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Wakefield MDC has won a top national award in recognition of its scheme to help women employees achieve equality in...
Wakefield MDC has won a top national award in recognition of its scheme to help women employees achieve equality in the workplace.

Stepping Up, launched four years ago and supported at all levels of the authority, took the top Framework For Action award.

The competition was organised by Opportunity Now, a national campaign working with private and public sector employers to realise the economic potential and business benefits which women contribute to the workforce. Members of the campaign represent over one quarter of the national workforce.

The Framework for Action prize, which recognises organisations promoting gender equality in all spheres and levels of work, has been won in previous years by the Halifax Bank, Marks and Spencer and HSBC.

The Wakefield Council team, who had been on a shortlist of three finalists for the award with Leeds Metropolitan University and Queen's University, Belfast, received the prize from Cherie Booth, the patron of Opportunity Now.

Wakefield Council leader Peter Box said: 'This is a real accolade for the council achieved by hard work and clear commitment to helping women improve their career opportunities. We are now recognised as the top organisation in the country in this field and it is something of which we can all be very proud indeed.

'The council employs 16,000 people and our workforce is our greatest asset in delivering the high quality of public service which we strive to achieve. Awards like this show we are not only moving in the right direction but setting an example for others to follow.'

Coral Taylor, Stepping Up monitoring officer said: 'In 1996 although 69% of council employees were female just 13% of senior management positions were held by women and there were no female chief officers. Stepping Up was launched to challenge this, aiming to make management more representative of the community it serves. Since then the proportion of senior management positions held by women has almost trebled to 32% and now two out of five chief officers are women. What is more gender equality has improved for all employees whatever their work.'

Kath Lindley, Stepping Up co-ordinator said: 'It was a fantastic moment to mark a fantastic achievement. A lot of people put a lot of hard work into Stepping Up and to see that effort recognised at such a high national level is a big step forward for Wakefield Council, in achieving its equalities agenda.'

Stepping Up, which is actively supported both by the council leader and the chief executive John Edwards, has a network of champions across the authority, promoting the values of Stepping Up among the whole workforce - men and women.

Initiatives include women-only seminars, job shadowing, departmental women's networks, mentoring and a Work-Life-Balance booklet for all staff with guidance to managers as to its implementation. Recruitment and selection processes have been reviewed and are monitored, with procedures in place to encourage decisions based on consistency, transparency and gender awareness.

A press release from the awards organiser follows.

Opportunity Now is a campaign of Business in the Community. Established in 1991, it is business-led and works with employers to realise the full potential of women at all levels and in all sectors of the workforce.

Chair Clara Freeman said: 'Right from the start, we were determined that Opportunity Now should be very different from previous attempts to improve the lot of women at work. The campaign, steered by a group of Britain's most prominent managers, was to be both business-led and business-driven.

'Ten years on I am delighted to welcome you all here this evening to celebrate some of the best ideas and initiatives in the arena of gender equality.'

Guest speaker, DeAnne Julius, formerly of the monetary policy commission at the Bank of England, and non-executive director of previous Opportunity Now award winners, Lloyds TSB and BP, urged women to be adventurous in their careers, and not to focus on their isolation as women.

'Accept being in a minority position - and then ignore it. You're bound to stick out, so say what you think and do what you believe is right', she said.

Awards patron, Cherie Booth, QC, told guests, 'I am proud and delighted to be patron of these awards. Proud because the issues addressed by Opportunity Now and its members are close to my heart, and delighted because I believe the Opportunity Now campaign has made a real and tangible difference in the last 10 years.

'Now more than ever there is a compelling business case to increase women's representation at all levels: women are a large and growing percentage of the available workforce; we bring a different perspective to decision making and problem solving; we possess valuable leadership skills; and our power as consumers is significant and growing.'

A special award was made to Marks & Spencer, acknowledging their position as the FTSE 100 company with the largest board-level female representation. 25% of Marks & Spencer's plc board is made up of women, against a background of declining numbers of female directors in Britain's top companies.

The awards were divided into six categories, and the winners were as follows:

Public sector

London Underground - Ending Harrassment. An ambitious and wide-ranging initiative aimed at changing the prevailing culture of tolerance of racial and sexual harassment, to one in which there is zero-tolerance to such behaviour.

Private sector

Nationwide Building Society - Creating a flexible culture. Nationwide have created a comprehensive range of flexible working arrangements on offer to all their employees as part of their endeavour to create a flexible culture.

Education sector

Leeds Metropolitan University - Widening Opportunities for Women (WOW!). A series of workshops aimed at advancing women in their careers at the university.

