#WalkTheTalk for Gender diversity

This week, the #WalkTheTalk campaign launches supported by O2, encouraging men everywhere to actively engage in the gender equality debate. Ahead of its launch on The Drum’s Do It Day 2016 (10th November) Derek McManus, O2 COO and Diversity and Inclusion champion, discusses the importance of gender diversity for businesses of all sizes.

Last month, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported that nearly half of young women aged 13-22 believe discrimination could hold back their careers. This is just the latest in a long list of research highlighting yet again a vital need for gender diversity to remain a top priority for businesses.

That is why I’m proud that O2 is supporting the #WalkTheTalk campaign. It aims to encourage men to get involved and show their support for gender equality. As a male business leader, I passionately believe that men and women must be vocal in their support of gender equality. Only with a unified effort will we eliminate gender discrimination from the workplace.

Whilst some men may think that this is not their issue to help solve, this isn’t just a moral obligation; it’s also rooted in genuine business sense. Our 25 million O2 customers aren’t one identical group; they reflect our increasingly diverse society. To serve them best, it’s crucial that our workforce reflects this vibrant and diverse customer base – and this is true for all businesses, big and small.

So how can companies foster an inclusive culture that embraces diversity and promotes gender equality?

Firstly, support talented, ambitious women early in their careers. At O2, our Women in Leadership programme ensures that women who want to climb the ladder are presented with the opportunities and support they need to achieve their goals. We also find broader women’s networks really valuable in enabling women to share experiences and support their peers. Through these networks and programs, we ensure that our diverse pool of talent within the business in retained and nurtured, fostering a supportive and inclusive working environment.

Second is understanding and addressing the challenges women face when they return to work after career breaks. To this end, we set ourselves the challenge of finding and supporting the untapped pool of talent standing at the school gates. We launched a Career Returners programme earlier this year helping both women and men who had taken career breaks back into work at their own pace. The programme provided one-on-one mentoring and regular training sessions which centred around their existing skillset. The programme was successful in securing senior positions for eight women at O2, and a further two securing positions elsewhere.

Finally, businesses must widen their gaze beyond their current workforce and begin tackling potential diversity challenges in their talent pipeline. That means working more closely with schools to open young people’s eyes to the variety of opportunities which exist. For instance, I recently joined over a hundred of O2’s top executives in pledging to dedicate time each year to go into schools and speak to pupils about the opportunities within the tech sector through Speakers for Schools– and we’ve called for businesses countrywide to do the same.

But these programmes can’t exist in a vacuum, they need to be part of a wider cultural shift. So on Do It Day 2016 (10th November) we are calling for men to join us on social media with their pledges to tackle gender diversity. The #WalkTheTalk campaign truly believes that it’s not about the shoes you wear, but what you stand for.