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Career Returners Career Returners Careers Equality and Diversity

Gov Returners Programme for Women in STEM

Back in June Find Your Flex released an article questioning whether society is doing enough for women in STEM roles. Nine months later on International Women’s Day 2022, the government announced it’s plan to introduce a returner programme for women in STEM.

We’re happy that the government is catching up and acting on the clear path forward. Returner programmes are nothing new, Find Your Flex have hosted several returner programmes including STEM industry programmes.

However, a government implemented scheme designed specifically for women in STEM is a huge step in the right direction. Or is it?

How does a returner programme help get more women into STEM?

The aim of this programme is to close the gender-pay gap in the STEM industry. So how does this returner programme accomplish that?

In order to build upon something, the foundation needs to be maintained. Women who are currently in the STEM industry need to be retained and women who have stepped away from the industry for a time need to have entryways back, otherwise there will be nothing to build upon.

This is also about making sure the gap doesn’t widen by having women leave a role in STEM for temporary reasons and those roles being filled by men. And not having valuable knowledge and experience that women possess in this industry go to waste.

Women often report that they don’t feel as if they belong in engineering and computing fields … This more tenuous sense of fit with the professional role of an engineer was found to be associated with a greater likelihood of leaving the field.”

This shows there’s a battle on two fronts; trying to get women into STEM roles and trying to keep the ones already in place. Returner programmes are the middle ground; trying to get women back into STEM roles who have left.

Are women in STEM the priority?

The government implementing a STEM returner programme specifically for women is a wholly positive move. Although the way in which it was announced does bring into question how much of a priority this is really? It was introduced almost as a subsidiary of the transparent salaries pilot scheme, as it was showcased within that announcement.

However, STEM returner programmes for women feels like a totally separate scheme to transparent salaries. Though both can be used as tools to close the gender-pay gap, they also have other effects outside of that. Transparent Salaries affects all industries and tackles multiple issues. This programme focuses on one issue in one industry.

Getting more women into STEM roles and returning to STEM careers is a separate issue and a prominent one. It would have perhaps been more prudent if this returner programme had been announced separately or at least been given equal focus. This would have shown the government is just as committed to both.

Although, the fact that a government is running this programme is a huge step in the right direction. It shows that there is a need for more women in STEM roles in general and this should have a positive impact on that.

Returners and Retention in STEM could lead to further female talent Acquisition

Having a government backed returner programme will make it easier for women to return to higher level positions. Previously they have found this difficult if they did want to return to the STEM industry. Re-entering via roles they are overqualified for.

The 2021 STEM Returners index survey revealed that 61% of returners found the process of returning to the industry difficult or very difficult. Those who did return commented on being overqualified for their role and had entered at levels below where they were prior to their break.

This is one reason the returner programme will aid in helping new female talent enter the STEM industry. If experienced, qualified women are re-entering the industry at a lower level, this results in less opportunities for new talent. If qualified women re-enter at the same level they left, there will be more opportunities for new female talent.

There is also the chain reaction of the more women retained and returning in the STEM industry the more role models there are. An existing barrier is there is not enough female representation for girls in education to pursue a career in STEM.

A pwc report contained testimonials from female students. Some said they don’t want a career in tech as it is a male dominated industry. 83% of female students could not name a prominent female role model in tech. The more women in STEM, the more role models and prominent figures there will be.

The future of Women in STEM

No matter how you look at it, the future is far more hopeful for women in STEM after the government’s announcement. It’s one thing for businesses to individually or even collectively do their part to fix an issue. But when the issue is big enough to warrant government action, it results in an important shift within the industry.

Could more be being done? Of course! But this is just the beginning, getting more women into STEM roles will require far more time and investment to achieve the end goal. But this is a big step towards that, now we can focus on what the next step is.

For more information on women in the STEM industry click here.

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Equality and Diversity Future of work

Transparent Salaries Scheme to close Gender-Pay Gap

On International Women’s Day 2022, a government pilot scheme was announced aiming to lessen the gender-pay gap for women. By having employers have totally transparent salaries in job descriptions.

This is definitely a step in the right direction. Find Your Flex have participated in research and are always aiming to be a driving force in eradicating the gender-gap. This will undoubtedly make a positive change in this area, but in other areas as well.

The main aim of this scheme is to remove barriers for women, which is excellent and more than needed. But transparent salaries will have other positive impacts too on job seekers in general.

Although this is a positive step in the right direction, there are questions that this raises. Such as; should this only be a pilot scheme? What are the all round impacts of transparent salaries for employees and job seekers? And what more needs to happen in this area?

How will the Transparent Salaries Scheme affect the Gender-Pay Gap?

First and foremost; transparency in general within the workplace has a positive affect on the removal of all inequality. However, in terms of the gender-pay gap, transparent salaries put men and women on an equal playing field from the get go.

If the salary is transparent in the job description, that means there is little to no chance that the employer is going to pay a man more than a woman for the same role. Whereas, if the salary is advertised as Negotiable or On Application, there is no telling what an employer factors in when deciding what your salary is going to be.

By being transparent, everyone who applies knows they will be getting paid the same regardless of gender. Information is key, and Minister for Women Baroness Stedman-Scott appears to take this stance during her announcement of the scheme:

The UK can only grasp its full potential by championing its brightest and best, and ensuring everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to succeed.

We believe that increased pay transparency will build on positive evidence of the role information can play when it comes to empowering women in the workplace.

It certainly empowers a woman to know what they are going to be paid if successful when applying for a role. If an employer offers less than what was advertised, the applicant is in a position to challenge that.

Though positive, should this have happened sooner?

While we all recognise this is a positive move in the right direction towards gender-equality in employment. Not to put a negative spin on it, but it is important to point out that this is a move that should have happened long ago.

Why is it important to point this out? Because we measure the speed of progress by how long it takes to achieve certain milestones in the present. In reality, making salaries transparent in job descriptions is a really simple yet effective move. One that could have been implemented much sooner.

The conversation on transparent salaries decreasing the gender-pay gap and discrimination has been ongoing for years. Many employers who adopted a transparent salary policy have advocated it’s use to eradicate discrimination.

In 2016 Huffington Post spoke to several business leaders and owners who advocate transparent salaries. Ian Pearman, who at the time was the CEO of one of the UK’s biggest advertising agencies and he put it in the simplest terms:

Nothing is more corrosive than the sense that there is inequality in the system. And layered on top of that may be specific concerns relating to gender and race – ‘Am I paid less because I am a woman? Or from an ethnic minority?’ With transparency, these questions don’t even occur.

When you put it like that, it seems obvious that all organisations should have transparent salary policies. And if you think 2016 is as far back as this goes, you’d be wrong.

In the same article the global food shop Wholefoods stated they have been making the salaries of their employees public since the 1980’s! Yet in 2018 there were still arguments being made against all companies implementing this.

Is there an argument against transparent salaries?

That depends on your point of view. In an article by Time which was published in 2018, with the pros and cons were being weighed up. With the pros still being the eradication of discrimination, closing of the gender-pay gap and employee benefits.

Some of the supposed drawbacks included; risking pitting employees against each other due to jealousy and businesses struggling to hire people to lower rate roles.

In response to the latter; if a business is really struggling to secure applicants, the role must be extremely unappealing and not just from a salary standpoint. If increasing the salary is not possible then there needs to be other benefits to the role that will make up for the lower salary.

As for the former; jealousy and resentment in the workplace is a whole separate issue. If it exists within your organisation there will likely be more to it than just salaries alone. Sadly this is sometimes unavoidable whether employees know each other’s salaries or not.

