Exemplar Employers Best Practice Recommendations Training and Development

In 2007 Opportunity Now partnered with the Government Equalities Office to identify 100 Exemplar Employers who were doing innovative work to address, Occupational Segration, Equal Pay, Flexible Working, Training and Development, and Women Returners. Today the best practice recommendations are still relavent and provide an excellent basis for developing strategies to progress the narrowing of the gender pay gap and to improve opportunities for women in the workplace.

Not all these ideas will apply to every organisation, but they have been identified as best practice from the Exemplar Employer projects submitted.

Research and consultation
■Undertake qualitative research to investigate the reasons why women are not moving into senior management, what barriers they face (real or perceived) and what can be done to address these
■Survey staff about career aspirations, flexible working options and barriers to women progressing in their careers, providing an opportunity for free format comments, and then develop specific actions to address any issues uncovered by the survey
■Set targets to improve the representation of women at higher levels of the organisation or in specialisms where they are under-represented, and in feeder grades (the pipeline)

Developing the Pipeline
■Develop the content of management programmes in consultation with staff, including business strategy and career planning
■Identify and support staff with potential for progression to the highest levels and support them through active succession planning
■Develop individual development plans for high potential women, based on current career experience for 6/12/18 months to prepare these women for the next step
■Develop a career pathing structure to target women in areas where they are well represented to move into under-represented areas or roles
■Incorporate career development into appraisal processes by including discussions on aspirations and exploring barriers
■Consider women-specific programmes to develop skills, abilities and confidence
■Use leadership and senior managers programmes as a feeder to a succession planning programme
■Consider a residential programme for women to take stock and explore their own personal values and strengths and how these align with the organisation’s core values, and encourage them to develop an action plan for leadership to impact positively on both the individual and organisation
■Consider setting up a long-term programme, say 12 months, consisting of a foundation course over several days, followed by learning sets with other programme attendees, as a more sustained training approach to management development
■Arrange courses to look at the specific issues facing women in senior management positions and those aspiring to get there; to speak to women in senior roles; and to practice behaviours in interviews
■Design training programmes around the competencies needed for posts and pay progression, bridging the knowledge and skills gap to allow women the opportunity to apply for more senior roles
■Use simulated scenarios to give women an insight into skills needed for high level leadership
■Set up development programmes covering career planning, workshops, partnering with a senior level mentor, and coaching sessions
■Include 360 degree feedback, action learning sets, confidence building, presentation and interview skills and creative thinking in programmes
■Consider piloting a leadership programme with other organisations in the same or similar sector
■As more senior managers access leadership programmes, consider lowering the criteria to enable promising middle managers to participate too
■Ring-fence places for women on generic management programmes
■Provide technical and management support specifically adapted for women in areas where they are under-represented
■Arrange small sessions hosted by a senior executive around breakfast, lunch or evening drinks to allow female staff to discuss their career experiences in a confidential environment, receiving inspiration and ideas from more senior colleagues.
■Hold individual insight lunches with senior leaders across the company to promote the visibility of both female and male role models
■Arrange sessions for women to listen to more senior managers talk about their career paths and the steps they have taken to make this possible
■Make role model biographies of senior women available on internal websites
■Organise a Team Leadership Forum to provide an opportunity for talented women to work together on team leadership projects and to engage with other areas of the business to support organisational change and personal development
■Redefine success and challenge traditional models of a ‘successful’ person which are often based on historical male stereotypes
■Train promotion panels in diversity and ask them to be more rigorous in their criteria for success, basing it more on the ability of the person to deliver outcomes, than on whether they ‘fit’ into the organisation
■Make all senior level and feeder grade posts available on flexible working patterns unless there are strong business reasons why this is not appropriate.

