As women are more likely to pick up extra caring responsibility during the current outbreak, experts warn that coronavirus will disproportionately affect women in the workplace. So keeping diversity and inclusion on the agenda is more important than ever.

This is why we'll continue to share successful D&I stories and highlight women in HR and male champions of change – way beyond Women’s History Month. In this interview, we speak to Louise Fisher, CIPD Chair about her career path and the importance of diversity in business.

"As a senior leader, and as a woman, I believe I should provide opportunities if I can, to spport women by speaking out on the subject and sharing the benefit of my experiences, to coach and mentor, to help leaders understand why this is so important."- Louise Fisher, Chair, CIPD

What did you want to be growing up? Tell us a bit about your path.

Like I am sure with many young people, I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do. I enjoyed working and enjoyed responsibility so I joined a retail company’s management training scheme and had early responsibility. I moved companies a few times after spending 11 years with my first company, but only chose to move when I was bored in my roles or not learning. I am still like that today. I retired from my full-time job two years ago, and I am currently building a portfolio of other jobs, but am choosing to look at those that interest me and are different in some way. My role as the Chair of CIPD is voluntary and I have enjoyed giving back to the HR community over the last twenty years, as well as mentoring and coaching aspiring HR professionals and managers.

We hear a lot about the importance of having mentors – especially for female professionals. Who were yours, and how did they influence you?

I didn’t really have any mentors or sponsors along the way, however I have worked for some great bosses who saw something in me and gave me opportunities to grow. I do believe that to move the bar in getting more diverse talent into teams, senior roles and board positions, we do need to start doing ‘unnatural things’. It is taking too long to see meaningful change. I think mentoring and sponsorship of talent can help if it is directed properly.

We often hear about the glass ceiling. Have you ever felt 'stuck' in your career?

No, I have personally never felt there was a glass ceiling stopping me or preventing me from opportunities. If I have not taken on a more senior role it was because I chose not to, for example, moving to the USA was not an option for me when I was offered the chance. My advice to people is to say ‘yes’ to as many opportunities as you can, to continue to learn, to have a diverse career whether that be in locations or companies or industry sectors. Show how versatile you are and take on new challenges. Go for it!

As a people professional, what do you believe makes a real difference to promote greater female representation (through all ranks) at the workplace?

As a people professional, I believe we need to start to do ‘unnatural things’ to help more women progress. For examples, in previous roles I have set up women’s mentoring schemes, women’s networking groups, selected all the women identified as having high potential to attend development events (ie not just the top three for example). I really believe having more diverse teams is important for a healthy business and I have tried to do that as Chair of the CIPD.

Why is increasing women’s participation at work important for businesses?

Increasing women’s participation at work is so important, for businesses, for countries and economies and most importantly because it is the right thing to do. How can you ignore all this talent! There is so much research now that having diverse teams leads to greater success that I cannot understand why businesses just don’t do it!

There is no one-size-fits-all solution – but is there one policy, measure or initiative, approach that you have seen make a real impact on women’s inclusion at work?

See earlier examples, but I believe giving women the confidence to ‘go for it’ is probably the most important thing we can do. Women will only apply for roles they feel confident they can do, senior leaders and managers of people need to help them build that confidence. This can be done by giving regular feedback on performance but also on what and how to develop, regular coaching, exposure to new opportunities to learn, new challenges, all this helps build confidence. In a nutshell, women need great bosses and role models who open up and share with them, building their confidence along the way.

As a woman in a leadership position, what do you think is your role in enabling more women to go up the ranks? / What do you try to do?

As a senior leader, and as a woman, I believe I should provide opportunity if I can, to support women by speaking out on the subject and sharing the benefit of my experiences, to coach and mentor, to help leaders understand why this is so important.

What would be one piece of advice for women who want to ask for that raise, a promotion or more inclusive policies?

Get prepared, get your evidence and facts to support why you believe a raise is right. Practice, rehearse what you are going to say, say it out load several times! Have a response ready in case your request is rejected! Don’t give up, if you feel it is right, don’t accept it. If you really feel the way you see being treated is wrong, be prepared to go somewhere else where you will be treated more fairly. Don’t use this as a threat though, and don’t rush into something. Also, see if anyone else in your organisation can support you, maybe your HR department or a previous boss or a mentor.

Louise Fisher is a speaker of the upcoming CIPD Middle East People Conference & Awards, taking place in Dubai on 2-3 September. Buy your tickets here.

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About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.