Though these are challenges, they really cannot be used as excuses in the face of eradicating discrimination and closing the gender-pay gap. It may mean more work for HR department and recruitment but in the long term every company would be better off.

Why is this only a pilot scheme?

Judging from what we have laid out already, you may be wondering why the government is only rolling out a pilot scheme. If the pro’s are so vast and con’s are so minimal shouldn’t a full scheme/legislation be implemented?

That is certainly the hope for the future. However, because this scheme has been planned to achieve a certain goal i.e closing the gender-pay gap, a lot goes into this.

Existing policies, practices and processes may need to change and then if after a set amount of time has past, the scheme will be reviewed. If the objectives have been achieved and the overall outcome is positive then it may lead to a wider scheme or piece of legislation being implemented.

So what could this lead to? If a wider scheme is introduced many big companies will ensure their salaries are transparent. Any companies that don’t will look increasingly unethical. Possibly gaining a bad employer reputation if they don’t make the shift.

Of course the main hope is that a major piece of legislation is passed which will require all UK businesses to be transparent and state salaries on job descriptions. Then they will obligated to do so which would be a major victory for employees and job seekers alike.

Transparent Salaries will not only help close the Gender-Pay Gap, but benefit job seekers in general

Although this scheme is being piloted in an attempt to close the gender-gap. The fact of the matter is that it is a huge step in the right direction for job seekers in general.

In August of last year, Find Your Flex conducted our own research into this topic. We asked whether job applicants are put off applying for a role where the salary is not stated in the job description. Over 4,000 people voted and the overwhelming majority said they would be put off.

They expanded on their reasons providing view points that gave us an understanding of what is important to job seekers.

So why are transparent salaries vital in job descriptions? The most obvious answer is that pay is one of the most important parts of the job for applicants.

What we are paid is what facilitates our lives, so we need to know if the role we are applying for will continue to do this. Not stating a salary from the beginning puts the applicant at a disadvantage.

If the salary is stated as negotiable or on application, the employer holds all the cards. Offering applicants different salaries for whatever criteria they see fit. This is why transparent salaries are not only a tool to combat a gender issue, but discrimination in general.

For all an applicant knows, they are being offered less because of their gender, age, race, experience-level, who knows? If the salary is not stated only the employer knows, how is that fair or right?

Now job applicants will know from the beginning what their salary will be. They know it will be based on their ability to do the job and nothing else. And they will know whether or not the job is worth applying for without wasting their time.

A step in the right direction

All in all, this is a step in the right direction to close the gender-pay gap, erase discrimination from the workplace and empower job seekers.

Should this have happened sooner? Yes it absolutely should. And it does show that as far as progress goes, both the government and employers have a ways to go. We know what the issues in both the workplace and in the employment process are, so it should not have taken this long for this scheme to arise. The time for action is now.

Although, as the old cliche goes: better late than never. And we do want to stress that this is a positive development, if not only for the scheme itself but hopefully the domino effect it will cause.

We are looking forward to what effect this scheme will have on the future of working and we will be watching this space very closely in the meantime.

Thank you for reading, if you would like to find out what more Find Your Flex has to say on this and other topics click the link here.

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A Day In The Life Of... Equality and Diversity Lifestyle Mental Health

Journey to Success: Differing Cultures, Guard Your Mind & Inspire Others

In recognition Black History Month, the Find Your Flex team wanted to speak with a black business leader. One who might be able to share some insights on what a journey from childhood to employment was like and if they ever faced conscious or subliminal adversity impacted by differing cultures.

But we got so much more than this from Robert Upright: Public Speaker and Founder of Empowered Communicator; a company dedicated to helping others overcome struggles with public speaking and gain confidence.

Robert shares his inspiring and impactful journey from childhood to adulthood. He sheds a light on moments when cultural diversity did and didn’t play a part in his journey. And how how mental health presented some barriers and how he overcame them. And finally how he came to help others overcome their barriers and how helping and inspiring others is the greatest of gifts.

What was it like growing up in London?

You know, it’s interesting. We can only ever inhabit our own skin right? And therefore you have the perspective you have. And it’s only by comparison that you realise things, otherwise you’re just living your life.

I had a very happy childhood, family oriented. My family moved here from West Africa, from Ghana, when I was very little and you only know what you know right?

But definitely, what was interesting was the embracing of the two different cultures. For example; when I was little, my parents never spoke our mother tongue too us. Because they were told it would hinder our progress and our growth.

So back then, that was the recieved wisdom. So therefore, although it was spoken in the house amongst themselves, they would speak English to us.

That was quite an interesting dynamic; that we were from a background that wasn’t from this country, hearing a language. But then that language not being directly spoken to us, and then going into school and elsewhere and speaking English.

Things like your foods which were different and which I retain to this day; a love of the West African foods and a love of the British foods. I think it was having that perspective of seeing different worlds and existing in different worlds I think was a very interesting time.

You mentioned different cultures, in terms of your education did that present any barriers or achievements?

What’s interesting is that there is a very very high premium placed on education, certainly from the West African culture. That’s not to say that there isn’t anywhere else. But I think the mentality that I inherited from my parents was that; there may well be barriers that we’ll face.

And we could see certain barriers growing up; the way people might respond to you. I could see the way they might respond to my parents. But that wasn’t ever anything that they would allow to be used to prevent us from excelling.

I think that was the overriding message; to say that it doesn’t actually matter whatever anybody else does or what anyone else thinks, or thinks of you. It was drilled into us that education was the biggest weapon or tool to fight against any kind of inequality.

And so from that perspective, for my family; it was incredibly important that we were very well educated; that we respected education and we respected study and that was really drilled in from a very early age.

I think being in a society whereby obviously you are identifiably different- obviously there are lots of differences in society, but when you are identifiably different, people can look at you and say; ‘well you’re different to what we’ve seen and what we know’. In such circumstances, there’s potential for people to judge you or pre-judge you, and that’s kind of an unfortunate truth, but it’s a truth non the less.

So you have to quickly demonstrate that you are at least on par and worthy of being taken seriously. Otherwise you risk automatically not being taken seriously, and I think that’s something that was drilled in to me at a very early age:

That you can overcome any direct, indirect, overt or subliminal differences or discrimination shall we say, and education is one of your biggest weapons to do so.

Did you embrace the pressures that came with this: the importance of education and overcoming the cultural obstacles you talked about?

Your life is from a perspective that is obviously your own and that was just the norm, that’s just what we did and what we do. It wasn’t a case of looking and comparing to see ‘oh, we do have this or we don’t have this’, it just is the way it is.

And I think that’s an important point in terms of an attitude, that I think I adopt and one everyone can adopt. One that says:

If this is where you are, then this is where you are. There’s no two ways about it.

If you’re sitting in your front room or your kitchen, there’s absolutely no point in going: ‘Oh I wish I was sitting in Hyde Park right now‘ because you’re not. So the only issue is how are you going to get from there to Hyde Park if that’s where you want to get to.

In terms of a nine-year-old, I probably wouldn’t have articulated it like that. But on reflection now certainly. However, I think as any nine-year-old, all I wanted to do was run around and watch Metal Mickey, Rent a Ghost and things like that! But behind that, I knew I was from a disciplined background, a disciplined household. But that’s just what it was.

When making the transition from education to employment, was there any discrimination from employers?

It’s an interesting one, because if they did it, they did it well enough that I would never know! To be fair, I didn’t get a sense of that and I didn’t feel that on my employment journey. But again, I think that might go down to my attitude. I’m very very pragmatic about certain things and I think that is a very important point to take away.

