We’re Hiring! Are you our CAN-MAN?

Community Ambassador & Nurture Manager “CAN-MAN”

We’re looking for a warm, proactive, social media-savvy person who has experience of taking extended leave from a corporate environment, to join The Talent Keeper Specialists as our Community Ambassador & Nurture Manager. (Or “CAN-MAN” as we’re affectionately calling you).

It’s a super flexible, part time, home-based role with occasional meetings in St Albans or central London with the founder of the business. We’re looking for 5-7 hours/week at £17/hour and you’ll work with us on a self-employed basis (or as your own limited company).

You’ll be responsible for raising awareness of what we do, to career-orientated people who are on – or recently returned from – maternity/adoption/shared parental leave (the ambassador side) and making sure the people we’re working with are getting the most from every aspect of our Comeback Community™ employee experience (the nurture side). You’ll help people feel as relaxed, upbeat and confident as the woman in the photo!

You’ll be proud to be part of The Talent Keeper Specialists and update your LinkedIn profile to reflect this.


  • Has personal experience of taking extended leave from a commercial environment (e.g. maternity, shared parental, adoption or sick leave).
  • Wants to improve the experience of people returning to work after maternity and other long leaves.
  • Enjoys using, and is active on, Instagram and Facebook (and ideally LinkedIn too).
  • Is naturally warm, positive and enjoys helping people.
  • Is proactive, curious and self-motivated.

It would be a bonus, but not essential, if you have worked in law, accountancy, management consultancy, financial services or in a large blue-chip environment or closely with HR professionals.



We’re on a mission to keep everyone everywhere feeling confident, connected and cared for when they take extended leave from work. We’re a B2B business (our clients are employers rather than individuals, and they include ITV, BlackRock, TJX and Lily’s Kitchen) led by the coaching psychologist and author, Jessica Chivers.

Our main service is 1:1 executive ‘comeback coaching’ which is delivered through a team of associate coaches.

Our Comeback Community™ employee experience is our newest solution and it’s designed to deliver our mission at scale.

These three very short films bring our solutions to life:



  • Jessica, Founder – Your main point of contact will be Jessica Chivers, the founder of the business. You’ll have a fortnightly 30-45 minute catch-up (remotely) to review the past two weeks and plan for the following fortnight.
  • Trish, Coaching Co-ordinator – You’ll need ad hoc contact with Trish for admin bits associated with the NURTURE side of your role.
  • Client Relationship Manager – We’re going to be recruiting this person in 2022 and their role will be to develop new business relationships with Heads of HR, Heads of Learning & Development and Heads of Talent in professional services and financial services organisations. You’ll feed in “eyes and ears” intel’ from the AMBASSADOR side of your role, to this person.



E-mail hello@talentkeepers.co.uk with the subject header: CAN-MAN.

We’ll send you the full role profile and details of how to apply (a one pager about why you think you’d be great at the role plus another little something).

If you get excited about what you read, you can make an application. We really do only want people who are genuinely fired up about the nature of the role and our mission, to apply.

If you love the sound of this role and think you can do it but have a niggling doubt or question, e-mail us about it!

Although it’s a fully flexible, home-based and fairly autonomous role, we’re looking for someone who wants to feel part of a team and come together occasionally. In an ideal world you’ll be with us for years, just like Trish (Jessica’s PA and coaching co-ordinator) and Shiobhaun (our first and longest member of the coach team).

APPLICATIONS OPEN UNTIL 5pm Sunday 31st 2021 – no tricks, only treats!



  • We’ll be in touch to say we’ve received your application. (If you don’t hear from us after a day or two, chase us up).
  • We’re aiming to shortlist 3-5 people by Friday 12th November.
  • If you’re on the ‘shortlist’ we’d love to have a 45 minute virtual cup of tea and chat with you w/c 22nd November.
  • We’d love to offer the right person the job by the end of November and start working with you before Christmas.

How to help colleagues beat the summer strain

Quite by chance* I watched Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk last week on the longest longitudinal study of human happiness. The Harvard study has been running since 1938 and finds high quality personal relationships are the best predictor of happiness, health and longevity.

Here in the summer of 2021 employees’ relationships at home are under strain and it’s something employers should pay attention to.

Parents at Work

Through my work and lived experience I’ve noticed employees with children age 4-11 experience a straining of personal relationships over the summer. These employees (female especially) have the extra load of finding, organising and taking their children to different activities/childcare settings. They do this whilst striving to maintain high standards at work, including maintaining availability to direct reports, peers and bosses. This is difficult and what gets squeezed or lost altogether is their ‘me time’ and ‘we time’. (Me Time = self care activities. We Time = nurturing their relationship with their spouse/partner/significant other.

We’re not taking holidays – but we must

It’s not just employees without children who are at risk of fraying relationships.  New findings by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) show 39 per cent of UK staff have taken less paid time off since the pandemic began. Many people are choosing not to take their usual summer break from work because they can’t holiday where they’d like. Somewhat bizarrely, it was easier to get away last summer pre-vaccine than it is this summer.

