Presentation to the Positive Action at Work Conference 13th March 2019 at The University of Chester

by | Mar 19, 2019

‘I am delighted to talk to you today about measures to address gender segregation and to provide a HR perspective on today’s discussions.

I have worked in Human Resources for over 30 years and gender equality has always been a defining factor in my life and work.

Over the years I have taken an active stance. In 1994, whilst working for McVities in Stockport I developed a partnership with the local college and the Union Learning Fund to deliver basic skills to the predominantly female biscuit packers, who’d left school with no qualifications. The scheme won an award; but most importantly it gave a voice to the female workforce, to enable them to develop and gain confidence. In various guises I am pleased to say that the scheme has continued to the present day.

In 2000 I took a campaigning role to promote the change in legislation which enabled employees to have the right to request flexible working, for the first time. I wrote the guide ‘work-life balance – a guide to getting it right’ and 9000 copies were produced and distributed locally. I worked with key leaders in North Wales Police, NE Wales NHS Trust and Wrexham County Borough Council, to help them to introduce their policies, so that their staff could request the right to work flexibly.

I have spent the last 14 years working in the education sector and, as HR Director, I have actively supported the employee journey and watched over learners progressing through the increasingly volatile, diverse and complex world we live in.

In 2016, I was nominated for the special achievement award for my work in diversity, from the National Centre for Diversity.

I am passionate and active in the area of gender equality.

So here’s my call to action for HR professionals.


  • Make sure adverts are gender neutral and avoid terms which have stereotypical connotations.
  • Always use blind recruitment and redact the applicant’s personal details to avoid unconscious bias.
  • Make sure that selection panels are diverse,
  • Campaign against occupational segregation and make a point of highlighting stereotypes.


  • 70% of the women who are of menopausal age are working and research shows they are suffering in silence, with the commonly held stereotypical view that they are just not coping with stress.

So, what can HR do?

  • Actively champion policies which take care of women at this stage in their life. We have policies for pregnancy and maternity, but not for the menopause. Like pregnancy, this is a health-related condition.
  • We are guilty of gendered ageism and we need to act.

Unconscious Bias

  • HR should provide on-going training in this area and continue to lobby against unconscious and conscious bias when they hear it and see it.


  • HR should set the tone and work tirelessly to remove derogatory workplace banter, prohibitive long working hours and confirmative bias.

Flexible Working

  • Sadly, there has been a flat line in take up of in requests since 2010, with reported reasons given by potential applicants such as ‘its career limiting’ or because employer decisions are not challenged.
  • As HR professionals, we should work to offset this by setting up workplace trials, use results orientated outputs, and think again about job design.

Shared Parental Leave

  • Again – let people know about the options available to them. This is not the bureaucratic bomb we feared. However, statistics show that only 2% of eligible couples take this option up!

Gender Pay Gap

  • Changes will be incremental, but we must close the gaps that exist. On average, there is a 14.7 % gap in favour of men the private sector and 12.7% gap in favour of men in the public sector.
  • So, cast a critical eye over your pay policies again, tell the story honestly and then formulate a plan and communicate it to your Board.  Be held accountable.

Policies and Procedures

  • Make them really relevant or else don’t have them! Make sure if someone has a harassment claim, you act. HR is the moral conscience and non-disclosure agreements cannot be used inappropriately to protect those in power.


  • Set up a decent and usable scheme to reward those who mentor others. Make sure that you train your line managers about how best to support and coach their teams.


  • Train staff in equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • Monitor and review your CPD programmes and your development offer to make sure that everyone has proper rightful access to opportunities.

Talent Mapping and Progression

  • Take care – avoid vertical segregation or as it’s known, the ‘glass ceiling’ by promoting through positive action and limit the horizontal segregation where you see gender clusters in occupations such as cleaning, catering, cashiers and caring, again through positive action.
  • HR must play an active part in promoting and supporting women to breakthrough into all occupations.

Role Modelling Leadership

  • When you see gender bias – call it out! You and your leaders are role models, casting the shadow, good and bad, in which others operate.

To conclude, in my experience, gender diverse organisations are more motivational and competitive. They have less group-think, attract a wider talent pool and are more productive. So, setting about creating HR measures which make sure your organisation is gender diverse is the best work you can do for your organisation.

What’s not to love!’

Vanessa is a very experienced HR Professional with a career spanning over 30 years. Prior to setting up Imago HR she worked for many years as a senior HR leader, providing a compassionate and pragmatic approach to people management. Click on her website to find out more about the Imago HR service