Other Training
■Encourage staff at all levels to pursue career enhancing qualifications
■Consider a modular training programme for new graduate entrants to enable them to gain a wide range of experience over a set time frame, say, 2 years, supported by training in-house and externally
■Consider a Modern Apprenticeship for young people to experience a variety of office life while attending college part-time
■Consider development programmes for non-managerial women and men
■Provide development for support staff to improve numeracy and literacy as well as confidence and service delivery. This can result in better working relationships between managers and staff, with paperwork being completed more accurately
■Consider a modular format for training programmes so that women can select the modules most relevant to them
■Set up tutor-led training in working hours or out of hours at local FE Colleges
■Provide training on CDRom which can be used at home, in a local library or in a drop-in facility at the organisation
■Tailor programmes for different groups of staff to accommodate their specific work patterns and interests
■Address personal development issues in training, such as, stress management, time management, planning and goal setting, team building, interview skills, resolving conflict, and personal development plans
■Address service delivery issues in training, such as, customer care, managing change, communication and dealing with complaints
■Arrange training for women and men to improve their understanding of gender differences
■Train a member of staff to mentor and support young trainees


■If a network has been established for a number of years, or the organisation is going through a period of significant organisational change, carry out research to assess whether the network still meets expectations and to promote it more widely.
■Hold a Network Annual Conference to involve more people and to debate key issues with a view to informing the organisation’s policy-making.
■Use Senior Women’s Networks to support activities by local management, such as, providing contacts and exposure to senior leaders, enabling cross communication, learning and mobility
■Senior managers should engage with networks to hear about concerns and ideas for improvements in organisational management and decision making, and to understand women’s experiences of, eg, promotion procedures or retention
■Allow Women’s Networks to feed back into the organisation’s management through the Gender Champion
■Use the Women’s Network to host workshops on presentation skills, negotiation skills, networking skills, mind mapping, mentoring, care and the career (balancing work and family), career planning and work/life balance
■Use networks to raise the profile of senior women in the organisation as role models for junior colleagues
■In a larger organisation, bring together women managers to build local networks or liaise with women working in similar organisations
■In a multinational organisation, consider a Global Women’s Network to learn from each other and provide networking opportunities
■Consider cross-organisation/industry networking
■Allow representatives of women’s networks to attend external events to broaden their own experience and raise the profile of the organisation
■Organisers should promote networks by attending other events across the organisation
■Develop a brand identity for women’s programmes and networks, using the intranet and branded email communications to consolidate this
■Mentoring and Coaching
■Follow up training programmes with one-to-one coaching
■Organise coaching workshops for line managers
■Participate in a cross-organisation coaching initiative so that participants can benefit from a perspective from outside the organisation and an ‘independent’ view.
■Establish a coaching programme for female staff, identifying appropriate male and female mentors, writing guidelines for mentors and mentees, and arranging an event to introduce the programme
■Facilitate and encourage mentoring across all levels of the organisation
■Set up a mentoring and networking programme to facilitate career development
■Introduce a Senior Women’s Mentoring Programme.

Other Forms of Support
■Develop and communicate a Manifesto setting out the top issues raised by women and the organisation’s commitment to addressing these
■Establish a Workplace Learning Forum with stakeholders to track and develop training plans
■Establish a Steering Group to monitor progress
■Use internal communication channels to increase the visibility and accessibility of existing programmes
■After completing courses, set up regular action learning sets for participants to embed their learning
■Encourage learning sets to become self-managing and to work through a development programme they devise themselves
■For longer courses (2-5 days) consider making them non-residential so that managers with childcare commitments can also participate
■Extend training programmes into local communities to help improve recruitment
■Extend support for external training programmes to all staff irrespective of age
■Provide financial support for specialist training of long-term benefit to the organisation
■Introduce a salary scale to encourage and reward development
■Allow staff to work flexibly to combine work and study
■Support staff completing a professional qualification by allowing them to study during the working day
■Provide online toolkits with literature and top tips for staff, along with access to relevant news articles and video presentations
■Set up a Community of Good Practice to enable networks to share good practice and actively problem solve
■Market opportunities through direct mail flyers, posters, plus information stands around the organisation where Development Staff can discuss and clarify the options face-to-face with individuals
■Arrange taster days for employees wanting to try out a new career or work in a different area
■Provide opportunities for both genders to experience working in a non-traditional role
■Set up a Shadow Management Board to provide a different viewpoint to the Board and also to expose staff to the processes behind decision-making, allowing them to consider documents, proposals and policies submitted to the Management Board and by attending meetings themselves Not all these ideas will apply to every organisation, but they have been identified as best practice from the Exemplar Employer projects submitted.