As hybrid working becomes the norm after the summer, we want our colleagues to return to the office feeling rested. So what should business leaders do to help parents/carers who are under strain? And to encourage people to take leave?

Three ideas to support employees with caring responsibilities – and include those without

  • Take leave yourself and, when you come back, talk about how good you feel for doing it – humans are social creatures heavily influenced by the behaviour of others.
  • Gift parents an extra day off in September to spend with spouse/partner/significant other – and throw in a restaurant voucher.
  • Offer non-parents a day off to support a friend or relative with caring responsibilities and gift them a voucher to treat the people they’ll be with.

Would like you like more ideas to support strained colleagues? We have plenty more practical suggestions up our sleeves.

Coaching conversations for all

You might also want to make a stand-alone coaching conversation available to anyone who would like one. We’ve been doing this with some of our clients whose people we coach when they are preparing for, and returning from, any type of extended leave. Life continues to be very trying for many – not just parents – and having the space to think through challenges and worries about work and/or home has been a real tonic for them.

If you like the sound of this do drop me a line jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or call the office 01727 856169.

* With thanks to the YouTube algorithm – Robert’s Ted Talk was offered up to me after playing a Yoga with Adrienne film on YouTube. Stretching + learning before breakfast = perfect.

Coming Back with Confidence – Mini Masterclass

How can I show I’m still committed? How do I raise my visibility? Can I do a good job and progress my career and still have time for family life? These are three of the challenges we regularly hear from coachees coming back from maternity and other types of extended leave. They work in organisations such as BlackRock, Federated Hermes, ITV and CIPD.

In this 60 minute online mini masterclass we share practical tips; bring the stories of real returners and answer your peoples’ specific challenges. It’s designed to help your colleagues make a confident comeback.

What’s in it for your people?

  • The opportunity to put questions to a skilled comeback coach.
  • 5 ways to develop a positive, confident mindset
  • How to strategically raise visibility and rebuild relationships
  • Effective ways to pitch for flexible working
  • 5 ways to prepare for a smooth return
  • Copy of CAREER FUEL for professional impact and progression written by Jessica Chivers, author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work.

What do our clients and participants say about it?


Contact us about supporting your returning colleagues

Got a question about this session or supporting colleagues taking maternity and other long leaves? E-mail Jessica jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or call us now on 01727 856169.

Shared Parental Leave – What do Business Leaders Think?

We thank Liz Wright, a past coachee and Risk Assurance Partner at the global tax and audit firm RSM for this personal perspective on Shared Parental Leave.

I’ve long been a fan of all things Scandi, the brooding crime dramas, the pastries and their general approach to life. They have a different view on parenting from the common practice of leaving babies in prams outside shops, the focus of pre-school on interactive play and the success of their education system.


Shared Parental Leave in Scandinavia

In Sweden, parents are entitled to share 480 days paid parental leave per child. Each parent can transfer part of their leave to the other parent if they wish. Ninety days are, however, reserved for each parent and cannot be transferred to the other parent.

How do the Danes do it? Parents receive 52 weeks of paid parental leave and can split 32 weeks of leave however they wish.

And in Norway, parents can choose to take a combined total of 49 weeks at 100% pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay. In the case of 49 weeks this breaks down as 3 weeks pre-birth for the mother; 15 weeks non-transferable maternity quota; 15 weeks non-transferable paternity quota and then 16 weeks that can be shared as the parents see fit.

Although I can’t implement all of these nordic changes in my team (much as I would like, a morning Fika break for cake anyone?), one thing I have done is champion Shared Parental Leave.

Six fathers take SPL in Liz’s Team

I currently manage a large team of around 50 people, the vast majority of which are in their 20’s and 30’s. During the Pandemic we experienced something of a baby boom and over that period around six team members have utilised the option of shared parental leave taking between 6 weeks and 6 months leave.

Now, I am not a parent myself but I strongly believe in the power of shared parental leave for a number of reasons I have advocated to my team to utilise this option. In most cases, this was a simple as explaining the firms policy and how they could adopt it for their personal circumstances. For some, it was posing the question, ‘why would you not take it?’.

The benefits of men taking SPL to RSM

I perceive the benefits of shared parental leave for the team to be:

  • A reduced impact on women’s careers. Parenting is not just a female responsibility. As a woman navigating a corporate career, I was aware of the perceived impact that career breaks can take on a developing career. By making it common place for all team members to take this option, it reduces the potential impact on female careers.
  • Increasing equality. During the pandemic, for many of my friends, family and co-workers, the brunt of the emotional load of home management, childcare and home schooling was felt most acutely by women. By normalising a man’s role in childcare, it helps support female equality and shares the load.
  • Less stressed new fathers. Taking time out of the business allows men to catch their breath and be present for their families in a way that normal life does not always cater for. Although working from home has allowed people to be more physically present, the parental leave also helps them to be mentally and emotionally present for their families.
  • More fresh perspectives. Staff return with a new perspective and consideration of how to manage competing demands on their time. Its often been said that working mothers are the most efficient people in the workforce and I’m hoping that the same will be true for working fathers.
  • Increased retention. Time will tell, but I’m expecting to see increased retention from those staff who have taken shared parental leave. It has potentially reduced their stress levels in the first few months and allowed them to return engaged in the team and the firm for supporting them through this period.

