Paula Vennells, CEO
Since becoming CEO in 2012, Paula has actively championed gender equality in the workplace. Her vision for the Post Office is to foster a workplace culture that is inclusive to everyone and where all colleagues can bring their whole selves to work. This is driven by her passion for living the core values of the business – Care, Challenge, Commit – but also from a deep understanding of the value this brings from a commercial perspective, including better connection with customers, increased innovation and higher employee engagement.
The Post Office is currently going through its largest ever period of transformational change, and Paula knows that to be successful requires a workforce and leadership team that reflects the customers the Post Office serves and the communities it works in. As the business is 60% female, she is particularly keen to support more women to move into senior management roles.
Paula supported the introduction of a target for women in senior management on the business scorecard, aiming for 40% of the senior leadership team to be women by 2018 and 50% by 2020. She also spoke about this goal at an International Women’s Day event in Canary Wharf, signalling its importance to the business.
Paula actively participates in all Women in Leadership events by opening the day and participating in debates and table discussions. She has also opened and participated in other Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) events within the organisation, including travelling to events across the UK, and stepped out of a Board meeting to Skype into the Post Office’s D&I launch event.
Paula fosters diversity in her own lead team, such as insisting on a more diverse list of candidates when recruiting for a new Retail CEO. As a result of this, she and the HR Director appointed a woman to lead the largest function of the business. She and her lead team have undertaken unconscious bias training and Insight Discovery sessions to ensure they lead by example, celebrate diversity and promote inclusion in the business.
Additionally, Paula is keen to develop relationships with and learn from diverse colleagues. She personally knows all the chairs of the D&I networks and has met with the BAME network chair to discuss how to educate the business on religious literacy. Additionally, Paula supported a female colleague in starting a Return to Work network for parents coming back from leave by publically posting on Yammer.
Paula actively participates in the Post Office’s internal mentoring programme and formally mentors women in the business at different stages of their careers. She also uses her experience to provide support and guidance to junior female colleagues, including sharing her experiences of ‘imposter syndrome’ and mental health issues with female graduates and coaching them through difficult experiences at work.
One challenge Paula has been working to address is encouraging more women into senior management roles. She commissioned the Company Secretary to undertake deep dives with executive team members whose teams lacked diversity to understand the reasons behind this. The results of these deep dives were presented to Paula and recommendations are now being implemented through success planning sessions and a review of development opportunities to talented colleagues within the organisation.
Paula’s work on championing this agenda has clearly benefited women in the business. Since 2014/15 representation of women in senior management has risen by 18.75%, to 38% in 2017/18 to date. There has also been a positive impact on women’s engagement, with women being 6% more favourable in responses on engagement, career opportunities and work-life balance in the most recent employee survey, compared to the organisation overall.
Paula’s leadership in this space has undoubtedly contributed to the culture change which is occurring within the Post Office. The number of colleagues making commitments on the D&I ‘Wall of Commitment’ has increased, including setting up new networks, promoting this to teams and volunteering to share their own stories. Without Paula’s sponsorship of this agenda and openness about her own experiences, it is unlikely that so many colleagues would feel they have ‘permission’ to take part in these activities, bring their authentic selves to work and know they are valued for their unique contributions.