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How to empower... The importance of gender diversity & balanced representation

 In the first episode of series 3, host Dipesh Davadra speaks to Bernadette Kelly CB, Permanent Secretary at Department for Transport, and Brenda Trenowden CBE, Partner at PwC, about why it is so important for organisations to have gender diversity, with a focus on what the Department for Transport has been doing to increase and sustain their gender diversity.

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the importance of gender diversity and balanced representation


Dipesh Davadra:

The 30% Club is a global campaign led by chairs and CEOs taking action to increase gender diversity at board and senior management levels. In 2019 they launched missing millions report, which looked at the commercial benefits of having a diverse workforce. In this report, some well known businesses shared what they’re doing for their clients and customers, to foster greater inclusion and diversity, including our very own LEAP network at PwC.

Today, I am excited to be joined in our virtual studio with Bernadette Kelly CB, permanent secretary at the Department for Transport; and Brenda Trenowden CBE and partner at PwC, to talk about how businesses are potentially missing millions in revenue by not having a diverse workforce, and what PwC and the Department for Transport are doing to create more diverse and inclusive workforces, whilst empowering you to think about how you can too.

So Brenda, if I can start with you, can you give our listeners a bit more background to the missing million report, please.

Brenda Trenowden:

Thanks, Dipesh. Well actually I am going to start by saying, it's not really focussed on having a diverse workforce, although that’s definitely important, and indirectly that is a point, but the report is really more about an external view of inclusion and diversity, and in this case we’ve put a gender lens on it. When we talk about women, we need to make sure that we are thinking about all women, and this is where intersectionality starts to become really important, so I can’t emphasise that point enough.

What we were really trying to do was, to get organisations to start just thinking about internal representation and their talent and to really look externally and think about who are your customers, who are the people that you are designing your products and services for, who you are marketing to, and how are those adverts resonating with them, but more importantly have you really taken into account their needs, their wishes, and desires when you are designing your products and services. And so, in many cases, what we’ve found was that, many companies hadn’t been fully thinking about who they were actually marketing to or designing for, and they were actually missing millions, millions of customers, millions of opportunities, ultimately millions of pounds. But of course, you come back to representation, because unless you have enough diversity internally, and in this case we look at gender, unless you have women that are at the tables, that are taking decisions, that are designing that are thinking about it, you probably don’t have the insights and perspectives necessary to take those things into account.

It’s a very simple description of the missing millions concept, but it really is designed to take inclusion and diversity and bring it up a level, and out of the HR space, really into an enterprise-wide approach, and how you are looking externally.

Does that make sense?


That does, and it's thinking about the bigger picture, I think that’s what you are referring to and actually having those people internally to come up with those decisions to effectively target the audiences that would be relevant to them. That makes sense to me, so thank you so much Brenda.

Bernadette, if I can come to you, and congratulations on the Department for Transport for being a Times top 50 employer for women. What is the organisation doing to attract more female talent?

Bernadette Kelly:

I will come on to what we are doing in DfT, because obviously I am delighted that we are a Times top 50 employer for women again this year. But I just wanted to say first how much I agree with Brenda’s perspective around the missing millions report, and how important it is in any organisation to think about purpose as well as representation internally. I’ve always felt that for all of us who are involved as I am in public service, representing and reflecting the communities and the people we are there to serve, is really important. But of course, as Brenda says, one of the things that can most readily help us to do that, is by ourselves having a workforce that looks, sounds, thinks, feels like the people we are serving. 

It’s a real buzz actually to be in The Times top 50 list this year, we were in 2017, but that was a few years ago. Department for Transport, we are interesting organisation, in that we sit in the centre of two systems, if I can put it that way. One is the civil service system, which actually is pretty progressive in terms of diversity and inclusion more widely, but also female representation in the workforce. We do a lot of very progressive things actually, which I would be happy to expand on. We also sit at the centre of the transport system, which is a lot less diverse on the whole. Around 20% of the workforce in the transport sector is women, we’re at around 43% in our department, including good senior representation, but I do think that brings us back in terms of the importance of having female voices and perspectives, we think about how we design and invest in transport for the future.

