birdsoup is on a mission. A mission to help women and organisations to promote change in the workplace. In the first of a series of interviews celebrating some Norfolk’s finest, I speak to birdsoup co-founder Jo Hind about what drives the company and where she sees it going in future.
Our paths met on a birdsoup Women in Leadership course in Norwich earlier this year. What is it that brings you to the area?
I was born and raised in Norwich, before going to uni in Leicester. I then moved to London where I worked for Yorkshire TV, before going to various other companies, including Channel 4, Google and AOL, which is where I met birdsoup co-founder Alison [Wilde].
I still have brothers and sisters in Norwich, so I still spend a lot of time there and I’m a Norwich City FC supporter!
Tell me more about how birdsoup came to be…
It took us a while to work out exactly what we were going to do, but we launched at the beginning of this year, in January.
Why is birdsoup focused on supporting women?
We felt that, through all of the training and coaching work we’d done individually, what came out clearly both was that women need a different kind of help.
For instance, there were some really strong themes around what happens if women want to start a family. And even if they don’t want children, there can be a perception that when a woman gets to a certain age, that’s what they’ll want to. That can affect how they’re viewed in terms of their potential.
I’ve read a lot of articles about women making it to the top of businesses…
Yes, there’s still this much publicised idea around the number of women who sit on boards. Even though the same number of women go into the workplace, we still end up with women making up just 25% of board members if you look at FTSE 100 companies.
So why are companies losing all of their female talent? What we’ve found is that there’s a real issue around confidence. This is backed up by stats that show women only apply for a job if they feel that they meet 100% of the criteria, while men only feel like they need to meet 60%.
Women believe that confidence is a key skill they need for leadership and they often feel they’re not confident enough. We saw there was a job to be done to get organisations to recognise that they’re not helping themselves and they’re adding to the difficulties of women in the workplace.
Do you exclusively work with women?
What’s interesting is that we do work with men as well . It isn’t about saying that if we want to help women, we don’t value men in the workplace. In fact, there are groups of men who feel they don’t quite fit into the in-group, particularly in some of the big corporates, so we can help them.
However, we felt that we had the experience and the credibility to [focus on women] and there’s still a lot to be done. That is why we launched a business that is, at its core, all about helping women.
How have businesses reacted to it?
It’s been really well received. In the past 11 months we’ve been talking to as many organisations as we can and we haven’t had a single person say that what we’re doing isn’t valuable and that they’re not interested in some element of it.
There is a real change in how society’s looking at it too. It’s not just about not letting women leave organisations but also getting women with a lot of experience and skills back into the workplace. If you don’t, you’re going to have a real problem on your hands.
What has been the most rewarding part of the past 12 months?
It has been delivering courses and getting feedback. We love to hear that women are thinking: “I’m going to make a real change”.
We’ve done lots of really interesting things and we’ve met lots of really interesting people. We spoke at an Inspiring Females event last summer, to school kids, which is a brilliant opportunity.
We also like changing people’s opinions. Businesses are recognising that they want to hold onto their high potential women. Those things have been really rewarding.
We’ve also developed our own ways of delivering certain training courses. We’ve developed a resilience model and series of workshops and it’s really helping people.
What’s the plan now for the next 12 months?
More of the same really.
I think flexible working is really interesting. All the research I’ve read says that it’s not just women that want to work more flexibly but it’s men too. There’s lots of evidence to show it can increase productivity rather than decrease it. And the UK is in a real crisis in terms of its productivity at the moment. Some stats that have just been released showed that it’s lower than prior to the financial crash. So we’re looking at what we can do around that.
We’re really excited about a couple of projects we’ve got in the pipeline with some big organisations that have some challenging issues in terms of not having enough women in their pipeline or having a culture that isn’t conducive to women. We’re taking on some of those big thorny projects.
The other area that is a real focus for us is millennials. I don’t like the term, but… everybody uses it. We’ve done a survey of 220 millennial people, both male and female and some focus groups. What has come out of that is what millennials really want from their careers. We want to help dispel the myth that they’re lazy and expect lots from work. Actually they’re really focused and they’re really passionate, but a lot of the things they want from their careers they’re not getting. Things like training and development and role models and mentors. They want to feel like they’re getting some meaning from their work too.
We’re quite passionate about that level. There’s so much emphasis from a government standpoint, saying we need to get more women on boards, which is absolutely right, but unless you start early in your career, that’s not going to happen.
Plus, there’s lots of evidence that says that male millennials are key to helping more women succeed in the workplace. They’re coming into work with very different expectations than older generations. They’re much more about equality, so we’re really excited about that and want to help organisations that are finding millennials hard to manage.
Are there any industries that are better than others?
If you look at The Times Top 50 Employers for Women, a lot of them are legal firms, consultancy firms and there are some financial firms as well.
However, if you go and talk to people within those organisations, they’re often quite skeptical. When you dig down into what a lot of those companies are doing, they’ll say they’ve got a mentoring program, or a women’s group, but much of it is about fixing the women rather than the organisation. Plus, there’s a big PR element and I would argue that, for instance some of the big financial organisations, just want to be seen to be doing the right thing.
That said, I also know that a lot of the big banks have given themselves quite a hard target. They don’t just want a percentage of women at board level but at every level of management. Senior management are targeted financially on achieving those numbers, which I think helps change to happen.
There are almost degrees of maturity, in terms of what businesses have done, but I don’t think there’s any sector that, hand on heart, could say they’ve done it brilliantly. There’s still a lot to do and it’s not just one thing, it’s a combination. One of the ideas behind setting up birdsoup is that we’re aiming to create real change rather than lip-service.
Why do you think there’s been so much noise around women’s issues recently?
There’s been a lot in the press, including the Women’s March, when Donald Trump was elected. Then there was the news about Harvey Weinstein and the awareness of sexual harassment. This has come out alongside the government pushing the number of women on boards and gender-pay-gap reporting, which comes into play next April for any organisation that employs more than 250 people.
On the one hand you’ve got legislation and government policy and on the other, you’ve got the social pressure of people saying that they’ve had enough of this now. It’s 2017.
Next year is the also anniversary of the first woman MP to be elected. So 100 years on, there’s been some progress and there have definitely been some really good things. But there’s still a lot to be done. I think it’s no longer one person in the organisation that’s got diversity in the their job title that’s saying we need to do something. I think it’s much more visible and becoming even more visible.
Why have you had run sessions in Norwich?
We would do a session anywhere, but one of the reasons we started thinking about Norwich is because a couple of weird things that happened. When we were setting up, we ended up with a female web designer, who also does our marketing, who is Norwich-based. And our accountants are Rostrons. They have an all-female board and are Norwich-based too.
Rostrons said that they wanted to set up a female mentoring programme in Norwich called We Can. They’re looking to launch that in the new year and we have helped them facilitate initial meetings with a few local businesses.
As a result of doing that, we found that a lot of businesses said there isn’t very much training available in Norfolk. Particularly of the sort of things that might support young women. We were lucky enough to have a few contacts with local businesses by that point, so we built on that and have run sessions in Norwich.
To find out more about birdsoup and their mission to change the gender landscape in business, visit birdsoup.co.uk