Because life’s experiences will give you a certain armour, I think that it will either break you or embolden you. To a point where at times you can be oblivious to certain things because it’s simply what you do and you simply get on with it.

The problem is; if you are to notice everything, it can just get too overwhelming. There is this thing in life called habituation isn’t there? Like when there’s a really bad smell in the room, you’ll notice it immediately, but the brain goes; ‘well I can’t be focusing on this all day’ so the smell just blends into the background and you don’t even notice it.

And I think in life it perhaps is one of those things where that because of my upbringing, background and therefore mentality, there’s a certain amount of armour that gives you.

If these things were going on to some extent, I just didn’t notice or it wasn’t something I would focus on. Because it wasn’t necessarily that helpful to do so, it was more helpful to carve out the path I wanted to carve.

What did you do between education and starting your own business?

I worked in the publication industry. I did my degree in psychology, which is quite interesting because around that time in my teens is when I started struggling with agoraphobia and panic attacks. It was quite a difficult period and that went on for many years.

A lot of that will inform much of my own personal experience. Which isn’t necessarily race-related per say, because anybody could struggle with that, but that was just another thing to factor in.

I was very conscious about how I would show up in places. Very conscious, being a black male that there may well be a narrative or a stereotype that wasn’t necessarily that positive, yet that’s out there in society, in the media etc. I was always aware of that from a very early age and felt that wherever I went I had to show up in a way that would combat that narrative.

There is that on your shoulders and that is something I took upon myself. But the problem with being agoraphobic and having panic attacks and anxiety and all of that suddenly coming along is:

How do you still show up that way? At your best and trying to combat a narrative?

So that was an additional kind of pressure, that I think exacerbated things at the time, and on reflection I possibly didn’t have the life experience to be able to cope with that as well as I can do now.

And in my work, where I engage with people who might struggle with things around confidence or how you show up. Because I have an intimate understanding of what they’re going through having lived that for so long. It’s the nuances around that, that you can really pick up and start to help them address their challenges.

What led you to become a Public Speaker, in spite of having phobias and mental health issues that would make this career path difficult?

Interestingly, in the workplace, what I would find is that I was functional and I could get on with things. The panic attacks and so forth, I found that I could manage them well enough that I could function and people wouldn’t really know, I would hide in places etc. But what it did mean is that for a long time I wouldn’t pursue career advancement.

I didn’t want to be in positions whereby I’d have such authority that I would be responsible. Such that, if I had a panic attack, I couldn’t show up and therefore it exacerbates the whole; ‘well you’re not showing up at your best. You’re affirming a narrative that is not very positive‘. And it wasn’t anything about who I am or what I am, it was what I was going through and that was kind of like a silent struggle.

So, that was an interesting thing, for a long time that would be going on. And then that goes into areas around; when/if you are struggling, who do you turn to? Where do you turn? That’s true in society anyway, I think everybody has their own struggles with that regardless of who you are.

There’s just that extra little bit of salt on it whereby certain communities have no space to have those conversations around your mental health. It’s just not the ‘done’ thing. So that was probably quite a bit of a pressure cooker that lead to me avoiding trying to get advancement for quite a while.

But I think the way life goes and the way it unfolds, I started looking into things around self-development, going to seminars and reading more around that subject. I studied psychology, but that was more an academic exercise, as opposed to informing how I lived my life or coped with everything. So that was a really interesting experience, that even though I studied psychology, it wasn’t that that was necessarily the breakthrough thing for me.

How did you transition from that to actually becoming a Public Speaker?

The transition I think, came when I did start to look at things around self-development, around self-empowerment. Ultimately, when you can be in control of who you are; your mind. I have a saying you know that I love, it’s one of my favourites:

Stand Guard at the Gates of Your Mind.”

I’m always saying that because it’s so important. You’ve really got to be aware of what you feed your mind and what you allow to get in. It can really start to shape your opinion of life. What you think shapes your outlook. It’s like the whole garden and the farmer analogy; what you plant, you will grow. Basically, you can’t plant a lemon seed and expect and orange tree to grow.

So realising that, there was an opportunity to go to a training on public speaking. And it was a real decision to make, thinking; ‘well I have this history, I have this background and I know I struggle with this kind of thing.’

But it got to a point whereby, your biggest opportunities and your biggest successes lie on the other side of your personal fears don’t they? And although that might be something people read and think; ‘yeah, yeah’, it’s actually so true. In that, if you remain within your comfort zone and you remain within what you know, all you will ever get is what you know. Something pushed me towards doing that training.

On the day I recall I woke up at about 4 AM for the training I was going to and I woke up in sweats at the thought of going to this thing. And I was looking for every single excuse not to go. But fortunately, I went and was able to get through it, and from there my training continued and I just really became a lot more. And then was able to then transition to who I have become today.

What is your experience of running your own business that helps people overcome some of the same struggles?

Do you know it’s the greatest gift, without sounding sounding sort of “woowoo” about it. But it really is. The thing is everybody has something extraordinary within them and about them. And the biggest shame I think in this life, in this society, is for people who don’t ever get to realise that, or see it or embrace it.

And if you can shine a light on somebody’s gift, so that it reveals it to them, then that moment is one of those incredible, beautiful and most important moments in a person’s life. It’s not that there are violins playing out there or doves flying in the air- it’s just this moment of realisation that somebody who perhaps feels like they can’t, suddenly realises that they can.

Now of course there’s work to do, it’s not a magic wand. But if you don’t believe it, if you don’t believe in you, then how likely is it that anything that you dream of will ever happen?

Once you do believe in you and once you have a kind of road map and some steps, guidance, support and belief. Because there will also be days when you don’t believe in yourself and days when you slip back a bit. So it’s really important to surround yourself with the right people; mentors, friends, your inner circle; who understand that particular journey you’re on.

But it is incredible to do and having known what it’s been like to feel quite lost, out at sea, a little bit in the dark. Now it’s like being able to perform that function of almost as a lighthouse isn’t it? Which really helps to illuminate the environment for others as to what’s possible. And then perhaps give them some tools in order to embrace that and show up in a way that is more confident, more empowered, more impactful.

What’s interesting about self development is, it’s not just about the thing that you think is stopping you, it never is just that. It’s all of the other things that radiate off that. It’s everything about who you are and who you become.

Often at times, what you find is people are existing with a kind of a shield or a front right? You don’t want the world to see you at what your perceive as your weakest. So a lot of the time people may show up as an image of themselves as opposed to as themselves.

One of the things I talk about is being confident and natural. That word natural is so important as it really goes back to; if you can just sit alone and be yourself with yourself, then you can be yourself with other people. That’s the important part of the journey that a lot of times is missed. Often times people look at the external and its not just about the tools; ‘okay do this and say this at this moment. Put up this slide or stand in this way’.

It is really a journey of self-discovery, of self-realization and of self-love really. And recognizing all the warts and the things that have happened have actually happened in order to serve you.

I know that can be a very emotive and for some people may be a triggering statement. So it is not to in any way dismiss or discount anything that has happened, or anything you may have been through. I know there’ll be people who have been through extraordinary traumas and I have worked with people that have been through extraordinarily difficult things.

The thing is, at this moment in time, are those things going to continue to disempower you? Or is there a way that by shifting one’s mind, by embracing who you are and taking those things and using them almost as fuel to empower yourself in whatever direction you wish to go. But to be empowered is the most important thing so that you don’t end up living a life of regret.

