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The Leadenhall Lunch – Insights from Around the Table: Women in Leadership

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‘The Leadenhall Lunch’ – Insights from around the Table: Women in Leadership

Late November and there was definitely a festive air about our second Leadenhall Lunch. After the success of the inaugural lunch (Family Matters), we addressed one of our specialised coaching topics, Women in Leadership. Again the venue was M – Restaurant and again the guest list was filled with London’s elite HR talent.

The lunch looked to explore the experiences and opinions of 4 senior HR leaders, the discussion centring on the current opportunities and initiatives supporting women into leadership positions. There was also inevitably the effect the pandemic has had. The conversation did not disappoint, with themes, insights and topics hotly discussed accompanied by the usual tasty M dishes.


  • Kerry Miller – People Director – Royal London
  • Kate Phipps – Head of Human Resources – Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co
  • Melanie Halsey – Chief People and Culture Officer – First Sentier Investors
  • Suzanne Bray – Human Resources – Convex Insurance

The reality was – that the topic of discussion ‘Women in Leadership’ did not start until the last 30 minutes of the lunch!  There was certainly a real enthusiasm and zeal to the conversation, as all around the table relished the opportunity to have a really good in person networking opportunity.  Many of the guests and hosts had previously worked with or at the same firms so there was plenty of catching up to do. There was also some fascinating insight into some of the challenges facing HR as the new phenomenon of ‘Reluctant Returners’ is increasing evident – perhaps a topic for a  future lunch!

The conversation did eventually get around to the topic at hand:

Liz (Leadenhall) – We spent some time looking at the issue in respect to the development of women leaders and through some significant research found repeating themes. Whilst there is a good gender balance at lower and mid-levels, we found that women are opting out as they become more senior, resulting in a shrinking talent pool further up.  This seems to exacerbate the problem as there are not enough role models in senior leadership positions to convince women what is possible and attainable.  What has been your experiences and have you any polices that look to address this? Click here for our Women in Leadership Research

Suzanne (Convex): We have had real success with our ‘returner programme‘. We have deliberately targeted those women who have had a career break, whatever the reason, for recruitment and development. This has certainly helped the optics in respect to numbers, and we have certainly uncovered some fantastic talent. 

Kerry (Royal London):  To be honest, on the leadership side, the demographics have room for improvement. We have a large and well promoted Women’s Network with over 750 regular members, our CEO is incredibly invested and engaged with this but I think it will take some time for the effect to change the balance higher up the organisation.

Liz – What’s your experience of this ‘broken rung’ of the women’s career ladder?

Suzanne (Convex): Yes – we certainly see that, at the lower and middle levels of employment we are at about 50% ratio male to female, but this gradually gets smaller up until the board and management teams.

Kate (Mitsui): Certainly we have seen women gradually dropping our and off the career ladder for a variety of reasons but typically it is the old stereotypical reasons of family, but can also be work life balance and lack of opportunity.

Chris –  How has the recent WFH home situation affected the demographic? In our last discussion we found that this has certainly decreased the take up of male parental leave and there is certainly some evidence that it has strengthened the traditional gender career bias?

Suzanne We as a firm have certainly tried to encourage men to spend more time at home during the last year or so especially where there is family involved. 

Melanie (First Sentier): It is evident in all my discussions both here and elsewhere, when it comes to parental leave and transition we tend to talk about male and female. One of the big stumbling blocks with gender discussions is we continue to talk in this way rather than referring to carers and parents. Language is really important if we are going to change cultures rather than polices.

Kate:  We have found the same issue, men are now not taking the parental leave due to the opportunity of working from home and flexible working.  They reckon that the get to spend enough time with the family with these options and don’t need further time away from the office. This again perpetuates the traditional model of gender roles.  

Melanie: Yes absolutely, I expect we all have good company policy surrounding parental leave.  But how does that compare with the underlying company culture around taking that leave. Is it the done thing? Do the senior female staff have families themselves and did they take the leave? Do the senior male leaders encourage male parental leave? We need good role models to live and act on the polices to create the culture. Do we have those good role models?

Chris – We have had conversations with several of our clients who have done surveys and questionnaires about the topic of returning to work and they have found strongly binary results. Female staff would like to work 3-4 days at home whereas male staff are happy to work 3-4 days at the office?

Kate: Yes we have found this and are trying to encourage the return to the office, trying to convey the sense missing out, being face to face and not getting left behind regardless of gender.

Mel:  Yes I think we see this as a growing problem and I think many firms will be looking at the new year to see if there is a better return to the office.  We are currently optional but will be 50/50 from January. It will be an interesting time to see how it all works out.

Thank you to all our guests for their time and fascinating insights. we look forward to hosting the next Leadenhall Lunch in the new year.


Chris Woodman CEO – Leadenhall

Liz Codd – Chief Coaching Officer – Leadenhall

Dan Harris – Associate Director – Leadenhall


Look out for the next ‘Leadenhall Lunch’ – Coming early next year,you never know it could be you!

If you fancy being a guest or would like to have a chat about Leadenhall and our services pop your details below.