In terms of what we’ve been doing in DfT to find ourselves back on The Times top 50, we have had a sustained focus over now a significant period of time, and that’s so important. It’s very easy to have a few successes on diversity and inclusion and then take your eye off the ball and find yourself going backwards. Sustained focus is key. We’ve been really scrubbing, if I can put it that way, all of our systems around recruitment, progression, talent management, all of those things that help women to get in, and then to get on in the organisation. Then what we’ve had is a fantastically energised, and energetic, and growing network of people in the department. Really challenging us to be as good as we possibly can be, and to provide an environment and an inclusive culture, where everybody can succeed. I hope that’s one of the things that has helped to mark out our success. I am hugely grateful to our gender network, which has been a phenomenal inspiration to us in the department.

One of the things that sometimes worries me when I talk about women in transport and the work that’s going on, to make sure there are more women in transport, is that it might lead to some women out there, thinking maybe this actually isn’t the place for them, but it really is. There are so many fascinating and different sorts of jobs in this sector. It is a sector with a very bright and exciting future, whether you want to be an engineer, or an executive, or a commercial person, there are so many different sorts of jobs in the sector, but don’t just take my word for it. We recorded a few voices from women in the sector, women at the top of their careers, women just starting their careers in transport, we thought you might like to hear from them. 

Jordanna Mills:

My name is Jordanna Mills, I am currently a third-year level 3 maintenance technician apprentice with Network Rail. I chose a career in the railway industry as engineering was always one of my key interest whilst studying at school. I love designing, making and understanding the working principles behind different objects and processes, and this was fuelled by my passion for maths, physics, and product design. I’ve loved every minute of my time with Network Rail and have had a really positive experience in being a female in traditionally male dominated industry, but all my colleagues have treated me as equal and respected my views and opinions.

Loveday Ryder:

Good morning, my name is Loveday Ryder and I’m the chief executive of the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency. We’re the agency that does driving tests and carries out checks to make sure buses and lorries are safe to drive. We don’t have as many women as I’d like in my agency but my goal is to have driving examiners and vehicle examiners that reflect the society in which we live. That means we have to make these roles as flexible and attractive as possible to get women to come in, and then make it a great place of work so that we retain them.


Hi, I’m Trudy and I’m a train driver. I’ve been driving for nearly 28 years and I love my job. It is different everyday, never a dull moment, you’re paid for fast decision making.


Hi I’m Becky, I’ve been a train driver for over 10 years. I’m bringing my daughter to work to give her an insight of my job, and it’s a dream come true for both of us.


I’m proud of Mum because it’s really hard to get this job and it’s just really important and you’re helping people basically to get to different places.

Emma Gilthorpe: 

Hi I’m Emma Gilthorpe, and I’m the Chief Operating Officer and Heathrow. Having female decision makers is key to the success of any organisation in today’s world. We know there’s a compelling body of evidence to shows you need at least 30% gender diversity to even start shifting the dial to deliver better organisational performance outcomes. We also know that women tend to deal more effectively with risk, because we tend to have a bias in our thinking to focus on longer term priorities, which is why boards with higher female headcount tend to have stronger reputations. Ultimately gender diversity on boards as it is elsewhere in life is about diversity of thought and opening our minds to others perspectives.

Sarah Storey:

I’m Sarah Storey, I’m a Non-Executive Board member at the Department for Transport, and I’m also really passionate about the importance of female representation in the transport sector. I first started working in sustainable transport with British Cycle as a policy advocate in 2013 and one of the reasons I was attracted to that role was to help ensure we could attract more women to cycling, both as a sport, and as an activity, and as a means of transport. It’s been really interesting to work and help build the female population using cycling as a mode of transport, and it’s still something that is seen mainly as a male discipline and is very male dominated, certainly in the transport sector. When I started working as the Active Travel Commissioner in South Yorkshire for Mayor Dan Jarvis I was sort of a female leader in a sea of male voices but that is changing and I go to more and more events now where the panel isn’t male dominated and I’m not the only female voice there. It’s so important to have female representation so that 50% of the population are catered for and that the differing needs people have at the different times of their lives, and the different access needs that people have are also well represented.


That sounds great Bernadette and thank you so much for giving us insight in terms of what the Department for Transport is doing. Sounds like there’s momentum, sounds like it’s a continued focus for the organisation which is great. 

Which leads me nicely on to my next question for both Bernadette and Brenda. Why is it so important for there to be female representation at all levels, particularly in organisations which haven’t historically attracted female talent? Brenda, if we can go to you first, that’ll be great.