Levelling the playing field

Levelling the playing field for all my team and creating meaningful and sustainable roles and career paths is what drives me on a daily basis. In professional services, its important that we can support people through the various challenges of life and fit our approach to meet their needs and expectations. That’s why I’m embedding regular shared parental leave for all. It’s just one way of helping drive equality but one I am really proud that we have done.

Comeback coaching for returning colleagues

Executive comeback coaching helps employees identify and address any concerns or issues they have about their return to work. Executive coaching also helps employees better understand their value and potential to the business and, through a personal action plan, supports their transition back to work. Find out more.

Got a question about supporting colleagues taking maternity leave? E-mail Jessica jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or find us on Twitter and Instagram @talentkeepersuk.


By day, Liz is a Risk Assurance Partner at RSM delivering Internal Audit services in new and innovative ways. She is recognised as an Inspirational People Leader by her peers. By night, Liz indulges her passion for all things to do with leadership and management through her Youtube channel.


Why are we fans of walking coaching meetings?

We’ve been advocates of walking coaching meetings for many years. Research tells us that outdoor walking leads to more ‘creative’ thinking[1] than sitting inside or being pushed in a wheelchair outdoors. And the boost in divergent thinking lingers when you return to your (indoor) desk. For many of our coachees who are returning to work from maternity or shared parental leave it’s a welcome break from the desk – they’re just not used to the physical inactivity!


Throughout 2020 and into this year we’ve constantly asked ourselves “how can we make coaching time as good, if not better, than it was when we met in person?” We’ve also held onto the question “What would it take to be the bright spot in our coachees’ diaries?” Because let’s face it, back to back virtual meetings have been painful and no matter how good the coaching, another screen meeting chips away at our coachees’ energy.

But I don’t have a ‘creative job’

‘Creative thinking’ is ‘divergent thinking’ or better labelled as ‘problem-solving.’ Divergent thinking is simply thinking that goes in different directions. Most of us need to solve problems in our work and home life and if we’re able to think of new and different options for doing so, we give ourselves a better chance of finding a decent solution. Of course coaching time is essentially problem-solving time.

What does the research say?

An oft used way to test divergent thinking is the Guilford Alternate Uses Test (GAU). If you’ve ever been asked to come up with as many uses for a brick as you can in a minute, that’s the GAU test.

In Experiment 1, while seated and then when walking on a treadmill, participants did the GAU test of and walking increased 81% of participants’ creativity. In Experiment 2, participants completed the GAU when seated and then walking, when walking and then seated, or when seated twice. Again, walking led to higher GAU scores. Moreover, when seated after walking, participants exhibited a residual creative boost. In another experiment, participants sat inside, walked on a treadmill inside, walked outside, or were rolled outside in a wheelchair. The result? Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies.

But don’t you need to write things down in coaching?

When working remotely we invite our coachees to walk outdoors whilst we remain at our desks. We take notes, including agreed action points, and send a photograph to our coachees afterwards.

When we’re coaching in person we factor in time at the end to record actions. This might be back in the office or on a park bench. We always have a hardback notebook with us to take notes on the go.

The exception to this is when we’re doing a Strengths Profile debrief. We like to make this a tactile experience by inviting our coachees to hold their strengths in their hands (chunky cards with images and definition of the strength printed on it).

What if it’s raining?

We’re guided by our coachees’ preferences and if they want to walk in the rain we have some beautiful umbrellas. Most of our coaching meetings are stationary but the option is always there to put them in motion.

Comeback coaching for returning colleagues

Executive comeback coaching helps employees identify and address any concerns or issues they have about their return to work. Executive coaching also helps employees better understand their value and potential to the business and, through a personal action plan, supports their transition back to work. Find out more.

Got a question about supporting colleagues taking maternity leave? E-mail Jessica jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or find us on Twitter and Instagram @talentkeepersuk.

[1] Oprezzo, M. and Schwartz, D.L. Give your ideas some legs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (2014) Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152

The mental health benefits of keeping in touch on maternity leave

It is well documented that having a baby is stressful. Heart-expanding and magical and incredible but also brain-bendingly exhausting too. Until you become a parent – in fact until you become a mother – it’s nigh on impossible to grasp the transformation you will go through.

Overnight, you go from being an independent woman, living your best life, free to pursue your dreams and hobbies, to being a one-woman milk machine, rarely seeing the shower and developing an obsession with sleep that’s borderline worrying.

