Leading from the C‑Suite to help women return to work, by Cathy Byrne and Kerstin Liehr, Phd

By Cathy Byrne

It was unusual.

We were at a business event and the vast majority of people in the room were women – senior leaders and managers from a range of different sectors. And women outnumbered men on the panel by three to one. So what brought all these women and some men together?  It was a KPMG event held on 7th March, on the eve of International Women’s day, supported by Vodafone, looking at new research about women returners to the workplace.

The illustrious panel of speakers included: Vittorio Colao, Chief Executive, Vodafone Group Plc; the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP; Paula Vennells, Chief Executive, Post Office Limited; Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman GSK, Francesca McDonagh, HSBC and Professor Heather McGregor, Edinburgh Business School. The debate centred around new KPMG research commissioned by Vodafone which showed the huge economic benefit of encouraging skilled women to return to work following career breaks, with global economic activity predicted to rise by £150bn a year and household incomes by £400bn a year.

It was a thought provoking and enjoyable debate. Harriet Harman shared some fabulous anecdotes and observations on some of the challenges women face and her ideas for change. Other speakers talked about what more needed to be done to ensure that women who want to return to work can do so, confident that they’ll be provided with the training, support and flexible working arrangements to make this happen.

At ReputationInc we advise lots of businesses and organisations on the importance of leading from the C-Suite to bring about meaningful change and build reputation equity. Illustrating this first-hand, Vodafone’s Vittorio Colao, a trail blazer on this issue, spoke about the company’s ReConnect scheme as it is being rolled out in 26 countries.  We also heard from some of the many women involved in the pilot ReConnect scheme, who shared powerful personal stories about what this initiative has meant to them and their families.

So it shows that for things to change this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a business issue and more importantly, a business opportunity that companies need to seize. We hope other businesses emulate Vodafone’s work in this area and over time we’ll see more women back in the workplace at senior and middle management level, doing the jobs they’re trained to do, finding personal fulfilment, bringing money into their homes and making a contribution to the wider economy. The stats say it all. 


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