Sure, thank you. I always think it's easiest to get this point across with a couple of stories, so I will try and be quite brief, but with some illustrations. The case studies that we had in the Missing Millions; LEAP was one of them. We are all about trying to showcase where there was a challenge, or what the companies did, and what the outcomes were. Two examples that stood out were Vodafone, for example. I think it was a group of women within Vodafone that wanted to look at their customer base by gender in emerging markets, in particular. They found, by looking at things that way, that women were 10% less likely than men to have a mobile phone in those markets, which translated into a mobile gender gap of 200 million women, who couldn’t communicate, access information, learn, manage their finances, even get help if they feel threatened, etc. etc. Unless those women internally have thought about asking why is that the case and what’s the market out there, they wouldn’t have known that. Actually, very quickly they set themselves a target of connecting 50 million more women in those markets, creating very specific services that would be useful for those women. Also, thinking about how women bought phones, and how to get over some of the challenges, and they connected 25 million women in very short order.

Unilever’s example was about their marketing. Unilever’s products, about 70% of the buyers are women, and by actually unpicking whether or not those ads were resonating with women, they found out that a lot of them weren’t and it was a female marketing director that looked at that, they did a lot of work on stereotyping or un-stereotyping their advertising.

An example that really stands out for me, and it’s from Caroline Criado Perez’s book, Invisible Women. This one is great, is that in 2001 when there was an earthquake in Gujrat, which is in Western India, there were 1,000 people, which is not great, who died, and almost 400,000 homes destroyed, but the rebuilding project didn’t include any women. Those houses that were built didn’t have any kitchens and they didn’t have outdoor areas for looking after animals, because that was seen as a women’s job, which seems kind of extreme, and you think that couldn’t happen again. But actually, about four years later when we had this tsunami in Sri Lanka, and similarly the rebuild project didn’t include women, the exact same thing happened again, the houses didn’t have any kitchens in them.

So I think that illustrates the point really well about the need to have women at those tables or in those Zoom calls, where decisions are being taken, really thinking about their perspectives, their insights, thinking about, maybe, caring responsibilities, or safety, or preferences, style. Just really understanding and getting those insights on who the customer base is, or communities that you are operating in.


Bernadette, if I can ask you the same question, why is it important for there to be female representation at all levels, particularly in organisations, which haven’t historically attracted female talent.


Well, a lot of it goes back to Brenda’s great example, I could give numerous examples I suspect in the transport sector historically. The same really, where things like the design of railway stations, or train carriages, or buses wasn’t really thought of through the perspective of all of the people using the network, and of course we all rely on transport, every day, or we did before COVID, and I am sure again, we will after the pandemic to get around to live our lives. Therefore, understanding the perspective of everybody using those networks is so important, and that goes to layout, and it goes to lighting, and it goes to how safe spaces feel. So I think there is a real enhanced focus I know in all of the companies now that we work with within the department operating in the transport sector, to really raise their game and improve their insight and perspective.

I was delighted actually Network Rail, really big player in the industry, also on The Times top 50 list of employers this year, in part a reflection of great work that I’ve done, both within their workforce, but also to promulgate really high standards through the industry. High Speed 2 Limited, another company that my department works with every single day, has really set an example actually, both in its own recruitment, but also in standards it expects in its supply chain actually amongst employers in terms of diversity and inclusion.

So I think it’s a combined effort really at all levels that’s needed over time to make sure that we are achieving a balance of representation, and a culture of inclusion, and a perspective that is genuinely brought by our customer base that’s needed to see the outcomes we want, but still not where we want to be in transport I have to say, but I am genuinely impressed by the leadership and enthusiasm for this that I have seen over the past few years.


If I could just jump in here actually, when we spoke earlier, Bernadette, you mentioned the report that came out last week, that was about social mobility, but also had some gender implications as well of effectively intersectionality in that regard, and I wondered if you could just touch on that a bit?


Yeah, it was interesting. I was involved in some work that the Social Mobility Commission have done, a report that was published on May the 20th around socioeconomic diversity in the civil service actually, it was very much looking at the civil service culture, and it has some very interesting insights on social mobility and social diversity. The barriers to progression that still exist for people joining the civil service from less advantaged background, which are a reflection of all sorts of interesting things that happen, hidden and unwritten rules as it were on progression that exist within the civil service. It’s a very insightful report, but it has really interesting things to say as well about the cumulative barriers that people, women from working class backgrounds experience in the workplace.