We’re all about supporting people prior to, during and after long leave at The Talent Keeper Specialists, so for this article we’ve dug a little deeper to discover: what is it about maternity leave in particular that is so challenging? How can keeping in touch with work mitigate its effects?

Our research shows the following three things are key to mental wellbeing and they’re things we can keenly miss when we’re away from work:

  • Connection
  • Stimulation
  • Control

While you are utterly absorbed by the demands and needs of your baby, there’s a side of your brain that isn’t being stimulated in the same way that it is used to. Career aspirations, skills and specialities are on hold and for a time, that’s fine. But temporarily losing that sense of making a contribution, or the financial, social or intellectual satisfaction that comes from work, can take its toll. You’re craving control but you don’t know where to find it. At the same time, your core values come sharply into focus.


Why should bosses care about maternal mental health?

If you consider that half the workforce is female, and 80% of these employees are parents or going to become parents, it’s crucially important that we look after them for the relatively short time they are on maternity leave.

The statistics on PND are humbling and relevant to all employers. Postnatal depression affects one in ten mothers. According to a survey by the RCOG, 81% of women in a survey of 2,300 had experienced at least one episode of a mental health problem during or after their pregnancy. Low mood was experienced by more than two thirds of these women, anxiety by around half and depression by just over a third. But with only 7% of the women who reported experiencing a maternal mental health condition being referred to specialist care, it’s clear that employers should be playing a more active role in helping their valued members of staff.

Sybille Raphael, Head of Legal Advice Services at Working Families, also warns that it could be unlawful sex discrimination if employers don’t keep in reasonable contact with the staff on leave. She says that keeping in touch, ideally by telephone rather than email, makes it easier for employees to explain their worries and prepare for their return to work.

You’ll want to be sure you played your part. It could well be the difference between retaining a valued member of staff or losing her.


 CONNECTION: How can a boss help their employee on maternity leave?

Reach out. We all know that ‘it takes a village to raise a baby.’ By actively including and communicating with your member of staff during her maternity leave, you’ll be playing your role in keeping her connected and confident. Ensure she is included in both formal and informal office news and updates. She can choose to ignore these, but it’s more likely she’ll be reassured that she is still part of the world of work and know that it is not moving ahead without her. She’ll feel that pull back to her previous life and feel connected. You don’t need to ask her to engage actively, but if she has opened the email, it has been worth it. You will have made that day at home with her baby, a better one.

It’s also so important to recognise that everyone’s experience of motherhood is utterly different. Some will breeze through it with healthy, happy babies and plenty of support. Others will be hit with unpredictable hormonal changes and depression. Others will be raising poorly babies who cry non-stop and never seem to sleep or settle, with no help from family or otherwise. Keeping in touch on a human-to-human level will help you know how and when to support your cherished member of staff.


STIMULATION: The impact of loneliness on new mums

Loneliness creeps up on new mothers. Even though mums are never truly alone (and are probably craving real solitude) long days without adult company can be gruelling. Once the initial flurry of visitors, cards and presents is over and their partner returns to work, the real labour of parenthood begins. Not only are they physically alone, they are emotionally carrying the enormous burden of responsibility for their tiny little bundle.

It can be boring too, churning through the relentless cycle of feeding, changing, napping, interspersed with moments of true joy and utter delight. Even though they adore this little human, it is overwhelmingly dull at times and they will be craving adult conversation. They are likely to feel sad that they are missing out on life with colleagues and friends. It’s also incredibly common to resent their partner for escaping off to the office (even if that is only upstairs at the moment).

This is where KIT days are so valuable. For a new mother to attend a KIT day, she will have had to redress the balance of power at home, and to have trusted another individual to care for her baby. This is huge the first time around. She’ll arrive at work and plunge into her old life for a day. More often than not she will find that to be a relief, a re-engaging process that allows her to remember her professional self and enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation that goes alongside work.


CONTROL: Keeping in touch helps your employee feel less anxious

Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government  says that companies must work harder to keep in touch with women on maternity leave. He says that women find it harder to maintain the momentum of their careers on their return to work, especially when male colleagues happily step in and ‘land grab’ the best clients. He made the point that employers wrongfully assume women don’t want to be in touch with projects or clients during their leave. All this adds to the stress load felt by women who fear losing control or status during their absence. By ensuring they have the option to attend key client meetings or performance reviews on KIT days, they’ll maintain their hard-earned status.


What if you have postnatal depression? How do you tell your boss?

Of course, no-one is obliged to share their PND. But if you feel strong enough to do so, it can help. The NCT advises women to keep in touch with their colleagues and boss if they are suffering, to help you feel less anxious about returning to work. PND is so common that it is highly likely your boss will have either first-hand experience of it themselves, or helped others cope with it on their return to work. Most companies have excellent mental health procedures in place; after all, no-one wants to lose great employees.