What advice would you to someone trying to reach a goal and how to overcome any barriers along the way?

Ultimately I think there is the practical side and then there is the personal and internal side. A lot of times with goals or destinations, people are quite vague about it. And if you were to articulate or tell someone your goal, could they easily repeat it back to you? Because there is that thing about; if you can make something understandable by a 7 or 8 year-old, then it’s clear.

To be clear and concise is very important, because fate, loves clarity. And if you can be clear on what it is that you want, it’s the first step in helping you to reach it. So there is that; be very clear on what it is that you want.

Then it is about milestones, there will be certain milestones that you will need to hit, referring back to the Hyde Park analogy. So for example; you might just say, ‘well just get up and go’ but, have you put your clothes on? Have you showered? Have you brushed your teeth? So they’ll be the steps, and there will be bigger steps and milestones so you need to map those out, so that you can actually see a road map.

By simply putting up a kind of map of your journey, suddenly it allows the mind to rest, and be reassured and it brings a certain element of reality. Because what you’re doing with a dreams is that you’re dreaming and there will be a part of your mind that may fight that dream, particularly if you’re struggling in this moment. So what you need to do is to bridge that gap between your current reality and the dream that you have.

And it’s those practical things that you can do and which is why it’s so important not to miss those steps. Because a lot of the time people will throw them away and think; ‘well what’s the point of writing it down? I’m here, I’m struggling, it’s never going to happen. What’s the point in putting in my milestones?’. And so once you understand the way the way that crafting your future works, then you’re a lot more likely to embrace it and do it.

From the personal side, number one: stand guard at the gates of your mind. Who have you got surrounding you? And when I say who; that could be people, it could be the media that you allow in, the messages. What messages are you allowing into your head and are they ones that support you?

Often times, this is why people go to coaches, or get help from consultants, or do various courses etc. It’s so important because what that does is; it shifts your mind and it shifts your environment. You start to surround yourself with people who perhaps believe in you more than you believe in yourself.

It’s like crabs in a barrel; you be trying to crawl out, but if you’re amongst the wrong people, they will drag you back down. So it really is about auditing your life; who you surround it with- it doesn’t mean you throw them away or anything. But recognise what impact certain people are having on your dreams. Then doing something actively to put yourself in an environment or around people who will genuinely lift you, push you and support you, towards a goal that is now crystal clear with a map to guide you along the way.

Thank you so much Robert for sharing with us your personal journey to a successful career!

We hope our readers find your story as inspiring and uplifting as we did. And perhaps gained some perspective on some of the issues, barriers and achievements you mentioned. If you want to learn more about Robert and what he does or even if you relate to some of the struggles he mentioned and require some help and guidance, you can reach out to him at Empowered Communicators here.

Robert touches upon differing cultures, to read more about this topic take a look our article on whether Culture Change starts in Schools.

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Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Lifestyle Mental Health

Dogs Do Good

Why dogs can end isolation and create accessible employment opportunities for the disabled community.

Did you feel lonely, isolated or even a bit ‘stir crazy’ during the last 16 months of the pandemic?

How many of you succumbed to buying a dog as an incentive to get out of the house or just for a good, old cuddle – in these more isolated times?

Whether you’ve found it to be a positive or a negative working from home, we’re all agreed that we feel lucky to be employed after the last 18 months of increase unemployment, recruitment freezes and furlough – all creating an atmosphere of uncertainty about what our economic futures hold.

We can now have a more compassionate understanding of how it must feel to be disabled (whether visibly disabled or invisible).

You can’t take for granted that you’ll have opportunities to live as you’d like, are often cut off from community or work opportunities and can face length periods of loneliness.

Of the 8.4 Million people of working age (16-64) registered as disabled in the UK, only 53.6% are in employment.

Whilst this was an increase year on year (in Oct-Dec 2020), it is still lower in comparison to those who don’t have a disability, with just 18.3% non-disabled people being unemployed – a whopping 35% difference.

As you’d imagine, Covid certainly hasn’t helped matters.

The proportion of disabled people who are either unemployed or economically inactive has risen from 45.9% to 47.7% this year.

That’s over 4 Million people in the UK whose mental health, self-esteem and contact with the outside world, has likely been compromised, by factors completely outside of their own control.

The link between employment and improved self-esteem has long been documented: Unemployment and Mental Health

As this analysis from the Health Organisation points out, unemployment and mental health is bio-directional.

When you have positive mental health, it boosts your employability.

When your employability declines, your mental health can decline and depression and anxiety often appear as financial stresses take their unfortunate toll.

As many of us may have experienced a job loss, loss of earnings, or even just fallen privy to more financial instability during the last 18 months, hopefully we will have more empathy for anyone that’s disability has prevented them from joining the UK workforce and participation in the economy.

This is where Dogs for Good come in.

If your empathy can translate into wanting to take action, maybe as an Employer you could see how we can right some wrongs via the Dogs for Good corporate sponsorship programmes?

Dogs for Good provide assistance dogs to their service users and clients.

Their furry friends literally help revolutionise lives.

Take this story about how Eider has helped Heather go back to work:

Charitable fundraising has been hit hard in the last 18 months by the pandemic and Dogs for Good are no exception.

They’ve suffered a 25% decrease in voluntary income, as face to face fundraising and their usual ‘Challenge’ events have obviously had to be postponed.

In 2020 they qualified 17 new dogs as Assistance dogs – which is only 1/3 of what they had planned for the year.

Plus COVID’s caused an additional challenge – how to support their clients with social distancing measures in place.

Many of DFG’s clients have reported that the long periods of isolation have had a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing and a further loss of confidence.

While people with assistance dogs have reported that their pet became even more invaluable as a real ‘lifeline’, Dogs for Good have also had to help the dogs themselves, who have suffered by being more confined to ever-shrinking local areas, due to the stricter social distancing guidelines in the first and second waves especially.

Dogs for Good have a waiting list of over 5,000 people enquiring about support dogs.

A dog would enable them to live the best version of their life possible, with far more independence, confidence and open a world of new opportunity.

This year they need to raise £3 million to fund the running and development of the training and facilitation programmes needed to help their amazing clients get back into their communities and back into employment.

Dogs for Good offer a range of corporate sponsorships starting from as little as £1,000 and more bespoke partnerships can be created.

If you have a Corporate Fundraising scheme at work and you’d like to participate in an annual scheme – the Puppy Partnership is £5,000 per year.

Your company can embark (pun embarrassingly intended) on a 12-month relationship with DFG, that will see “your puppy” go through training and socialise with their new ‘family’…. And yes I am blubbing while typing this.

Your company can even name the Puppy – one of the most ethical and brilliant forms of “product placement” I’ve come across this year.

Plus, it’s a really nice opportunity to have a wellbeing boost, amongst your Team.

Who doesn’t love knowing they’re contributing to improving people’s lives? Who doesn’t love getting pictures of dogs?

DFG will send your company regular updates on how the new partnership is going.

Plus, if you happen to help support someone back into employment through your Puppy Sponsorship, your team will ‘KNOW’, they’ve contributed massively towards helping level the playing field when it comes to reducing the number of disabled people in unemployment.

While we appreciate requests for fundraising are at all-time high, those of us working in the HR and recruitment space understand how vital it is, we help mobilise the disabled work force.

In fact, we believe that dogs and technology, (not necessarily our politicians unfortunately), present the best opportunity to change so many people’s lives for the better over the coming years.

We just need a bit of support from You – our friends working within our UK businesses.

