Article first published here

Shine For Women had the opportunity to catch up with Simon Peck, Engine’s Group Managing Director and get his thoughts on gender diversity at Engine and beyond.

Throughout his career Simon has had many female bosses, but experiences within his personal life have driven him to do more to assist women to progress in the world of work. His message? “Stop tiptoeing around the problem and get transparent. By now you should know that Better businesses are balanced businesses. But fixing it is hard. We need actions that push and those that pull to fix this. Setting a clear target is absolutely essential.”

In 2017 Engine’s Better with Balance 2020 programme was created to help support women within Engine and realise a vision of 50/50 male/female representation in leadership positions by 2020. The programme comprises a five-part strategy spanning:
Compulsory 50/50 shortlists for all senior roles,
Improved reintegration process for returning mothers
Compulsory unconscious bias training for all employees
A role model programme to celebrate and focus on the many female role models already in the business. Lowering the ladder to help the next generation come through.
And the final critical part of BWB was a robust sponsorship and development programme to help high potential women reach leadership positions. Women from across Engine were nominated by their businesses to take part with each woman being allocated a board level sponsor to support them through the programme. A fundamental part of the campaign was a 3-day off-site Shine workshop.

“Many of our women have a lot of self-confidence which is great – but equally so many don’t. I’m certainly not saying that ‘all women need help’ – but in many industries, society has stacked the cards in favour of men and as businesses we must make more effort to ensure the opportunities are clear, and all women are encouraged to achieve their full potential. It’s not just morally right, it’s a fact that businesses make better decisions when there is a balanced boardroom!”

Having this conversation within a company could be adversarial; it has the potential to quickly get emotional – ‘men are creating the problem or getting defensive’ or ‘ many women are enraged and pissed off’. “I wanted to ensure Engine’s had a calm conversation about fixing this. To take the emotion out of it, and focus on action.”

“So we analysed and shared all our gender balance data internally. It showed that we’re great at recruiting and promoting an equal balance of men and women, as is evidenced by a 50/50 balance at all junior, mid and mid senior levels of the organisation. But we were falling down when it came to leadership positions.”

I think being transparent is essential to making progress, sharing the problem, being open about what we are doing all take the emotion out of the situation. It also means everyone owns the problem and the solution.”

So, what makes the issue one of such importance to Simon? It is partly a personal one: “My wife has been made redundant twice from her job in the city – once when she was pregnant and once on maternity leave. She’s Australian and very much on a path of strong personal achievement. But when she and I discussed her desire to get on the board of her company, it was a shock to me to see that, despite a previous boss being more than supportive, her gremlins took over when she approached her new boss. All that positive mindset fell apart and her language and conviction became diluted”.

“I’ve seen it here at Engine too. Young women are taught they can be ‘anything’ they want to be as they grow up. Then they get into the world of work – they get frustrated because there are obstacles. They lose confidence. Let’s remember, this is a societal issue. And on one hand, I realise that I am part of the problem – I’m ‘male, pale and stale’ – but I want to do something positive about it! I want to say ‘come on, how do we tackle it?”

“Shine was one of the answers for us; 50/50 shortlists, better pre and post maternity conversations, making more of our female role models, unconscious bias training for everyone are all great…but ultimately unless we remove the confidence blocks that can inhibit some women and show them they can do it, then there can be no change.”

“We didn’t need to worry about putting a range of seniority into one course together. What’s interesting is they have all said it was a very personal journey where they were confronting their gremlins individually, but also as a unit. They are now a fantastic powerful cohort of people that is connected to each other and has continued to support and help one another. It has been very powerful and has instigated such a shift emotionally and mentally – far, far more than any other training course we sent people on it.”

But Simon has a warning to any other businesses that consider Shine; “Now I look back on it, we didn’t do anything to prepare for the output of the course as an organisation. The women returning were on a second honeymoon – recommitted to Engine! It was an extraordinary thing; they were like a bomb – fizzing with energy, ambition and excitement – it was amazing! They were saying things like ‘it has changed my life’. You could see other people that hadn’t been were thinking ‘I want a piece of that’!

Any organisation would be well advised to prepare for the women to come back – they do so at 100mph and want to start WINNING immediately! Lack of preparation for that return was like having a space shuttle landing in your garden. So if you send people to Shine ask yourself, ‘What are you doing to prepare for the earthquake that is coming?’”

Simon is already planning for 2018 and true to his word is putting the time, energy and budget behind Engine’s Better with Balance initiative. At a time when so many men are being coming in for so much criticism, we applaud Simon for bringing such a proactive and straightforward stance to achieving a thriving diverse environment at Engine.