Non-managerial women

Leeds Metropolitan University - Widening Opportunities for Women (WOW!) - non-managerial women. A programme tailored specifically for women in support and administrative roles, designed to increase their confidence and skills and to help them gain vocational qualifications.

New member

Citigroup - Diversity Breakthrough Teams. Teams of five from across the business were challenged to make measurable, tangible diversity-related differences in a variety of specific areas in only 100 days.

Framework for Action

Wakefield Metropolitan District Council - Stepping Up. A programme designed to increase female representation at senior levels and support women at all levels, by focusing on personal and professional development and organisational culture change.


See attachment for more details of winners' initiatives

For further information, and to arrange interviews with spokespeople from the winning organisations, please contact:

Sue Morrell, PR and Communications Manager, Opportunity Now - 0870 600 2482, mobile 07950 827 949,

Opportunity Now is a business-led campaign that works with employers to realise the full potential of women at all levels and in all sectors of the workforce. It challenges complacency and tackles the barriers to a fully inclusive workforce.

Opportunity Now is part of Business in the Community, a unique movement of companies across the UK committed to continually improving their positive impact on society, with a core membership of 700 companies, including 75% of the FTSE 100.

Summaries of Winning Entries

Opportunity Now Awards 2002

Judging panel

Elizabeth Coffey


The Change Partnership

Mary-Ann Stephenson


The Fawcett Society

Cecilia Wells


Astar Management Consultants

Baroness Diana Warwick

Chief Executive

Universities UK

Jan Berry

Vice Chairman

Police Federation of England and Wales

Shelagh Diplock


Hansard Society

Kate Bennet


The Equal Opportunities Commission (Wales)

Dianah Worman

Adviser on Diversity and Equality

Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development

Sue Ollerearnshaw

Senior Consultant

Schneider Ross

Hugh Harris


London First

Max Manin

Deputy Executive Director


Lynette Swift

Managing Director


Sarah Jackson

Chief Executive

Parents at Work

Sarah Rutherford


Sarah Rutherford Associates

Jenny Daisley

Chief Executive

Springboard Consultancy

Verity Bullough

Executive Director

Learning Skills Council, London North



PublicLondon Underground

PrivateNationwide Building Society

EducationLeeds Metropolitan University

Non-managerial womenLeeds Metropolitan University

New memberCitigroup Europe

Framework for actionWakefield Metropolitan District Council

Chairman's foreword

Welcome to this, the seventh annual Opportunity Now awards.

These winning organisations are those whose vision and determination on gender equality have been translated into clear and focused action. Their programmes are transformingtheir organisations and the lives of their employees - particularly women.

Earlier this year we launched our latest research project, Sticky Floors and Cement Ceilings, which - in contrast to much female-focused workplace research - looked at the lot of women at the lower end of organisations in Britain. Most women still spend their working lives here, and their needs, desires and ambitions are ignored at our peril and to the detriment of their organisation's performance. For this reason we introduced a new category into this year's awards: non-managerial women, and plaudits go to the employers featured here whose gender-equality initiatives are helping to tackle the barriers to advancement faced by these women.

Our benchmarking report on Gender Equality in the Workplace this year revealed that while most employers have gender equality policies and programmes in place, alarmingly little effort or resource is going into monitoring their impact on the individual and the organisation. This is an area for our attention, and we will work with employers to guide and support them as they strive to make the workplace fairer and more compatible with the way we live and work now.

Clara Freeman


Opportunity Now


Member Organisation: London Underground Ltd

Initiative: Ending Harassment


London Underground comprises 12,370 staff - 85% are male and 30% from ethnic minorities. In 1999 a five-year 'Equality Strategy' identified that harassment - both sexual and racial - was a priority area needing immediate action. This was supported at senior level and a business case was developed.

A 'vicious circle of harassment' was identified. It was difficult for victims to complain, and they were not believed or seen as a nuisance. Managers did not have the required skills or experience to deal with harassment matters, often resulting in an unsatisfactory outcome for the complainant, and the organisational culture was seen as being accepting of sexist and racist behaviour.


A strategy for change was agreed, whose key principles were to develop an improved process for dealing with harassment in partnership with Trade Unions, to ensure increased levels of expertise and to change the organisational culture to one where harassment was not tolerated.

Harassment advisers and accredited managers - who both receive ongoing training - guide victims confidentially through the range of options open to them, ensuring complaints are dealt with sympathetically and effectively. A database monitors all cases. Management training outlines the new procedures and the process is rigorously reviewed to maintain momentum and ensure effectiveness. Trade Union harassment representatives were created and trained to ensure adequate TU support for the victim as well as the perpetrator.