Let’s all help benefit society and the economy by making employment accessible to as many people as possible.

Let’s focus on everyone’s ability, not their disability.

This really is the Future of Work we need to see.

A dog really is a friend for life and an actual lifeline for so many.

Get involved today and let’s make Change for Good, with Dogs for Good.

Categories
Equality and Diversity Future of work Parental

Does Culture Change Start In Schools?

Does culture change start in schools? There’s a very short answer to this: No. Culture change starts in the home. It’s the culture and values of someone’s family that creates change. That said, schools have a significant role to play.

Schools are the first big institution most of us have contact with. It’s the place where most of us are introduced to influences our parents have no control over (especially secondary school). They are in a very good position to drive culture change and make it more inclusive.

My experience versus my children’s

Before I look at the data that’s available on this subject, I have noticed some significant changes between my experience at school and the experience of my children. My kids, for instance, think nothing of having wheelchair users in their classes. There are lifts and ramps in schools and children with physical or educational needs get the support of teaching assistants.

This simply didn’t happen when I was at school. Anyone with special educational or physical needs would have been packed off to a specialist school.

I can also still remember the day my eldest child came back from school one evening and started moving her hands rhythmically in front of my wife and I. After a few moments I realised she was doing Makaton sign language. The very basics of which are taught in most English primary schools for the first year or two (and a great shame it isn’t taught for longer).

Ethnic and cultural diversity in schools

The other big difference between my education and my kids’ is that I attended schools in rural areas. My children, meanwhile, go to schools within the orbit of London. While predominantly an ethnically white area that we live in, it is much more ethnically diverse than the area where I grew up. My children’s classmates and friendship groups also reflect this.

There simply weren’t the opportunities to mingle and learn from people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds when I was growing up (A few people from the USA, maybe one or two from France but that was it). I received a crash course in multi-culturalism when I was 16 and spent a summer working in a hotel in central Paris. What a crash course it was: I was a teenage country boy having my first ‘big city’ experience hundreds of miles away from my parents in a different country. (There are many other blog posts I could write about this experience, the majority of which are not suitable for Find Your Flex)!

Speaking from personal experience, yes, individuals who attend inner city schools and suburban schools probably will have a more organic view of how diverse society is. What, however, does the data say?

I tried to find out, but the data simply doesn’t exist. I could find nothing comparing ethnic and cultural diversity within rural and urban schools. That said, the Office of National Statistics has some very interesting data on school performance (what follows applies to England only).

Looking at the data

Based on data from 2017/18, 67.3% of rural school children left school with English and Maths GCSE at grade 9-4. The figure for urban schoolchildren was 64%.

In a strange twist, 22% of urban secondary schools are rated as outstanding by Ofsted, versus 18% of rural schools. That said, 26% or urban schools were either deemed inadequate or requiring improvement compared to just 20% of rural schools. (I say “just,” that’s one in five rural schools and just over a quarter of urban schools that need major improvement so the numbers are very worrying).

When it comes to educational attainment, individuals from ethnic minorities often perform very well. London’s schools are renowned for their GCSE success. White British pupils make up 34% of London’s school children. This compares to 84% in the rest of England. Data from a study carried out by Bristol University found London’s pupils outperformed their English peers by eight GCSE points on average. The very same study said the diverse ethnic make-up of London’s schools may explain their success.

What can really have an impact on educational performance is social deprivation. In the most deprived urban areas, 49.1% of schoolchildren will obtain GCSE maths and English at grades 9-4. While for rural areas, the figure is 46.6%. In the wealthiest urban areas, 81.9% of children attain maths and English at grades 9-4 while the figure in rural areas is 80%.

What can be done to make schools more successful and change culture?

The evidence shows some interesting patterns. Rural schools are less diverse than urban schools but they are more successful. The most successful schools of all, however, are in London and they happen to be the most ethnically diverse.

One factor will determine your school performance: Social deprivation. Your ethnicity counts for nothing if your family is deprived. It also doesn’t matter if you are a city or village dweller. If you’re deprived, you’re likely to underperform at school.

It’s the Government’s job to deal with social deprivation. Schools, meanwhile, can and should promote different cultures. This is particularly important in rural locations where students simply won’t have the opportunity to mingle with those from other backgrounds.

Author: John Adams, Find Your Flex editorial team and Founder of Dad Blog UK

Categories
Automation Career Change Careers Digital Skills Equality and Diversity Future of work Technology Industry

Cyber Security: Filling the Gender Skills Gap in Tech

Living in the digital age brings with it a whole new host of threats. 

The ever looming threat of automation and the number of job roles it will render as obsolete in the not to distant future. We can already see this in retail and hospitality industries, how many have replaced manned tills with self-service kiosks? The implications are there and to be sustainable, automation must create the same number of jobs it takes away. 

But there needs to be a learning curve to bridge the digital skills gap created during this process from now until 2025 when 10M jobs will fall out of the UK economy.   

People need to have the opportunity to learn the skills to be eligible for the new emerging roles, created by automation. 

This is why Skills City and Find Your Flex are stepping in; so we can provide these opportunities to those most in need of a “step up”. 

One of the main issues of the digital age is safety. 

Fraudsters don’t need to speak to you directly to steal from you, children cannot always escape school-bullies even in their own homes, wars these days are not always fought on land, sea or sky. 

All of these threats and many more take place online. Cyber-bullying, Online Fraudsters, Cyber-terrorists, Hackers etc. 

In the digital age, our lives are online, therefore the threats are too. 

So what’s the answer? 

Our physical safety is protected by the police, security guards, firefighters, paramedics, military and so on. 

Our online identities are protected by Information Security Administrators, Social Media Moderators, Security Software Developers, Cyber Intelligence Analysts and more. These roles have become just as vital to our protection as the former mentioned roles, all they require is the right tech skills to really set people on the right path.

Women in Tech

White males largely dominate the physical security roles mentioned previously. Unfortunately white males also dominate most roles within the technology sector. Currently only 23% of people in STEM occupations are female, including tech and this has to stop.  

The world is full of talented and intelligent women that could easily make a successful career within technology. And yet males dominate the industry.

It almost feels ridiculous to say this in this day in age; women are just as clever and technology minded as men. 

Why do I say that? 

Because clearly the message isn’t sinking in. 

This is why Skills City are adamant that women in the North West, whether they be graduates or career changers, need to consider a career in tech. 

We need to change these statistics and these online courses are the perfect way to do that. 

Every single student is guaranteed a job interview upon completion.  

The pandemic and the process of automation provides the perfect opportunity for us to see technology savvy women, recareer and make a HUGE DIFFERENCE to the technology workforce. 

GIF sourced from eloquence-of-felicities.tumblr.com

Cyber Security: We need our Cyber Soldiers

Cyber Security has become a vital part of national security. 

We hear about it all the time on the news, cyber terrorism and hackers are just as much of a threat to our personal safety and security as any physical threats.Often these things even hint at an act of war, and why wouldn’t they? 

With everything being online these days, a war can happen from the keyboards in your office and more easily than weapons could be mobilized on a battlefield. And the people sitting at those keyboards are becoming just as much our protective force as people in the military. 

The military have the stereotype of being for “big strong men” 

(although have you seen the Army’s latest recruitment ad to attract women? Check it out and Google Army + Emma). 

 The tech industry has developed a similar stereotype. 

Yet there was a supposed reason that women didn’t want to join the armed forces (and still do, especially in some divisions). The reason being that they weren’t thought to be as “physically capable” as men, which is bulls*#t. 

