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2 posts from December 2012

20 December 2012

What MasterChef can teach us about inclusion

This week diversity and inclusion seemed particularly prevalent in my life beyond the workplace. 

Working globally for six years (learn more about my role in my blog bio) has meant frequent travel and late nights on the phone with other parts of the world.  This has had an impact on my TV viewing, as I found it difficult to find the ‘commitment’ to follow a programme at the same time every week.  It's only recently with advancements in digital TV - and the ability to view shows on demand - that I've been able to actually follow a few series that I enjoy.  

Seriously, how times have changed.  I vividly remember only having two TV channels at the age of eight.  It does make you wonder what TV will have to offer in another 24 years…!!!

MasterChefMasterChef Ireland is one of the three TV shows I watch loyally.

Many of you may be familiar with MasterChef in its various country formats, as it runs in some 35 countries.  The second series reached its season finale last week and there have been a few things about the show that struck a chord with me.


Firstly, the gender split of both finals has been two-to-one; two women and one man.  Secondly, both winners have been female, deserving winners, winners who have a serious passion for food and an innate talent to match.  Given the numerous disheartening corporate diversity stats (for example of the Fortune 1000 company CEOs less than 4% are female) these MasterChef results inherently make me feel good, but they also got me thinking…..

Towards the end of the season the finalists spent a lot of time cooking for Michelin Star chefs or in Michelin Star restaurants.  And well, all the chefs were men….. so while I realised I know a lot about corporate diversity statistics, I also realised I didn’t know much about the gender statistics when it comes to the world of elite chefs, so I researched it.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was that only 1% of Michelin star restaurants have female head chefs (and as an interesting aside that ‘chef’ means ‘boss’ in French).

Puppet-showWell, the story moves from the world of TV shows to a different kind of show, a puppet show, the entertainment at my beautiful niece and nephews' (Hannah and Alex) fourth birthday party on Sunday, which I think I enjoyed nearly as much as the kids. 

The puppet show had five core characters, one of which was of course a 'villain' -- the Ice Queen.  She was trying to ruin Christmas by putting spiders in the Christmas crackers and gifts and by stealing Rudolf’s red nose to wear on the top of her hat.  After a lot of child (and adult) participation to the effect of singing Christmas songs to raise the Christmas cheer and shouting ‘she’s behind you,’ her plan was foiled.  And then came the messages……. the Ice Queen proclaimed she was only a mean person because others were mean to her and nobody included her.  At this point Harry the Elf chimed in to explain that ‘we mustn’t be mean to others and that inside everybody is the same; isn’t that right boys and girls?’

I vividly remember hearing these messages as a child, but noted to myself how we seem to hear them less as we grow older. 



This brings me back to MasterChef Ireland, and the final show last Thursday, during which we got a bit more insight into the personal life of each finalist.  Nisha Maguire my favourite contestant throughout the series said the following:  “It worries me – when you look at me I’m Asian.  I kind of have that fear that when people look at me they will think what is that woman doing in Masterchef Ireland?  Does she even know how to cook Irish Stew or Roast Beef?  But my husband told me they don’t look at you or what colour you are this is a food competition it is about the look and taste of the finishing dish that is what they look at and you have that.” 

Connected, these made me think about two things – transparency and accountability.   Yes, those important messages were much more transparent and frequently heard as a child, but I feel we were also much more accountable as children.  If I ever did or said something wrong, I was made to apologise and suitably punished - the same was true for all of my school classmates.

As for MasterChef Ireland, two women have risen to the top and taken the coveted title because the audience holds the programme accountable.  No stereotypes, no bias, no mini-me syndrome no gender preferences can creep into the progression process because we consistently see all of the hard evidence, their cooked dishes, side by side.

MC-finalistsIt is this transparency and objectivity surrounding the quality of the ‘work output’ that means it is the end dish not the person who is appraised.  And so, those selecting the winner are held accountable.

Nisha’s husband is right – it is not about who you are, it is about your talent, ability and performance, because all of those things have no gender, no race, no age…..    

So, why do the important messages about inclusion get somewhat lost as we get older? Why do transparency and consistency regarding accountability not hold strong?  Research places an emphasis on making managers and leaders accountable as one key to greater gender diversity.  But for me it felt refreshing to be struck by this same important message through some of the more joyous experiences in life like my favourite TV programme and my niece and nephew’s birthday party, rather than through the reading of a research report.   

