Life has come a full circle for Richard Hayler. The Briton is a biochemist by training, and started off his career as the technical director at a UK-based cleanroom technology firm. For more than a decade since, he worked as a finance professional including stints at the Big4 firms KPMG and Deloitte. He is now the CFO of Nutrition Technologies where he gets to enjoy both his interests – finance and biochemistry, while also helping the environment at the circular economy company.
Throughout his career spanning fifteen years, he has worked across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He followed his wife who had a career opportunity in Singapore, to Asia. In Singapore, he worked his way up to senior managing director at a US listed consultancy, was an equity partner at a Big4 firm and helped build the head office of a major charity before taking on his current role. During this time, he has worked for and with some fantastic female leaders. He has closely observed how the gender norms in the country directly affect the work culture there, which he shares with Women Icons Network.
Gender Equality at Workplace
While working in London, Richard had worked for female managers, senior managers, directors and partners. Therefore when one of his postings took him to Saudi Arabia, the absence of women in the workplace struck him as a stark contrast. He feels that awareness among the staff members is the biggest requirement to have effective gender diversity and equity at work.
His experiences across cultures make him believe that specific measures or actions required towards this cause depend widely on the company, industry and country. “That said, while the specifics may be varied, ultimately it comes down to culture. Does the culture foster an inherent fairness in the way people are treated? The real question is whether the initiative is aligned with the culture and whether it is more than just talk,” he thinks.
Richard has seen initiatives such as women’s networks, buddy systems, mentoring and gender equality policies work effectively. Commitment to gender equality, he says, can be summed in one simple sentence – “Equality of opportunity regardless of gender identity”.
Role of Male Allies
Richard believes that every person should support their colleagues regardless of gender identity or any other differentiating factor such as ethnicity, age or religion. Achieving this, he says, requires awareness of potential structural issues and biases. He adds that qualities like strength of conviction and willingness to act / speak out about their own awareness are also necessary for anyone allying with a cause.
“Lately however, well intentioned men with a track record of supporting women have become less willing to speak out on gender diversity fearing that their words will be misconstrued or that they will be accused of not doing enough,” he shares. This cancel culture is only taking the movement back instead of opening up avenues for discussion, he feels.
Within the office setup, he says, he always tried to ensure that the colleagues at the receiving end of any kind of discrimination were okay and that supporting them can have a lasting impact. This is something he did as a junior executive with a limited power and ability to respond in a given situation. As he rose through the ranks, he took more active steps to resolve such matters. Although, he is glad the frequency of discrimination seems to have lessened over the years, perhaps because of an overall improvement in the work culture, he considers this might just be a function of his colleagues knowledge of his stance on the subject.
Fostering Female Talent
As a proponent of gender equity, Richard has always actively pushed to sponsor and mentor female colleagues. Even though he thinks sponsorships by seniors help junior colleagues, those without a vocal sponsor can be left behind, or not promoted as fast as they deserve. While making decisions about promotions and appraisals, and discussing the measures to benchmark the performance of staff members, managers need to ensure fairness in all aspects, he asserts.
“When a female colleague is deserving, it is important that they get a good sponsor. That is not something they have to wait to be given, they can ask,” he advises. In fact, he says, this can help anyone with high ambitions and aspirations with regards to their career.
The three most important things needed to succeed are ideas, solutions and contacts, says Richard. He feels that the most successful female leaders he has come across are exceptional at building relationships. He gives the example of a colleague he coached just four years into her career, with a lead for a project that their team eventually won. That lead came from her network, not from being at her desk, and that helped set her apart from her peers.
He thinks that there is an assumption from women who are on a management growth track that they must be at their desk all hours and that networking only happens at lunch or in the evenings. He dispels this myth by insisting their time out of the office is at least as valuable as their time in the office.
Career Advancement: Men vs Women
Having been a part of numerous appraisals, pay and promotion reviews, Richard observes that there is a stark contrast in the way men and women advance in their careers. In all his years as a leader, he has seen only one woman who directly asked for a pay raise. Men, on the other hand, have always been far more proactive in discussing their career advancement in these review meetings. Starting from taking the initiative to put time in his diary ahead of the appraisal season to speaking directly about their expectations from the employers.
Though he feels that women in our workforce are now getting much more comfortable with discussing promotions, they are still not able to put forward their expectations clearly and directly. “I notice that they seem to be reticent about bringing up their own value to the organisation. I once gave a female team member a double promotion, because she was exceptional, and she nearly fell off her chair; she really had no idea. She grew in confidence noticeably after that day,” he shares.
He again brings up networking as an important part of career development. He acknowledges that many women, however, avoid joining professional groups as they look at them as not much other than a Boys’ Club. While insisting that there is considerable national and ethnic diversity and all viewpoints are valued in such groups, he goes on to say that all peer networks would be boys’ clubs if women didn’t join them. He advises that the female workforce should try to be a part of such groups, as the worst they would do is take a few hours of their day. The benefits, on the other hand, far outweigh that small sacrifice, he adds.
Pitfalls of Diversity Programs
Richard is happy to see the progress in diversity programs in many larger companies, which he largely contributes to the various Inclusivity & Diversity movements in the past few years. He feels that there’s a lot more consciousness now over issues that may have not been discussed openly in the past.
However, he still witnesses the struggles to overcome certain societal and cultural views. “I&D programs only represent a company’s part to play in overcoming those views. They should not be seen as a complete solution,” he stresses.
Over the course of his career, he has seen many changes in the evolution of I&D programs are now evolving with even more sensitivity, for example quotas can result in people being labelled as “diversity hires” rather than recognised for their contribution which is counterproductive. On the other hand, creating an open and safe environment for women to seek advancement for their contribution should be a part of any diversity program.