Yet even if that was true, there can be be no such reason for women not joining Cyber Security roles. 

Women are just a clever as any man. 

Just as capable of developing protective software and analyzing cyber threats. 

In this industry no one can deny that women are on any equal footing in terms of their capabilities and have a right defend their families and country as much as any man.

GIF Sourced from tenor.com

Ensuring our kids have Cyber Security

The world has had to accept that the majority of children spend a lot of their time online. And this of course brings threats that have already been plaguing us for years now. 

Our kids are not always safe from bullies or predators when they get home. This is a scary and uncomfortable topic that’s not nice to hear. 

But it’s real and we must discuss it in order to combat it. 

As adults we recognise that cyber bullying has caused many grown adults to leave social media and in the worst cases, cause depression, anxiety or even contribute towards someone taking their own life. Some have even had the terrifying experience of being stalked or threatened online.

So it’s completely understandable why there are many parents who don’t allow their child online because of these threats. 

While we’d never tell anyone how to raise their child, what we do know is as this is without question “The digital age”, preventing them from going online is likely to be a losing battle.  

Yes there are threats online but would you stop your child going to school to avoid bullying? 

Or prevent them going out with friends because there are ‘bad’ people out there? 

It’s the same basic principle here. Plus, so much social interaction between today’s youth is online. Keeping your kids away from it could affect them in other ways. 

So you might be thinking: “What can I do to help resolve this then?”

Like everything, nothing is black and white. You don’t need to either just let them go online and hope for the best or ensure they’re never on it at all. If you are a mother or father who is concerned for your child’s online safety, be a protective force for them and all children. 

You don’t have to be a techno genius who develops security software. With the basic tech skills taught in these courses you could become a Social Media Moderator or a Security Administrator. 

These are roles that actively seek out offensive, threatening or suspicious online behaviour and put a stop to it. 

If this is something you feel passionately about, equip yourself with the skills to do it.

In just 14 weeks, you could have the Cyber Skills to help keep our future generations safe. 

GIF Sourced from Pinterest

Cyber Security Online Course

Just like with any industry, the roles within Cyber Security vary and there has never been so much demand for all manner of commercial businesses looking for people like you NOW. 

The base skills for most cyber roles are taught at Raytheon Cyber Academy. Plus  it provides many transferable tech skills that would benefit another role within the sector.  

Automation will soon render many jobs obsolete. To create a new income in a sector that can offer flexible working, it’s imperative women join and participate in the tech workforce. We have to be the change we want to see. 

What if Cyber Security isn’t necessarily the tech avenue for you? 

Then you should definitely look at one of the other Skills City courses such as creative 3D Graphic Design and cloud engineering. Take look at courses from Unity Centre of Excellence and AWS re/start respectively. 

A career change may is both a smart choice but also an inevitability.

Check out all of Skills City tech boot camps here

Categories
Careers Equality and Diversity Future of work

Are We Doing Enough For Women In STEM Roles?

There’s no denying the gender gap that exists in so many industries, women in STEM roles are sadly no exception to this. But research into this has raised some concerning questions and even more concerning answers. There are not enough women in STEM roles, that much is clear but is enough being done to change that?

With the Edinburgh Science Festival coming up, we at Find Your Flex thought this is a topic we want to discuss. Exploring why this is still an issue and the possible solutions to this and why change in this area is so important.

Is there a gender gap in STEM industries?

Naturally we don’t just want to state there is a gender gap without backing it up. But the short answer is yes; there is a significant gap when it comes to women in STEM roles. This is proven by the PwC’s Tech She Can Charter and their report on Women in Tech in the UK. In 2017, WISE conducted research that showed that only 23% of people in STEM occupations were female. This makes over three quarters of the workforce in these roles male. Whats worse is that a separate study in the US shows that only 5% of women were in STEM leadership roles.

Now it would not be fair to say there has been no progress. As the research of WISE revealed that the number of women in STEM roles had increased by 2% from the previous year. Is this progress? Yes… is it enough? No. If this increase per year holds steady it would still be over a decade before there is an equal number of men and women in STEM roles. That is also not taking the pandemic into consideration, this could have had an impact on that increase percentage one way or the other. Either way it is not good enough, the gap needs to be closed at a far quicker rate. So, where does the problem begin?

The Lack of Girls Studying STEM Subjects in School

There are a lot of employment issues that when traced back to their source can start in education. PwC’s research shows that this issue may be no different. They conducted a survey that of over 1000 school students; 83% of the males were studying STEM subjects, compared with only 64% females. Now 19% may not seem like much of a difference however, when you take into account the number of STEM subjects and the number of students, this is still a concerning gap.

A similar statistic in university students studying STEM subjects shows a 52% male versus 30% female difference. But when you break it down the results are more shocking. For example Engineering takes 13% of male STEM students but only 2% female, which says a lot. But it still doesn’t answer the question of why? During interviews, young women stated they didn’t want to study STEM subject as it does not factor into the career they want. Though what is worrying is the response when asked if at any point during their education (including careers advice) a role in technology was suggested. Only 16% of girls had technology careers suggested to them, whereas 33% of males were given these suggestions.

This goes hand in hand with the fact that during interviews many of the young women indicated that many STEM subjects and roles are male dominated which is why they did not wish to study them. And they are right, these statistics prove that. But they also sadly prove that schools are not doing enough to encourage otherwise. And this needs to change.

Early years education and STEM

As signatories of The Tech Talent Charter we are aware of such organisations such as Tech She Can. A charter in which signatories pledge to work with  schools across the UK to educate and inspire pupils and teachers about technology careers.

Let’s not forget the importance of early years education. These children are our future. A future that needs the brightest and most imaginative individuals to be able to flourish, regardless of gender or background. This is the point when children absorb information like sponges. The formative stage where children learn more quickly that at any other stage in life. It is at this point we need to inspire our children. Our young girls need role models and a complete removal from gender bias in STEM. Perhaps the focus should be on our teachers and equipping them with the tools needed to do this.

Women in STEM roles in the Media and Pop-Culture

In PwC’s study, only 22% of students could name a well-known female working in technology. The truth is when you think of famous people in STEM roles, the vast majority are male. There are of course many pioneering women in STEM roles throughout history. Women like Ada Lovelace or Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and many more. Yet despite the numerous women who have revolutionized the world through their work in STEM roles, their names don’t immediately spring to mind. We tend to think of the Steven Hawkings or Albert Einsteins, but why? It could be down to the fact the media over the years have recognized and celebrated the male figures over women. Perhaps the media should be doing more to promote women in STEM roles. Especially during the pandemic, both men and women dealing with this issue have given information and opinions via news channels and in print.

In terms of pop-culture, there are women portrayed in STEM roles in film and particularly television. One that comes to mind is The Big Bang Theory, a comedy that originally started with a cast in which all the scientists were male. Though this changed as the series progressed with female scientists being showcased and two becoming mainstay cast members. Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz with a Ph. D in microbiology and Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler a neurobiologist, the latter of whom’s actress has a Ph. D in neuroscience in real life. The show and characters are to this day extremely popular. The two showcased how the females of the group were just as intelligent and successful as their male counterparts and had equally large personalities.

Though other hit television shows have also portrayed STEM female role models. Shows such as Body of Proof; featuring a female protagonist Dr. Megan Hunt; a former Neurosurgeon turned Medical Examiner who has a straight-talking, never-back-down attitude. Even featuring a female in a STEM leadership role as Dr. Kate Murphy is the Chief Medical Examiner. Though there are other shows that showcase females in STEM roles: Grays Anatomy, Casualty, Holby City, Doctor Who etc. So in terms of pop-culture there isn’t a lack of fictional females in STEM roles, so why is there still a lack of non-fictional females in these roles? Its high time life started imitating art on that score.