So tell me, what are your organisations doing to be transparent about gender diversity and to foster a culture of accountability?

The puppet show was reminiscent of Christmas time, so from myself and Dale we would like to sign off with this last blog for 2012 by wishing you all a fantastic holiday, no matter how you celebrate it, and a very happy New Year.   


10 December 2012

Returning to work – Perspectives from a first time mum

Like the subjects of nearly all my blogs, maternity leave isn't something I ever thought about much (given I don’t yet have children), though that has changed more recently as I come to grips with my diversity role.  I’ve had the opportunity to learn about some of the great support and programmes we have in place for expecting and returning mothers throughout our network such as the US Firm's Mentor Moms program or Full Circle Program.

But aside from my role, I think it is important that we all think about the experience of the returning mother a little bit more.  Many of us already are or will be working parents someday.  All of us certainly work with parents and some of us are in a reporting or coaching relationship with parents. So by putting ourselves in their shoes we can consider the challenges of the experience itself and with that perhaps think a little bit more about what we can do to support returning mothers back into the workforce in a more inclusive way (both as organisations and as employees).

In this light, we are very happy to share a guest blog from Alina Stefan, of our PwC London office, who provides an honest and refreshing perspective of her experience as a first time mum returning to work.  Also, we’d like to bring your attention to some recent Australian research focused on what organisations can do to boost return from maternity leave rates. 




As I am getting ready to leave for work, there is a pitter-patter of little steps following me to the door: my one year old son.

I was on a ten month maternity leave, which in some countries is considered insufficient and in others excessive – in the end it proved to be the right time for us. When I started the leave I was quite certain that I wanted to return to work, but determined to keep an open mind on my choices. I love motherhood, with all the ups and downs (to be honest mostly the ‘ups’). After six months I felt that I wanted to go back to work; it was important to me and it was important to our family. After eleven years of working in PwC my professional persona is too entrenched into who I am.

Cyprusphotos2012 057-002Coming back to work was more difficult than I thought: not only the fact that it was (and still is) difficult to leave every morning. My son is clearly distinguishing my ‘going out’ clothes from my home ones, and clings on to me with all his worth when I dress for work. The good news is that he doesn’t dwell on my absence, having the attention span of a tweeter. My separation anxiety aside, my work landscape has changed radically: my manager had left while I was on leave, I ended up with a different role than the one I thought I was coming back to, there were four new team members and a totally different dynamic.

Considering the circumstances, I expected the re-entry to be challenging and that it would take some time  - but I totally underestimated how much I would have to stretch to ride this change. While I was on maternity leave I had this mental picture of more or less picking up where I left off, and when reality bit I felt adrift. In my picture, returning to work was a return to normal and stability in a way, a place where (in some cases) I knew what I was doing and had a resemblance of control. Some new parents will tell you, in various degrees of seriousness, that they went back to work for a bit of rest – you work hard, as hard as ever, but you can have a lunch break, have a coffee with a colleague, organise your day and many other wonderful things that had been elusive ever since your baby was born.

The great balancing act of motherhood and work (and ideally a little bit of your personal hobbies if possible) rests for me in how much I enjoy doing each of them. I feel they influence each other so deeply that it is impossible to fully differentiate them, so I am working on integrating them better. Being a perfect mother is Sisiphus’ boulder: you have your objective in sight but not the means to reach it; every single decision you can take can stir a debate on whether you are putting your child in a disadvantaged position by not breastfeeding for years, giving them a dummy, sleep training, potty training and a million other issues.

Sundayinthepark 021-001

I wouldn’t want to forget to talk about our partners: midnight quarrels on whose turn is to feed the baby aside, my husband did a brilliant job at being a new father, naturally slipping into this new role. He moved to a new company just before I gave birth, went through intensive change on the job and still managed to keep us sane.

Somehow I have to spare a thought on the fact that even a decade ago this flexibility we have at work was an aspiration.

I will be honest and say that I struggled to fit neatly back in. It was hard to let go my mental picture and it is probably still ‘work in progress’. But I did shift the focus to the half filled part of the glass and will toast for new beginnings. I am sure I am not alone.