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Published on 20th June 2022

Turning the Tanker: Leadership and Cultural Change from the Top


For the first time in WUN’s history, our latest face to face event had a male only panel focusing on our theme of ‘Championing women’.  We all recognise that the solution to addressing the balance of women across organisations needs men as much as women to engage and act, so a brave trio stepped into the breach.

It was inspiring to hear what was happening in the organisations lead by our panelists, Mike McNicholas (MD Infrastructure, Atkins), Phil Beach CBE (CEO Energy & Utility Skills) and Dave Hinton (CEO South East Water). It was less surprising therefore to hear of the success stories and changes that were happening in their organisations as a result.

What was significant, is that all three men had lived reasons why they believed that championing women in their organisations was a good thing. It was no co-incidence that all were fathers of daughters- and could see, and hear, the challenges that their daughters faced. Phil’s military background of ’10 years of 100% white, male culture before training the first female fighter pilot’ was a significant driver in shaping his beliefs and actions today. Mike, Phil, and Dave all ‘get it’ because of their own stories. This gives them the commitment and belief to drive change in their own organisations. It is for all to question, where own experience has not exposed male leaders to such lived experiences, to question how unconscious bias is influencing perceptions, leadership styles and approach.

There was absolute consensus that culture change and leadership from the top were essential for organisational transformation. All three brought their own stories, relevant to their own organisations where they have made changes to how things are done- whether actively championing women, creating and sitting on internal minority networks, or shaping working patterns to be more female friendly. Creating role models, case studies and forums were all seen as essential.

There was less consensus on the need for targets, but this was partially driven by differences in organisational size. ‘What gets measured gets done’ or ‘what gets measured gets measured’ brought slightly different perspectives. But all agreed that knowing what the size of the gap was and actively doing something about it was critical.

Questions from the floor challenged the panel further- particularly around the pay gap. All three measure existing pay gaps, and there was a bit of seat squirming, but acknowledgement, that there is still a lot of work to do in this area.

How to manage maternity and motherhood was also challenged from the floor. Flexibility, top quartile benefits and reshaping roles to support new mothers, were all seen as essential.

The discussion could have probably gone on all evening. The level of engagement was fantastic and we were hugely grateful to our panelists for their time, openness and leadership. It was also great to see and chat to several men in the audience who were there because they believe in what WUN is all about. All are welcome as all are part of the solution.