Returning to work can be a relief

Going back to work really can be a break from the emotional and physical labour that looking after a baby entails. You are afforded the freedom to focus, uninterrupted on an intellectual challenge. You get to talk to your ‘work family’ without the constant background narrative in your mind worrying about the next feed or sleep. You get to progress your career and satisfy that urge to excel. Heck, you even get to drink a cup of coffee without having to reheat it three times!


Supporting employees’ return to work

Executive comeback coaching helps employees identify and address any concerns or issues they have about their return to work. Executive Coaching also helps employees better understand their value and potential to the business and, through a personal action plan, supports their transition back to work. Find out more.

Got a question about supporting colleagues taking maternity leave? E-mail jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or find us on Twitter and Instagram @talentkeepersuk.

APPG Women & Work Report 2017

Are you struggling to find the right people for the vacancies in your organisation? Is gender diversity on your agenda? Last year we hosted a ‘hidden talent action tank’ to help employers tap into the increasing number of skilled women who want to come back to work after an extended break. This week, we attended the launch of the ‘Women and Work’[1] report from a cross-party group of MPs and bring you the highlights from an employer perspective. 


The report makes nine recommendations, three are aimed at employers: 

5. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carers policy detailing organisational support available for those with caring responsibilities. 

This could be cumbersome and unnecessary. In our experience what really matters to employees is being trusted to get the job done and being trusted to use flexible working in a way that works for the organisation and meets family needs. Line manager behaviours are the lynchpin.

6. Every workplace with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice and support. 

Returner programmes can be a useful tool but they‘re not right for every organisation. See “What is a returner programme?” for the key questions to decide if a returner programme is likely to fulfill your talent pool shortages. Direct recruitment from the hidden talent pool using ‘reverse headhunters’ such as Inclusivity may be a faster, better value option.

8. Employers should promote best practice through a flexible working kitemark with official accreditation and assessment to increase flexible working visibility and actively encourage the uptake of flexible working.

Many employers we talk to are struggling to recruit women into specialist, skilled and senior roles. Employees who have built social capital in their current organisation and have crafted a flexible working arrangement that works for them are reluctant to move. We discussed the problem of ‘trapped talent’ and flexible hiring on BBC Breakfast – watch the clip here. We believe employers will benefit from advertising roles as flexible and support the APPG’s recommendation.


Shared Parental Leave

Have you found it tricky to implement Shared Parental Leave in your organisation? You’re not alone. 77% of respondents to a CIPD survey said they had to access external advice to understand the process. This headache has been for little gain as another survey of 200 employers found only 1% of men had  taken the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave.

The view at The Talent Keeper Specialists is that SPL was introduced to normalise men caring for their children and lessen the impact of having children on women’s careers. We believe the best way to achieve this – and make it easier for employers – is to divide parental leave into three chunks: one for each parent on a ‘use it or lose it basis’ and a third for either parent.



67% of mothers in work and 64% of those not working said the high cost of childcare is a barrier to taking on more employment. [2] The Government is increasing free childcare to 30 hours from September 2017 for working families, to address this.

Our view is that employers who are experiencing talent shortages could significantly widen their candidate pool by being open to flexible working, and making this clear to candidates at the point of hiring. Read “Employers benefit by ‘talking flex’ when hiring.”


Supporting maternity returners

You know the ‘cost’ of replacing an employee is more than just the recruitment fees. Keeping and fueling existing valued and talented employees should be a priority for business. The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched the ‘Working Forward’ campaign last autumn to make UK workplaces the best they can be for pregnant and new mother employees.

We run maternity comeback workshops for returning employees and a separate session for line managers. Find out more: https://www.talentkeepers.co.uk/shape-the-landscape/


About The Talent Keeper Specialists

Since we started in 2012 The Talent Keeper Specialists have delivered on time, within budget and to glowing feedback from our clients and their employees at places such as Boots, Anglia Ruskin University, The Law Society of Scotland, The Institute of Chartered Accountants England & Wales, Boots, Enfield Borough Council, Oxfam, Channel 4, PayPal, Carillion and Twinings. We work with employers to shape inclusive workplace cultures and support the transitions of returning employees and women stepping into leadership roles. Watch our 2 minute film here: https://vimeo.com/187137094.


[1]  The Women and Work APPG was formed at the beginning of 2016 in response to the increasing public and political focus on the role of women in the workforce, and the acknowledgement from Government that the UK economy underuses women’s talents and misses out on a “huge economic prize”.

[2] Careers and cares: childcare and maternal labour supply, Resolution Foundation and Mumsnet, 2014

Bringing talent back – O2’s story

Over the summer we brought HR, D&I, Talent and Resourcing practitioners from organisations including Whitbread, EY, Accenture and Cap Gemini together to explore ways to uncover and bring back ‘hidden talent’. Thank you to Avanade & Accenture for hosting us and to O2 for sharing their story.

What and why a ‘hidden talent action tank’?