A company-wide communications programme using noticeboards, management briefings, staff newsletters, training modules, guides for managers and staff and a video sent to all individual employees, emphasise the new zero-tolerance view of harassment.

The programme is supported by a series of, jointly run management and Trade Union Equality Listening Partnerships. These sessions raise awareness of the experiences of women and ethnic minorities working at London Underground.


Short, medium and long term success indicators have been developed. To date, there has been a significant number of cases reported and perpetrators disciplined.

London Underground is committed to Ending Harassment and is pleased with the beneficial impact on individual women and ethnic minorities so far. This programme has been used as a benchmark of best practice for other transport companies by one of the key Trade Unions.


Member Organisation: Nationwide Building Society

Initiative: Creating a Flexible Culture


It has been clear to Nationwide Building Society for some time that enabling their staff to work flexibly helps them achieve their business objectives. 76% of Nationwide's staff is female and, although the wide range of policies in place helps all employees achieve the work/life balance they seek, the Society is aware such programmes are of particular value to women.


A wide variety of flexible working arrangements, including part-time, flexitime, homeworking, compressed working week, job share, annualised hours, term time and shift working are available to all staff. Leave policies allow them time off to pursue interests outside work, while a flexible benefits scheme enables employees to buy additional days' holiday. A choice of childcare vouchers and preferential rates at childcare providers assists working parents.

In the last two years the flexible working policy has been re-launched, incorporating a new process for requesting flexible hours which focuses on how such a request will affect the branch or department, rather than on the reason for wanting flexibility. A flexible working toolkit for line managers and employees includes a process for changing to flexible working arrangements, guidance on building a business case and a computer-based training programme available on the intranet.

A homeworker user group has also been established to oversee the homeworking process, and a guide produced with advice on making the choice to work from home and information on tax, insurance and health and safety implications of the choice. These changes have resulted in a tenfold increase in the numbers of staff working from home.

Nationwide regularly shares its best practice with other organisations, winning several external awards for its flexible work environment and promotes the scheme and its benefits internally through publications and the society's intranet sites, and to potential employees through recruitment materials.


Employees can give feedback on initiatives through the intranet, employee suggestion scheme and monthly in-house magazine, and policy and practice are continually reviewed by a high-level business forum.

Successes have been clear: 93% of employees now return from maternity leave, uptake of all flexible working options continues to increase substantially, staff turnover is just over half the industry average and employee surveys suggest 76% are happy with their work/life balance - a consistent increase over the last three years.

Operating costs have fallen by£185 million over the last three years.


Member Organisation: Leeds Metropolitan University

Initiative: Widening Opportunities for Women


Leeds Metropolitan is a large, multi-site university employing almost 3,000 staff and with over 36,000 students. It aims to 'enable the greatest number and widest variety of people to develop the capability to shape their future' and targets that by 2004,'the percentage of women in management, professorial and principal lecturer posts will increase to at least 35%'.

This target is challenging, given that turnover at senior levels is low, and 85% of women across all functions said they felt frustrated by lack of promotional opportunities, or that they had hit the glass ceiling.


A programme to develop job opportunities was begun in 1999 with a twofold approach embracing the creation of additional principal lecturer and teaching fellow appointments, and a women only development programme entitled Widening Opportunities for Women (WOW!).

Surveys and focus groups informed the structure and content of the WOW! programme, resulting in a series of four workshops which individuals can take to suit their needs and covering self-esteem, assertiveness, positive thinking and help for working parents. This last was piloted by local and national organisations who themselves were working on work/life balance initiatives. Women are supported through a network and can opt to have a mentor - often from an external organisation.

WOW! was piloted in 2000 on senior women who had been unsuccessful in achieving more senior posts, and has since been opened up to all women in the organisation.


184 women have taken part in WOW! since 2000, of whom 54% have been promoted, changed roles or taken on new responsibilities. Well over half of new teaching fellow and principal lecturer appointees in the same period are female.

Women are asked to give feedback on their WOW! experience, and 96% report that the programme has helped them build confidence and focus on career goals.

Learning points include the benefits of both internal and external perspectives afforded by joint presentation and external mentors, and the dangers of making assumptions about staff potential: WOW! has shown that it is never too late to develop!


Member Organisation: Leeds Metropolitan University

Initiative: Widening Opportunities for Women - non-managerial women


As part of its overall commitment to valuing diversity, in academic year 1999/2000 Leeds Metropolitan Universitysurveyed women in a number of roles to find their views on work/life balance, training and development and career progression.

