Amplifying women’s voices

12 January 2020  By Alison Maitland

At a time of deep political and social divisions, when female politicians have resigned citing the level of abuse and threats they’ve received, it is more critical than ever that women are able to make their voices heard.

Speaking out is far from easy. When I wrote leadership interviews for the Financial Times, I sought to profile as many women as possible. The women were less keen to be profiled publicly. Some refused. Some said yes, but tried to set limits on what they would talk about. The few who were enthusiastic Continue reading

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Putting the heart into leadership

2 December 2019   By Alison Maitland

Understanding your impact as a leader helps you to empower other people more effectively. It is achieved, partly at least, by connecting with your heart, not just your head.

Take the example of Michelle Obama, who treated her role as First Lady of the United States very seriously indeed. In her memoir, Becoming, she relates how she connected with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, an outstanding all-girls’ school in London

Cover of ‘Becoming’

where 90% of students were from ethnic minorities. She delivered an emotional speech, wrote them letters of encouragement, took a group to Oxford University and welcomed some of them to the White House.

The impact of her interventions was studied by Simon Burgess, an economist at Bristol University. Most of the evidence he gathered showed that the inspiration the girls gained from interacting with the First Lady translated into substantially higher performance in their GCSE exams.[1] Continue reading

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Working to 75 – what would it entail?

16 Sept 2019 By Alison Maitland

One news item that briefly stole headlines from Brexit in the UK during August was a proposal for the state pension age to be increased from 65 to 75 within 15 years. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a think tank headed by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, said this would ensure the ‘benefit’ of a state pension continued.

The proposal, which caused alarm in many quarters, set me thinking again about this whole issue. Policies on ageing, retirement and pensions must be imaginative, fit for the future workforce, and sensitive to differences between people. What responses are within our grasp, as employers and individuals? Continue reading

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Five ways to get men on board for gender equality

23 July 1019

By Alison Maitland

Men who advocate for gender equality are often described as ‘ambassadors’ or ‘allies’, which to me suggests their role is a supportive one, while women should do most of the work. It’s true that women have largely led the fight up till now. But I believe we’ve entered a new phase where male advocates recognise they have to drive change, not just cheer from the sidelines.

There have been significant advances in getting men on board for equality in recent years, the most prominent being the UN’s global #heforshe solidarity campaign. In business, the Male Champions of Change (MCC) movement, founded by Elizabeth Broderick, started with a group of male CEOs in Australia and has been making wider waves. Their strategy is ‘to shift the systems that perpetuate and entrench inequality by redefining men’s role in taking action and supporting influential leaders to step up alongside women’. As well as the MCC, there’s also the well-established Catalyst workplace project, Men Advocating Real Change.

There are many reasons why men’s leadership is needed for equality. Continue reading

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Bridging divides for better outcomes at work

17 May 2019 

By Alison Maitland

In divided times, there is cause for hope in initiatives that aim to bridge differences, whether at work, at home or in society. One such initiative is More in Common, a project that has brought together residents of Lambeth, in south London, where nearly 79% voted for Britain to remain in the EU, and Boston, in Lincolnshire, where nearly 76% voted for Brexit.

There are lessons here for how we build connections and cultivate better relationships at work, by making the most of our mix of life experiences and perspectives. Leaders need to be skilled at this, given that diverse teams have the potential to be smarter and more innovative than teams in which everyone is similar. Continue reading

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The future of work is agile

20 March 2019

By Alison Maitland

I recently came across a company called ConsenSys that develops applications for blockchain technology. Its work model intrigued me. According to its website, the 1000+ employees around the world decide their own schedules, work wherever they want to, and pursue projects that interest them. With all this freedom comes responsibility to support their teammates.

The company, which describes itself as a ‘mesh network of purpose’, was named by LinkedIn as one of the 50 most sought-after start-ups in the US last year.

Is this the future of work? Self-managing organisations are certainly coming into vogue. Yet this model still represents a stark contrast with the daily experience of many workers faced with congested commutes and long hours in concrete office buildings.

What enables or blocks the spread of agile working in big organisations? And what can we do to speed up the shift to more human-centred work styles? Continue reading

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How employers can keep pace with the work revolution

18 March 2019 Willis Towers Watson recently ran this article in their corporate and trustee briefing featuring my views on the huge challenges facing organisations in keeping pace with rapid changes in work and society, and how enlightened employers are responding. Among other issues, I talked about the focus on making work more human in a time of massive upheaval, and the positive results companies are seeing from well-implemented agile working.

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How do we ensure that AI is our friend, not our foe?

19 Feb 2019

By Alison Maitland

How vulnerable are we humans to smart machines? We got a nasty glimpse of the possibilities with the air travel chaos caused by drone sightings over London’s Gatwick airport in the busy run up to Christmas.

The drone use was illegal, but, even when it is in the ‘right’ hands, we have reason to be vigilant about how artificial intelligence is rapidly entering many parts of our lives.

At work, there is the potential for bias and discrimination to be automated. Machine learning relies on large sets of data to detect patterns and make predictions. This typically reflects past human behaviour, which inevitably contains prejudices and assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious.

One example of what could go wrong, reported by Reuters, was an experimental recruiting tool that Amazon decided to scrap when it was found to discriminate against women. Continue reading

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To drive inclusion in your company, engage with the world outside

16 January 2019 This article is the second in a series that Rebekah Steele and I have written on LinkedIn, focused on how organisations can do a better job of inclusion.

By Rebekah Steele and Alison Maitland

Amid the divisive social and political debate surrounding the migration of refugees and asylum-seekers, some companies have brushed negativity aside, viewing the crisis as an opportunity to do good and benefit their business. Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees worldwide over five years. In the UK, the company linked up with a leading charity, the Refugee Council, to offer refugees training in preparation for Barista roles in its London coffee shops.

Other companies pledging jobs around the world include Hissho Sushi, US yogurt maker Chobani, and global services provider Sodexo. ‘It’s the smart thing to do, it’s in our business interest,’ said Rohini Anand, Sodexo’s head of diversity & inclusion and corporate responsibility.

Companies need to address the whole of inclusion – internally and externally – to find sustainable solutions to the global business challenges ahead.  Continue reading

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Hyping generational differences is unhelpful

5 November 2018

I’m starting to feel sorry for the so-called ‘Millennial’ generation. For years, they’ve been surveyed, sorted and categorised into a cohort with distinctly unappealing characteristics: the ‘Me’ generation, ‘snowflakes’, self-absorbed, restless, entitled, and needy.

Now they’re going to suffer the indignity of being overtaken by a new ‘generation’: Gen Z, the digital natives, who are attracting breathlessly enthusiastic terms like ‘Generation We’, creative, self-aware, sharing, and caring. They’re so very different from the Millennials – apart from the fact that they spend loads of time on their smartphones and social media!

The idea that each ‘generation’ is uniquely different is hype. Continue reading

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