When Jessica Chivers wrote the book, Mothers Work! she discovered vast numbers of women were returning to jobs not commensurate with their skills and abilities (all tied up with the flexible working/presenteeism problem that pervades UK workplaces). Fast forward to 2013 we piloted a workshop for the Chartered Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales aimed at supporting the return to work of members on maternity leave. What actually happened was a full room of women, the majority of whom were not on maternity leave, but those hungry to get back to work after 2-10 years out. They were struggling because the gap on the CV meant they were being overlooked – hence their pouncing on a workshop about getting back to work.

Since then we’ve run swathes of free maternity comeback and career comeback workshops (which participants love and have travelled 100s of miles to attend) but they don’t address the heart of the problem – the need for Heads of Resourcing, Talent and D&I practitioners to see the problem and commit to action. There’s just too much talent going to waste and this is a problem on many levels, but commercially speaking it doesn’t make sense when there’s still a ‘war for talent.’ Hence the ‘hidden talent action tank’ to drive change through peer idea exchange, including a spotlight on returner programmes as one tool for bringing talent back.

O2’s returner programme

Andrea Jones, resourcing lead at O2, shared the telecoms giant’s experience of running a returner programme in the operations area of the business.

Many of us drew breath when she shared research stating most line managers would prefer to hire someone with less experience than a candidate who had been out of work for more than six months. “Six months!?” That’s less than most maternity leaves. The good news is the O2 scheme was hailed a rip-roaring success and The Talent Keeper Specialists expects more demand in 2016-2018 for returner programmes.

Key stats that drove O2’s decision to run a returner programme

  • Managers would rather hire less qualified candidate over one who has been out for over 6 months
  • Gender diverse companies are 45% more likely to improve market share, achieve 53% higher returns on equity, and 70% more likely to capture new markets
  • For every 10% increase in gender diversity in the senior executive team, there is a 3.5% increase in financial performance.
  • 42% of millennial dads feel ‘burnt out’ most or all of the time
  • 40% of working women earn more than their partners
  • 1 million now work past 65
  • Only 17% of over 50s favour traditional retirement pattern as majority want to ease into retirement via part-time work
  • 50-60% of women returners want to work part-time
  • 34%-48% of women would like to work part-time
  • 27% of the UK workforce work part time. Of those, 74% are women
  • 44% of Generation Y rate work-life balance as a key driver in their career


Ten golden nuggets for improving gender balance

We grappled with five questions in the ‘action’ part of the morning. People spoke with passion, others listened intently. Ten golden nuggets emerged for improving gender balance from the talent, HR, D&I and resourcing practitioners at the Action Tank:

  • 1) Confront lazy hiring – value finding the best talent over quick recruitment. This might mean looking in different places.
  • 2) Look beyond a candidate’s last role – many women’s careers aren’t linear and strengths are transferrable.
  • 3) Create more open job descriptions – countless capable candidates (internal and external) rule themselves out at the application stage because they don’t tick every box.
  • 4) See returners as assets – they’re fresh, motivated and hungry to put their minds to work. Returner programmes tap into ‘hidden talent’ and are a good news story for your business.
  • 5) Promote flexible working in job descriptions – and offer flexibility for employees already in business, not only after returning from maternity leave.
  • 6) Use gender balanced panels to make hiring decisions to reduce unconscious bias and avoid line managers hiring in their own image.
  • 7) Experiment with new recruiting processes, such as games, to assess people’s potential rather than relying on CVs.
  • 8) Focus on opening middle managers’ minds to how flexible and part-time working can fuel productivity and performance, and be of benefit to them personally.
  • 9) Showcase senior role models who work flexibly, recruit diverse teams and have high employee engagement scores – these are the people you want other managers to emulate.
  • 10) Don’t overlook introverts or make assumptions – actively encourage ‘quieter’ people (who may not talk openly about career aspirations)  to apply for promotions and stretch assignments.


6 pillars of success/what O2 learned:

  • Target a specific area of the business where there’s a need/desire to recruit more women.
  • Have clear benefits, timelines and costs for setting up – make it easy for the business to say yes
  • Ask for referrals to the programme from employees and partners (this went down ‘really well’ at O2)
  • Assessment centre to be a two-way process and the agenda to kept ‘light’ with lots of networking and senior leadership team to attend
  • Be flexible about how the roles work
  • Resourcing and the Diversity & Inclusion teams to work in partnership

A returner programme for your organisation?

If bringing talent back is on your agenda or you’re struggling to meet gender diversity targets, save yourself time, hassle and budget by meeting with us.

Contact Jessica Chivers to arrange a conversation: jc@talentkeepers.co.uk | @TalentKeepers on Twitter and Instagram and find us on LinkedIn  | +44 (0)1727 856169

Talent Fueller – Tim Loake, Dell

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Tim Loake, is a director at Dell and an ambassador for the Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) programme from Catalyst. He’s opening other men’s eyes to unconscious bias in the workplace to even the playing field for women.

“What is the MARC programme?