That’s also another aspect of the Missing Millions render that you’ve highlighted. If you are not hearing those voices from people with a range of different experiences, then we will not really be getting a full understanding of the people and the communities we’re there to serve.


I think it’s another aspect of intersectionality, isn’t it, really looking at women from disadvantaged backgrounds, it’s really interesting.


Definitely and thank you for sharing those insights, Bernadette, really interesting.

Finally, my last question is, how can sectors, such as the transport sector, be more inclusive by design for everyone, and do you think this will help our listeners feel empowered, to enter workforces and industries, which they have typically excluded in the past?

Bernadette, maybe, you can take that one first.


A very interesting question, actually last week, May the 20th, we also published a rail reform white paper, the government published this. You will have heard, I think, in the context of that about flexible season tickets and flexible ticketing. Of course, this is in many ways a response to the COVID pandemic. What we see now, is many, many more people want to work flexibly, many fewer people it seems are likely to want to work five days a week in the office in a way that people did before. It’s a good example of how we’ve seen COVID accelerate some trends in our society, in very interesting ways, both around the workforce, but also around the way that I think companies, businesses, and public sector organisations will need to respond to those trends as well.

I would say it’s a good example I would say of an accelerator trend and an accelerated response. This is something in government we’ve been thinking about for a long time, but there hadn’t quite been the momentum, and pull and demand to change the way we do things in the transport sector, that suddenly exist now. It’s, I would say, an interesting example of things changing. It also makes me reflect upon the flexible working dynamic that we are also seeing massively accelerating in many parts of our workforce and in many organisations as a consequence of the pandemic. With many, many more men as well as women wanting to work in different and more flexible ways, and this is again a great opportunity for employers to think about how we make our workplaces more inclusive.

One thing that’s been powerful actually in changing the dynamic in my department has been flexible working and job sharing, in particular, in very senior roles. I appointed the most senior female job share in the civil service to a key role leading our rail work a few years ago. That sent a really powerful signal to the industry, quite a lot of people at that time were sort of a bit sceptical about how this would work, but now they have a really different perspective. I hope that what we are doing there, is perhaps providing a little bit of a beacon for other employers. It has set a big example in my department. We’ve now got 17 senior job shares, and the way in which men and women are approaching flexible working, we are starting to see some big changes. That’s great for the individuals, who we want to keep and motivate at different stages in their careers, it also builds tremendous organisational resilience, because two heads are always better than one in any job.


Yeah, definitely and we can echo that at PwC where we are encouraging flexible working for all of our people to suit everyone, so definitely resonating there.

Brenda, if you could add your insight, that will be great. 


I just thought of this actually, I am going to give you a personal example in this, because you asked about how we can have our listeners feel empowered to go into some of those workforces and industries, where they may have been excluded in the past. From my own perspective, three years ago I got a call from a head-hunter to join as a non-exec director on the England and Wales cricket board. Now, I like cricket, my husband and son are obsessed with cricket, I’ve watched a lot of cricket, but as a Canadian female, it’s not really an obvious one for me to be on the cricket board, at least that was my thought. So, I wasn’t really going to pursue it. The head-hunter was really keen, and then I went for a meeting as were my husband and son. I did go along for the meeting, and of course, they have a lot of directors on the board, and they don’t want everyone to be a cricket professional. They wanted people who had banking and finance background, communication skills, stakeholder management skills, governance skills, and they also wanted help with inclusion and diversity.

I happened to have been a banker previously for more than 25 years, so I ended up putting my name forward, and I did get the role. Now three years later, I am the Senior Independent Director of the England and Wales Cricket Board. I lead the ESG committee, I chair the host venue panel, I am on the audit risk committee, I am involved in the remco, I do a lot of work on governance. There are lots of areas that I get involved. They don’t come to me and ask me to rule on new aspects of cricket, they have lots of people who know about that, but I would say, step out of your comfort zone to listeners, and don’t always think that things are as they appear. Think about what new perspectives and new things that you can bring, and you might be quite surprised at how some of these industries that may not at first look like they’re as welcoming, could be really welcoming.


That’s a great message Brenda, thank you so much. Yeah, I agree, all of our listeners can take inspiration from what you’ve just said.

Thank you both for being part of this conversation and thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, and our listeners today for tuning in. To find out more about the Missing Millions report, please visit the LEAP network homepage at PwC UK.

And thank you to our listeners for joining us for another episode of the How to Empower podcast.

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