How to get More Women In STEM roles?

PwC believe that the technology sector must take steps to deal with some of these highlighted issues. However, this should be the responsibility of all STEM industries to get more women into STEM roles as a whole. First and foremost it is the responsibility of STEM organisations to get more involved in the education of young people. They need to do more to raise awareness and showcase the importance of these roles. Make them attractive to young women as well as men. Many students did indicate the reason they wouldn’t consider a role in technology is they don’t know enough about it. STEM organisations should also look inwards to ensure they are providing the women in their company with the same opportunities as the men. More women in senior STEM roles creates more role models and inspirations for future generations.

Schools also need to do better in encouraging girls to study STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers. The statistics above show there is not enough encouragement or access on either front. If girls voice concerns on entering male dominant industries, there needs to be encouragement to overcome this. The research showed roles that make a difference were appealing to young women. Therefore there should be encouragement from both schools and STEM organisations that pursuing these roles makes a difference. A shift in perception is the first and arguably most important step.

The media need to do better at portraying female STEM role models. Make a bigger splash about the life altering contributions females make in STEM fields. Its important that these women are at the forefront of STEM fields to give young women something to aspire to and show them that they are just a capable as any males in this area. Pop-culture is doing a good job at presenting women in these roles, however there is room for improvement. Perhaps television, film and books aimed at a much younger audience should feature more STEM characters. This very well could plant the seeds of girls pursuing STEM fields when they are older.

Hopefully when young girls are grown up enough to make a decision whether or not to pursue a STEM career, the world will be a different place. One where there are just as many female role models in this sector and no obstacles. Its up to society to drive these changes, we need do our best now to set the wheels in motion.

If you want to read more about inspirational women in this and other fields click here! Or more about The Tech Talent Charter then click here.

Categories
Equality and Diversity Flexible Working

Hello International Women in Engineering Day!

It’s June 23rd! Which means all the best people working in the engineering sector will be celebrating International Women in Engineering Day (INWED).

INWED is the ‘World’s biggest initiative celebrating the achievements of women in engineering and allied roles’ led by the Women’s Engineering Society (which, side note, is my favourite engineering organisation but that’s likely not so important!).

Engineers + women = #EngineeringHeroes

This year’s theme is #EngineeringHeroes which could not be more apt for me… Here’s why.

Design Her In
Design Her In – a collaborative campaign to find solutions for the fundamental barriers to women participating in the engineering profession.

Speak Out Revolution’s #DesignHerIn campaign, launched in response to experiences women were sharing in the Speak Out Dashboard, explored the fundamental barriers to women participating in the engineering profession. 

The campaign identified 11 themes from women working across a broad range of industries including nuclear, construction, defence, energy and transportation, and the collective insights were very clear – the profession has not yet designed women into it’s workforce. 

The Top 5 barriers women in engineering identified to their advancement.

Top 5 Barriers to women participating in the engineering profession
  • No representation at senior leadership level
  • Unchallenged everyday sexism
  • Poor leadership and management of female staff
  • No access to truly flexible or part time working
  • Unfair pay compared to male counterparts

Today I will be celebrating all women working in engineering regardless of their accomplishments. Women who likely work without representation in senior leadership, face everyday sexism, are poorly managed, don’t have the flexibility they really need and are paid less than. 

These women (~12% of the workforce at last count) drive innovation within the sector by continuing to contribute their diverse skills, experiences and backgrounds to design and deliver solutions that serve everyone in our society, in spite of working environments and cultures not designed for them. 

Creating a more inclusive profession

Frequently in discussion amongst my own professional network is the lack of flexibility in working patterns, and availability of part time working. This particularly impacts working parents and disproportionately women either blocking them from serious consideration for promotion or forcing them to leave the profession amongst other detrimental outcomes. 

Flexible and part time working patterns benefit many demographics (not just women), inviting diversity of thought into our workplaces, essential to any engineering organisation that values innovation. 

If the engineering sector were handing out wishes this INWED, my wish would be for all companies celebrating to make all their open roles (at the point of advertisement) full time, part time, role share and flexible with a strong remote component. 

I expect this would go a long way to fulfilling my second wish of an embargo on senior leadership explaining that the underrepresentation of women in their organisation is because “We just don’t get CV’s from women”… Sigh

So as you and your organisation celebrate your #EngineeringHeroes I’d like to ask:

What tangible steps are you taking to remove these barriers in your organisation…?

If you’d like to make my wish come true but are struggling with the how, reach out to Find | Your | Flex who can uniquely help your organisation. You could simply post your flexible roles on their job platform or ask about their power hour consultations. They completely understand that initiating and driving change within an organisation can be difficult. So, they are on hand to help you with any HR issues you have.

About Speak Out Revolution

Speak Out Revolution is a not-for-profit, founded in 2020, working to cancel the culture of silence on harassment and bullying in workplaces across the UK. 

They host the Speak Out Dashboard, available on desktop at speakoutrevolution.co.uk/dashboard, sharing global insights into workplace harassment & bullying and the route to resolution for targets of poor behaviours. 

If you’ve worked in a toxic culture or with difficult people, spare 10 minutes to support their work by adding your experience anonymously here.

About the author – Marie Hemingway

Marie is the founder and director of Speak Out Revolution.

Photo of Marie Hemingway
Marie Hemingway, Founder and Director of Speak out Revolution.

She is a strategy consultant helping businesses transform their people, processes and technology to drive positive business outcomes with expertise in strategic investment decision making, digital transformation and organisational change.

She is a board member for the Women’s Infrastructure Network focused on expanding the network outside of London, creating cross sector opportunities for women to network, exchange ideas and help shape the infrastructure agenda.

Connect with Marie on LinkedIn here.

Categories
Equality and Diversity Flexible Working Future of work

Flex Working – An Age Old Question

At what age do you no longer need flex working? It is often assumed that people in the later stages of life make little use of this option as their responsibilities have diminished and their stress curves have flattened. Perhaps they are even comfortably retired and are in their rocking chairs watching Gardeners World? The reality is that people are toiling longer than their forebears, thus precipitating a generational change that impacts on how we view and facilitate employment.

Adding up the numbers                               

With the state pension spiralling upwards, the brutal truth is that many people have no choice but to soldier on. As was demonstrated with the furore that arose when the pension age for women was dramatically raised from 60 to 65, we cannot be sure what the future holds. Flex keeps the older generation in employment and particularly so when health issues rear their head. Agile work formats mean people can avoid the detrimental effects of pension poverty whilst also continuing to contributeto the state and more widely to society.

A Wealth of Experience

The older generation brings much to the workplace in terms of expertise and mentoring that should not be overlooked. By not offering flex working, all these advantages are lost as people step out of the economy taking so much of note and merit with them. Age is as much a protected characteristic under the Equality Act as gender, race or sexuality and should not be viewed as a justification for negatively predetermining talent or capability.

Offering flexibility to retain the talent of older employees is crucial. Workplaces can then become more diverse andinformed environments. We can all benefit from harnessing decades of valuable experience.”

Stephen Burke, Director of United for All Ages

Artificial age-based constructs help no-one. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, one day we will be judged not on our birth certificates but on the content of our character.