“It’s an attempt to engage the company, and the leadership in the company, top-down. Men advocating real change is what it stands for and that’s what it is.  As is typical of technology companies we are male heavy, although we do have female leaders including our chief customer officer. We don’t have enough though; we certainly don’t have balance.


MARC is about understanding our own unconscious bias and promoting a more inclusive leadership style up and down the company.”

What was the spark for MARC at Dell?

“Three or four of our leaders got involved in MARC as an external programme from Catalyst. They became ambassadors and persuaded Michael Dell and his direct reports that we needed to do something differently. The executive leadership team then went through the programme and it cascaded down. Because it had that Board level ‘buy-in’, people have never said it doesn’t matter, everyone is recognising that there is something we need to do differently and that it is a personal journey as everyone has their own bias and that everyone is in some way privileged versus everyone else.

Once you have recognised that you have some privilege, you can start to think about how your behaviour needs to be different and MARC is the start of that journey.

We’ve shared a number of videos with staff that highlight where we have unconscious bias. Until you recognise you have it, you don’t realise there is a problem. Watching these films is like turning a light on – you suddenly see that you have these biases, we all do – and people begin to realise they need to do something different.

‘Run like a girl’ is an example of one of those powerful films. Effectively it takes a bunch of young girls and asks them to run like girls, which they do and the point of the video is: when did ‘Run like a girl’ become an insult? It’s a very powerful video, particularly for anyone who has a daughter. Just showing that video to people opens their eyes and shows them that there is something that they might need to do differently.”

What does MARC look like in practice at Dell?

“It’s done in different ways at different levels. Within the Bracknell site, we had a full staff gathering after the leadership team had been through the programme. Everyone was invited and it was voluntary. We started simply by showing some films and asking people to start thinking about how they behave and how we behave as a society.

People often have very emotional reactions, and I’ve cried watching them. The film “Man Up,” is to do with male suicide rates and that’s one of the most destructive phrases in the English language. You can’t help but connect with the message and it gets the audience to a point where they want to do things differently.

As I watched it I kept thinking about my children and how I’ve inflicted gender bias on them without ever knowing it. And thankfully, they are at an age where I can undo that. I have two sons age 8 and 3 and there are things I do differently at home now and my wife as well – I’m much more conscious of my language.

Gender bias is rife in society, a view of what people can and should be able to do. Everywhere you go, there is bias. As parents and people we can only deal with the bias that we are aware of and that we can control.”

Why is the MARC movement important to you?

“Creating an inclusive environment where people are free to bring all of themselves to work and be whoever they are makes Dell a better place to work. If people feel valued and included, they will perform better. It will improve employee retention, it will improve employee performance, it should improve the attitude of our people towards our customers, suppliers, vendors and ultimately make our business more successful. That’s the nub of it. There are other side benefits around the markets in which we engage such as a diverse workforce developing products that match needs of all our customers and potential customers.

Has MARC been measured?

“No. A company like Dell measures everything but we’ve made a deliberate decision not to measure this. The only thing we measure is the amount of people who have been through the 4-hour training or the 2-day ambassador training. We have put 1300 people through the 4-hour training and we’ve now got just over 100 ambassadors. It’s a two-day investment, so director level and upwards are able to be ambassadors, because we want it to be leadership led as that has the biggest impact.

Being an ambassador is a choice. The 4-hour course is open to everybody and is run by ambassadors; normally two, a man and a woman. Beyond that, it’s really trying to advocate for the programme, to change opinion, to tackle stereotype bias in our own business, to try and recognise where privilege is playing a part in decision making – in hiring, in structuring or just in running the business.

Being privileged doesn’t make you wrong or bad or part of the problem, it’s just the group that you find yourself in and if you can recognise that, you can do something about it. As an ambassador hopefully my eyes are more open to when those things are occurring and I’m trying to do things differently and lead the way. Change in an organisation doesn’t start because you tell someone to do something different, it’s because you change the experiences that they have and therefore the perceptions that they hold and that will shape their future behaviour.

That’s why we focused on leadership in terms of the ambassador community because we have the biggest impact on the experiences that our teams and those around us have. And therefore we can change the behaviour of the organisation.”

Could you tell us about the things you’re doing beyond MARC

We do quite a lot of work in the community and ‘IT’s Not Just For Geeks’ is a 2-hour programme aimed at 14-16 year olds, held during school time by Dell employees to show them what working in IT is all about.

We also have a strong women’s network called WISE – Women in Search of Excellence, led by Aongus Hegarty (President of EMEA). WISE does a lot of work within the industry, in terms of engaging with external groups and trying to change and educate within the company on a very practical level. One very popular session WISE have run is a presentation skills workshop as that’s something many female colleagues have said they want.

Other programmes include PRIDE for our LGBT community, Mosaic, GenNext which is targeted at bringing young people into the business, Conexus for all our remote workers and Planet group which is about trying to become more environmentally friendly. We encourage everybody to try and be a member of one of these groups – to do something beyond coming to work, doing the job and going home again. * Link to all employee resource groups http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/cr-diversity-employee-resource-groups

Whats Next?

