Visible Women

This landmark new scheme will increase the number of women leaders in London

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Moya Crockett
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Our Time, a new initiative by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, will provide women with structured coaching to prepare them for senior positions. 

Despite being one of the world’s most diverse and innovative cities, London lags behind when it comes to the number of women employed in leadership positions. Almost three-quarters of London council leaders are male, the CEO of a FTSE 100 company is more likely to be called John than be a woman, and maternal employment is 8% lower in the capital than the rest of the country. To top it all, London currently has the largest gender pay gap in the UK – a statistic that has barely changed in two decades.

Now, a groundbreaking new scheme aims to boost the number of women in leadership positions in the city. The initiative, launched by London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Monday 14 May, will see women paired up with workplace ‘champions’: senior male and female colleagues who will help them access the professional networks, opportunities, contacts and training needed to reach the upper echelons of their industry.

Called ‘Our Time: Supporting Future Leaders’, the scheme will first be implemented across City Hall and by two London councils. Westfield shopping centre is the first private company in London to pledge to introduce the initiative, and the hope is that other public sector bodies and private firms will follow suit later in 2018.

Sadiq Khan wants to increase the number of women leaders in London 

Speaking to at the launch of Our Time, Khan explained that it will be significantly more formal than traditional mentorship schemes, which are already used widely in the public and private sectors. While mentoring can be valuable, it has not removed the gender pay gap or helped women into enough senior positions, he said.

“I’ve mentored many people, and the way it traditionally works is that you, as a mentor, support the mentee,” Khan said. “[But] often it’s informal and you’ve got to fit it outside office hours; you’re basically just having a coffee, and once you’ve given them advice, it’s up to them to run with the ball.”

Our Time differs from those schemes because it will provide official, measurable support, Khan said, rather than “relying on the individual to sink or swim”. 

Research into schemes that Our Time is modelled on shows that women with a formal champion in the workplace are significantly more likely to negotiate for a pay rise and report feeling satisfied with their rate of professional advancement.

Over the next two months, senior figures at City Hall – including those working at Transport for London and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime – will identify ‘high potential’ women employees who would benefit from the scheme and match them with champions. The champions will then have time set aside during office hours to support the woman in question. 

Our Time will provide women with more structured support than traditional mentoring 

Waltham Forest and Lambeth are the only two London councils to have already signed up to Our Time – and both, incidentally, are led by women. Waltham Forest Council leader Clare Coghill said she hoped other organisations would take up the scheme.

“Supporting more women into senior roles will not only make our institutions and businesses more representative of London, but also improve the products and services they deliver,” she said.

Councillor Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council, described Our Time as “a great initiative to get more women in senior positions in public sector organisations across London”.

Khan, who earlier this year launched the #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign to celebrate women’s contributions to London, described the initiative as a form of “succession planning”: a way of ensuring that women are ready to take on senior leadership roles when positions become available.

“If you were managing a football team and you had a really talented new player coming on the scene, it would be madness not to manage that talent so they can play for your team in future,” he said.

“Similarly, businesses have talent, and if they’ve got any sense they should be managing that talent properly.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to celebrating women’s success and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

Images: Getty Images