Childcare and Kinship Care

Government statistics indicate that 1 in 4 working families rely on grandparents for childcare and 63% of grandparents with grandchildren under 16 help out with childcare. This is not just about a spot of evening babysitting but rather such assistance plays a critical role in enabling parents to work. The childcare they provide is worth £7.3 billion a year as estimated by the charities Age UK and Grandparents Plus.

When older people can work flexibly, they support the younger generation to achieve their goals and potential. Since the major part of childcare is done by women, this has an impact on how women progress professionally and on issues such as narrowing the gender pay gap.

In complex cases, older family members may come forward in to look after children when the parents cannot, as an alternative to foster care. Flex helps to keep children at home, and it has been shown time and time again that staying with the birth family produces more successful outcomes.

It is not merely about having a better social upbringing. There is a domino effect for all of us. When, for example, grandparents step in to care instead of the state, they save the taxpayer money and resources. Flex working is a vital part of that process.”

Lucy Peake, CEO of the charity, Kinship

An Unstoppable Demographic

We are living longer and the proportion of the older generation relative to the population as a whole is increasing. Age is not something we can control and (barring a tragic early demise) it will happen to us regardless. We all have a strong vested interest it. Do we really want a system that sabotages our future selves? For harnessing experience, for better family and social relationships, for fairness – that is why flex working is required for the later ages and stages of our lives.

Categories
Disability Equality and Diversity Flexible Working

Autism Awareness & Inclusion in the Workplace

As part of National Autism Awareness Week 2021, Find Your Flex is here to help raise awareness. To assist to cultivate much needed change within the workplace in regards to autistic people.

COVID-19 has given pause for much thought over the last year. In many ways the pandemic has given the opportunity to make a fresh start. It is impossible to deny that some societal practices continued until they were forced to stop. Now that we are in position to move forward, certain mindsets must be left behind. Especially the inclusion of neurodiversity in the workplace.

Autism Awareness: Employer Inclusivity

When it comes to neurodiverse people, employers in the UK are not accommodating or inclusive enough. That seems like a harsh blanket statement. Sadly, there is concrete evidence to back this up. Only 22% of autistic adults are employed in the UK as of 2020. In a modern society claiming to be forward-thinking, diversified and inclusive, these statistics are unacceptable.

Employers need to be making stronger commitments to inclusive cultures. The benefits are twofold. Firstly, talented people are able to enter the workforce, utilise their skills and grow. Secondly employers and organisations reap the benefits of a more creative and innovative team. It is baffling that there are not more neurodiverse people in the workplace. They are a massive pool of exceptional talent and missed opportunities.

Be Aware of what Autistic People bring to the table

Employers need to be aware of what they are potentially missing out on. There are some exceptionally talented people looking for work. Being neurodiverse shouldn’t be a factor in them not finding employment. Autistic people may need to work in a different way than what employers are used to. All it requires is an understanding employer and an open conversation about how they work best.

The National Autistic Society, interviewed Jamie Knight; Senior Research Engineer at the BBC. Jamie has a number of important roles, including developing software, conduct tech maintenance and ensuring their apps and services are running properly. This is just one example of how much neurodiverse people can bring to the table at a senior level. This is for one of the most globally recognised organisations; the BBC. This is definitely an indicator for more organisations to follow this example and really take an internal look at their recruitment process.

Autism Awareness: Perceiving the World around us

The first aspect of autism awareness employers need to recognise is that they need to rid themselves of existing mindsets. Neurodiverse people perceive the world differently than people who are not neurodiverse. This is the mindset employers and society in general must adopt if they haven’t already. For example; a faulty lightbulb in a lit room can be slightly annoying but easy to ignore for some people. Yet for an autistic person this can be something potentially debilitating.

In NAS’s interview with Jamie Knight, he sums up perfectly how employers and society in general should view neurodiverse people:

“Look, its not that I’m defective, it’s that the environment is disabling me. So if I start modifying the environment, it will stop disabling me. I’ll still remain impaired … But I can stop it from having a negative impact on my life.”

And this is key when employing neurodiverse people. Make small changes to the workplace environment, interactions and overall processes. This will accommodate someone who can prove to be an invaluable asset. Making this less of an inconvenience and more of investment. General acceptance and adapting to people is an easy part of creating a more inclusive environment. Jaimie has Lion with him at all times as he says he helps to keep him happy. And Lion even acts as an indicator for how Jaimie is feeling. When neurodiverse people are comfortable in their environment they can thrive as well as anyone else. Any employer can see this as a positive thing which they can prosper from.

Recruitment Process: Inclusivity & Accommodation

Accommodating neurodiverse people does not start once they are in the job. It needs to start at the beginning of the recruitment process. Job descriptions can sometimes ask for too much. Listing a number unnecessary requirements as “essential” to the job, when in practice they are not. This isn’t just an issue that concerns neurodiverse people, but it does present a greater barrier for them more so than others.

Employers casually include “essential requirements” in job descriptions without thinking much of it. Such as: ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘must work well in a team’. These skills can often be included in job descriptions where the employee would be mostly working independently or would not need to interact much with others to do the job well. If this is the case, why are these skills part of the essential criteria? An autistic person will see this and automatically move on as they may not have these skills, yet they could have been exceptional in that role. However, sometimes their exceptional abilities can get falsely interpreted. This is where the myth surrounding splinter skills autism should be noted. Splinter skill is a term used for people on the spectrum who do well in certain domains or areas. That is, they could be good at art or playing piano, which might seem amazing. However, it is very rare and they still face challenges in their social life. So, recruiters should keep in mind that instead of looking for the “perfect” candidate, they should be searching for the right candidate. Consider what really is essential and what is not.

The same is true for the interview process. Candidate assessments in interviews can include asking vague, open ended questions and reading body language. An autistic person should not be assessed in this way as it is unfair; they perceive things differently and may not perform well under this kind of assessment. A better assessment of their performance would be to give them a trial in the appropriate role and asses their performance this way. Employers need to adopt these changes in practice if they are aiming to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

Why Flexible Working for Neurodiverse People is Key

Flexible working should be available for everyone, yet it is a key element of working life for neurodiverse people. For an autistic person, aspects in and out of the workplace can derail them for the rest of the day. And as previously stated; neurodiverse people perceive things differently and therefore have to cope with this in a different way. Therefore it is completely unfair, inappropriate and ignorant to expect neurodiverse people to operate on fixed shifts all the time with no room for compromise.

This not only shows a total lack of autism awareness but is a totally regressive way of working. If companies maintain this approach they are making no effort to facilitate a diverse and inclusive working environment. Now it is true that some neurodiverse people require structure and benefit from having fixed shifts. That is fine, flexible working does not effect that. It simply means the company can work around neurodiverse employees if their environment has left them incapable of operating under their normal hours for whatever reason. This is why flexible working is an essential requirement for neurodiverse people which all organisations should adopt. They outcome can only be positive.

Autism Awareness: Improve Lives

Like anyone else, neurodiverse people may want a certain level of independence, sense of achievement and purpose. For most adults, these aspects of life are defined by their careers. We achieve independence through the money we make from our job to become self reliant. We often strive for achievements within our job and measure our success with these. Often our career is literally the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, giving our lives structure and purpose. Neurodiverse people deserve to have the opportunity for these basic fundamental parts of life that everyone is entitled to.

Employers are the ones with the ability to make this happen. This can be done simply by creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. It can not be understated the impact this can have on the life of a neurodiverse person. All too often the base need they have is structure and nothing provides this more than a career which will also grant them a certain level of independence. This is the way forward in a post-COVID world, employers and society need to embrace this sooner rather than later.

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