“It’s hard to see too far ahead due to the combination with EMC, but I’m sure they have programmes we can take advantage of and vice versa. The intent is very much to try and use all of these programmes and activities that we have going on to help create a new company culture as we bring tens of thousands of people together.

To be successful as a new business as quickly as possible, we’ll need to work together and harmonise the beliefs and value structures we have. The cultures are probably not that different but there will be work to do and I see programmes like MARC and the extension of it to the EMC community as well as engaging each other in our employee resource groups as a key way of helping to knock down those barriers.

I think for us it’s how we can leverage what we already have, in terms of established programmes and bring the communities together on both sides and use those as a lever to help create a new company culture for all of us which will allow us to be successful as we go forward as a new company.”

Involved fathers, committed professionals

Committed professionals can be involved fathersOn a recent project for the Law Society of Scotland we heard some great examples of men doing their very best to be active fathers whilst still delivering commercial goals. Here are men in their own words reflecting on how to get off to a good start as a new father. 

“Be involved, be upfront with clients, prioritise sleep.”

“Your kids are only young once. If you don’t read to them or put them to bed now, you never will. And the benefits to your mental health are amazing. If you are zombified by a poor night’s sleep, tell your clients. Most of them will understand. Those that do not are likely to be “those clients” anyway. Sometimes, moving to another room is a survival technique if you want an uninterrupted night’s sleep – just be prepared to make up for it in other ways. Keep a picture of your children in easy view in your office; if your clients/colleagues/whoever are difficult, a look at your kids will make you smile no matter what. If you hadn’t before, learn to say no and leave the office promptly from time to time. If the culture is such that you’re expected to be there all hours God sends, you probably need to re-examine your priorities. First day of school? Take the day off and be there for them.”

Senior male solicitor, private practice @longmores

Chea Meakins“Draw boundaries, be focussed, get home for bathtime.”

“My wife and I worked out a routine fairly early on after our daughter was born. I would always be home to do the evening bath (subject to the unavoidable marketing/seminar engagements, but I try to limit these to 1 per week where possible). This means that I always have to work to a deadline and leave work at a certain time. Without this there is always the temptation to stay that little bit longer because there is always something else that can be done… The bath/getting ready for bed routine means I am always guaranteed at least one hour with my daughter per day. This sounds so little on paper but in reality a lot can be achieved within that time. I usually get back home an hour before bath time so in practice I get 2 -2.5 hours. This is also a huge relief to my wife who appreciates me taking over at the end of the day for those last few hours.”

Che Meakins, Solicitor, Rayden Solicitors @RaydensLaw


“Eat together and have a planned weekly late night at the office.”

“I’ve been very lucky to be able to balance work and fatherhood to give me lots of time with my daughter, and I am now nearly a year qualified and I feel I have also progressed hugely as a solicitor in the same time.   As I live walking distance from the office I would go home most lunch times and see my wife and child. I tried to ensure that I took my lunch each day to guarantee this time at home. I also designated Thursday evening as a ‘late night’ which I would work late before heading to my regular football practice. This meant I could head home on time the rest of the week. Having that one evening each week was really important allowing me to catch up or get on top of things outside office hours.”

Liam Colville, Solicitor, Debenhams Ottaway @DebenhamsOtt 


“Flexible working has made me more efficient.”

“There are 3 options in my view: Option 1 is ‘the continue as before’ in the knowledge that others are looking after your child well. Option 2 is to say that being a father is considerably more important than a career so you shift towards the “work to live” view. Option 3 is a mid-point between the other 2. If you intend to take option 3 then my suggestions would be as follows. First try to build a platform of a work pattern that is agreeable to both work and home. Come to an agreement with your partner that you feel allows you to be the involved Dad that you want to be whilst still allowing you to maintain your career progression (albeit at a slightly diminished rate for a period). Be disciplined. Leave work when you have agreed. This may mean having to say no to certain meetings etc. Equally, agree regular days when you will work late so you know that you can focus on work on those days. I have also found that my focus on making the flexible working pattern work (and be seen to work) has made me more efficient at work. My time management has improved due to my focus on, for example, getting everything done so I can leave to be home for bath time. Having both the set agreement and the discipline has, paradoxically, given me the flexibility to adapt such as to busy times at work where some flex in the agreement is needed or to take calls at home etc.”

Chris Purcell, Solicitor, in-house third sector.



The following prompts are designed to help you consider how you can make a positive start to combining fatherhood and career.

  1. 1) How much leave will you take and when?
  2. 2) How much time will you strive to give to work and family each week?
  3. 3) What are your top professional priorities and how will you fit them into the time you have allocated to work?
  4. 4) What points do you need to discuss with your line manager?
  5. 5) What one thing can you start to do differently for the good of family life?


The Talent Keeper Specialists help men adjust to fatherhood through in-house seminars and one to one executive coaching. If you got something from this post you might also like: