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BEIS Women's Empowered Network

Category: STEM for women, Opportunities for women, employee network, Women, testimonial, Government, Jobs in Government, Women’s network, inspirational women, Staff Networks, Staff Testimonial, Network, UK Government, networking, staff network group, gender network

Gender Focus

Olaide Olumide, Head of Vaccines Taskforce at BEIS

Olaide Olumide, Head of International Projects, Vaccines Taskforce at BEIS

My name is Olaide Olumide and I've been in the Civil Service for six years now. I started my career in what is now MHCLG and then moved to the Home Office where I spent three years, notably working in the Home Secretary's Office at a very important time in our politics; the year of the snap election, and unfortunately, the year of subsequent terrorist attacks. During my time at the Home Office I also had the opportunity to work in cybersecurity at the Foreign Office, delivering cyber projects within the Commonwealth. That was an interesting role as I got to represent the UK at global forums, see how the policies we make here in Whitehall impact people on the ground, and how we're supporting Commonwealth countries to be better in terms of their policymaking.

I am currently Head of International Projects in the Vaccines Taskforce at BEIS, making sure we have the necessary supply of vaccines available in the UK as part of our COVID-19 response.

The Women Empowered Network

I also Chair the Women Empowered Network at BEIS, driven by a passion for gender equality that reflects the lived experiences of all women. At the moment, we're really focused on ensuring our work is reflective and interacts with the different intersectionalities whilst also supporting colleagues back into the office in a safe way. The aim is to have a place where all women can feel accepted and ensure that their lived experiences are reflected in how our people based policy is made in BEIS. We have such a great team and network of volunteers who make sure women feel that they have a tribe they can go to for anything, which was really important in the early stages of the pandemic.

 I think none of us knew what we were going to do in terms of how we were going to operate in this new normal, meetings on Teams was an alien concept at the time. Running a network virtually was newfound territory and we had to change, adapt and react to what we were seeing at the time. What was key for us in the beginning was to give colleagues a safe space where they could connect. A lot of our members were living alone, dealing with childcare pressures or joining BEIS during this challenging time and felt isolated, so having 30 minutes with other women in the same position provided an escape from the stress of the day. As things evolved and we got used to the virtual working we started bringing inspiring speakers to share their experience of working and delivering through difficult challenges to help motivate colleagues.

Rebranding the Women’s Network

Women Empowered

Before our rebranding last year, we were know as the ‘Women’s Network’. In speaking to colleagues, it was clear that the name was a barrier for some allies to engage and join the Network. Gender Equality is everyone’s business, and it was important that everyone felt that they could be part of the conversation in BEIS. My former Co-Chair, Siobhan Sherry and I wanted to create a name that would resonate more widely and signify what the network stood for. Abbreviating Women Empowered to 'WE' is a way to show the connectivity between members as a part of the network and to foster a sense of mutual support as a collective. Since changing the change of name, we have had lots of male allies join the conversation and volunteer their time. That's something that's been really pivotal for the way we've grown this year and it helped us to be seen as a network for everyone: LGBT+ women, women with disabilities, women with parental responsibilities, and so on.

Our three areas of focus are:

  • Engaging Allies
  • Supporting women across the pipeline grades
  • Supporting BEIS to be Women’s Health confident

In order to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles we need a pipeline of talent. Therefore, we are investing in our junior colleagues so that they can be the senior leaders of the future. As women, we can sometimes feel like we’re not viewed as strong in comparison to our male counterparts when it comes to progression and promotion.  We support our members with workshops on competence and making effective applications alongside sessions on confidence which focus on improving presence and impact in the workplace to help build self-confidence. What we are trying to do as a network is to level the playing field and give women the tools and skills they need to do their best within their jobs. We recently hosted a virtual leadership conference for International Women's Day which focused on BEIS’s key priorities. This year we had over 1300 people attend our virtual events across the week, with our sessions on the importance of women in STEM, climate change and business attracting lots of colleagues within and outside of BEIS. We had amazing external speakers join us, and the fact that they wanted to speak at our events shows the kind of positive impact we have with many wanting to come and speak again.

 

Women empowered network meeting on International Women's Day 2021

 

Our third focus is on women’s health. We have monthly women's health hours, where we discuss women’s health conditions – sharing experiences and resources in the hope of reducing stigma and understanding how to manage health in the workplace. We often invite doctors and specialists to give our members access to expert advice. This week we have a Rheumatology consultant coming to talk about bone health and osteoporosis. We are really excited to be working on our Women’s Health Toolkit which we will be launching soon to better help line managers support women. We all go through tough things in our lives, which often affects our experience of the workplace. To build an effective support mechanism, we need to bridge that knowledge gap to make BEIS an inclusive environment for all women.

Working for women safety

A lot of us have been recently affected by the murder of Sarah Everard, so we've been doing a lot to address what workplace safety means at BEIS and how we can embed that into some of our plans for returning into the office. This is not just about safety on a face to face level, but also online because women can be affected by cyber violence as well. We’re introducing training sessions to help everyone in the department understand the issues women face in this space and how they can offer support. To ensure everyone has the confidence to call out negative behaviours, we're implementing bystander training.

We're also working with our department on making sure that we have a coherent sexual harassment strategy which supports women and doesn't treat them like the perpetrator. Our network assists with HR policy updates. For example, we did an internal sexual harassment survey to understand where we were as a department on this issue. Unfortunately, it wasn't as positive as we would have liked. However, it helped us understand how we can go about achieving a better workplace environment for women. After collecting data, we handed it over to analysts to make sure that findings are well-supported by evidence. We then pulled that into reports and talked to HR about some of the findings.

Collaboration with other networks

 

BEIS staff network meeting

 

We need to consider gender across policymaking and we need to make sure that it is embedded in our teams’ daily practices. Every department in the Civil Service runs a staff survey. From the evidence we were gathering, we realised that our Black and minority ethnic women do not have as great of an experience as the white women in the department. We worked with our Faith and Minority Ethnic Network (FAME) to create an immediate working group which was launched in September known as the BAME Women Working Group. Their work has been so positively received and we have seen an increased number of people taking interest in trying to make the department a better place for all women, not just white women.

Collaboration with other networks has helped us boost diversity and inclusion at BEIS. For example, we noticed that one of the internal talent schemes asked for a photo on the application form. The Civil Service champions blind recruitment, and we felt that the policy should be reflected in any internal talent application as there are biases that people may have when they see a picture of your face. Our network mobilised all the other networks to write to HR about that and got them to take that requirement off. That was a success and women felt more comfortable applying for that talent scheme.

Moving forward, I see us engaging a lot more with the other networks in the same way we collaborated with FAME to create a better community for our women. We’re working with the All Ages Network to think about what interventions can we bring in to make sure that all staff whether young or old feel they can go for whatever role they want to go for whether that includes them pivoting their careers or moving into new disciplines.

Advice for women candidates

BEIS is a great place to work, especially if you have lots of new ideas, and you want to make a real, tangible impact. Everyone is really friendly and very collegiate. This is mirrored in the way we work with our external partners and across Whitehall, with a focus on creating an inclusive culture at all levels. Having a workforce that reflects our diverse society is very important to BEIS and I encourage all women no matter your background to apply.

I would say to any potential candidate: If you see a job you like and you can do half of what they’ve required, apply! If you can do everything they’re asking for then you’re already over qualified. Familiarise yourself with the success profiles and the way the Civil Service recruits but also consider your transferable skills and the added value they can bring to the organisation. Job adverts always leave indicators of what they’re looking for in the description, make sure you spend time reviewing so that you cover these in your application. Then bring your passion, enthusiasm and desire to make positive change. We look forward to welcoming you.

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