention to? Because quite often I hear stories about mentors going, “Yes, I love being a mentor. It’s a big old tick on my CV to say that I’m a mentor,” but actually it feels to me like there’s not only a call for engagement, but a degree of discipline as well.

Norma: Yes, absolutely. I think the pro programmes fantastic and what really stood out for me was the transparency as well and the fact that there was real allies on the course I found and there was a number of executives that were really brought into the programme as well. The transparency, the fact that having allies is just so important and I think mentorship’s great and it goes so far, but it’s actually turning, for me, those mentors into sponsors as well because that’s the key that’s missing. It’s got to be that they’re actually helping individuals through the company using their networks and these individuals, especially on Manisha and Kate’s course, they are senior board individuals, they have got the ability to make a difference to people’s lives, so I think it’s wherever you can leverage that opportunity I would absolutely recommend that people do and it was interesting on the course, because a couple of people said that I want to get there on my own right and that’s fantastic as well, but it’s just so tough in these times that I would just advise anyone to take the opportunity where they can.

Julia: Yes, absolutely. Of course, a wonderful sponsor is the one who will advocate for you when you are not in the room. It’s been a fantastic conversation. I’ve got one last final question for you. I’m going to ask you to respond to this quite quickly if you would, but it is nevertheless very important, which is these are interesting times ahead and I am deeply concerned that actually the conversation about DE&I will fall down the board agenda when actually should remain high. Give us your compelling reason why diversity, equity, and inclusion must remain high on the boardroom agenda. Manisha, I’m going to come to you first.

Manisha: I’m going to use the ‘what if’ approach? What if your organisation could go beyond its expected financial performance? If staff were happy and thriving, if people were fighting to get into your organisation and even when they left, they couldn’t stop telling everyone how wonderful your organisation was because you’ve been truly diverse and inclusive.

Julia: That is a compelling reason if ever I have heard one. ‘What if’, fabulous. Norma, your thoughts?

Norma: I think absolutely from an ED&I perspective, we work with candidates every day. This is top of their agenda and the continuing war for talent isn’t going away. It’s getting fiercer every day. I know, for me, it’s really not about setting out the compelling arguments for why it’s more for corporate to justify why not because this is what candidates want and that’s the kind of environment they want to work in.

Julia: Compelling reasons that see us out of the show. I have to say it’s been a fantastic conversation in such a short period of time, how much we have covered in some depths and some breadth. It’s been wonderful. Nora Gillespie thank you so much for joining us today.

Norma: Thank you for having us.

Julia: And Manisha Patel, thank you for all your thoughts.

Manisha: Thank you so much, Julia.

Julia: As always, to all our listeners, thank you for joining us. I’ve been Julia Streets, tune in again for another episode soon. Thank you.

Keiran: This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieran Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week show on our website, and that’s diversity with a C, not an S. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. All our episodes are available in Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app. If you enjoy DiverCity Podcast, remember to share on social media and give us a rating or review, it really helps promote the show to a wider audience. Finally, our Twitter handle is @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.