Among the issues which emerged were that both men and women found it difficult to progress from manual roles into other positions owing to lack of appropriate experience and IT skills, and that women in administrative roles found it hard to advance because of lack of progression opportunities. Low staff turnover and relationships with unions further complicated the issues, while the university was eager to make headway on its aim of increasing the numbers of women in management positions.


A series of development opportunities was developed under the Widening Opportunities for Women (WOW!) initiative, covering improving self esteem, gaining the European Computer Driving Licence, Return to Learn (in partnership with Unison and the Workers Educational Association), promoting secondments as a developmental opportunity, ensuring access to computers for staff whose role does not typically involve PCs and developing opportunities to access NVQs.

Senior management demonstrates its commitment by providing funding to develop pilot programmes, and presenting certificates to those completing accredited programmes. Photographs of successful participants are featured in newsletters and other communications.


In 2001, 69 employees were awarded the European Computer Driving Licence and 54% of WOW! attendees have changed roles or taken on new or additional responsibilities. Half of the pilot group on Return to Learn changed roles during the programme and industrial relations have improved. Particularly amongst manual staff there has been a significant drop in sickness absence days, and an increase in numbers of staff reporting satisfaction with development opportunities.


Member Organisation: Citigroup Europe

Initiative: Diversity Breakthrough Teams


The financial sector has not been known historically for making diversity a business priority, but Citigroup's vision of becoming an employer of choice and becoming a true gender-neutral meritocracy on a strongly developed business case brought diversity up as a corporate priority. Aiming to challenge the status quo and improve recruitment, retention and development of women and ethnic minorities, it appointed a full time head of diversity for Europe early in 2001.


The first European Women's Conference (EWC) took place in June 2000 and identified four key diversity themes: recruitment, retention, sponsorship/professional development and work life balance. Five cross-functional, ten-member task teams were established, charged with achieving tangible results based on specific targets in each of these areas - plus respect in the workplace - in 100 days.

A central budget was established, and around 90% of it spent on networking, recruiting and work environment initiatives, and the balance used for education, awareness training and diversity-related employee benefits.

Individual business heads are held accountable for driving the diversity agenda, moving the 100-day initiative forward within their business areas. The firm is creating a business model that integrates diversity into its organisational structure, following up the goals of he 100-day task forces with equally specific and demanding targets for ongoing work.

A second EWC in September 2001 with the theme of career development for women resulted in the formation of a women's network focusing on fast track 1:1 mentoring, from which feedback has been very positive.


Annual employee surveys provide general feedback while, more specifically, monthly management reports track starters and leavers by gender. Each task team leader reviewed their team members and results were fed back into the appraisal and compensation process, and business heads measure progress around the five themes in their own divisions with regular senior management reviews.

The appraisal process has been reviewed and a management scorecard, of which diversity is a key element, been introduced.


Member Organisation: Wakefield Metropolitan District Council

Initiative: Stepping Up


Wakefield Metropolitan District Council is the largest employer in a former mining area. The Council must 'ensure equality and inclusiveness' to ensure good practice but recognised in 1996 that, although 69% of its 16,000 employees were women, only 13% of senior managers were female and there were no female chief officers. The effectiveness of the equal opportunities policy was questioned, leading to the establishment in1997 of Stepping Up - a multi-faceted programme with the goal of achieving a gender balance at all grades.


Activities are focused in two key areas: personal and professional development for women, and organisational development and cultural change.

More than 2000 women have attended Stepping Up training days, covering confidence, communication, management, leadership, effective networking and stress management. Other initiatives include mentoring, job shadowing and the establishment of a networking directory and localised departmental networks providing support and development.

Stepping Up action plans contain targets for gender equality at corporate and department levels, while its research into recruitment and selection generates procedural changes, including a gender mix on all interview panels. All work/life balance policies and procedures have been re-launched following consultation.

Senior level commitment, effective organisational structure and substantial resource allocation make Stepping Up sustainable and replicable. Communication is central to keeping gender on the employee agenda, with all means from intranet, posters and in-house publications to local media used to broadcast the message to staff and the community at large. Successful female role models from all employee grades are celebrated across the organisation and women have a direct line to management teams via their Stepping Up.


Recognising the central importance of evaluation, a dedicated Stepping Up monitoring officer was appointed in 2000, monitoring workforce trends, recruitment and selection date and action plans, targets and timescales.

There is tangible evidence of success. The proportion of senior management positions held by women almost trebling, and two out of five chief officers now female, a trend towards career advancement which extends below senior management levels.

Stepping Up is helping women to improve their work/life balance, achieve career goals and motivate others through sharing their experiences.

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