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In Conversation With Morag Stuart

Director of Commerical Improvement at DE&S, Morag Stuart, is a very busy woman, not least in helping to lead the way in promoting gender balance across DE&S, defence and the government more widely. In between Charter meetings and DE&S Women's Network events, we managed to grab some time with Morag to chat about her career, her experience as a high profile woman in defence, and what the future holds for us all!

Morag, firstly let me say thank you so much for speaking with us today. First up, could you tell me a bit about your role as Director of Commercial Improvement at DE&S and the journey you've taken to get there?

You're very welcome, and absolutely. I started my career in BAE Systems on a graduate training scheme and was with them for eight years. I spent four of those in the USA. I then secured an external role as Head of Procurement for the Olympic Delivery Authority. I did that for four years, before setting up my own consultancy and working for many Government departments and companies. I wanted to continue to work in Government and combine that with my Defence experience and I was delighted to take up a full time role at DE&S, originally as Director of Contract Management.

The work that I now do as Director of Commercial Improvement is to improve the way we procure and manage our contracts within DE&S.

That all sounds brilliant, let's dig into some of those areas a little. I'm interested in the fact that you've worked quite extensively across both the private and public sectors at different stages during your career. I imagine that brings a breadth of experience and interesting lessons. What are some of the standout things you've taken from different organisations at different stages of your career?

Thinking about my experience as a woman in defence and taking that angle, there are a couple of experiences I've had that stand out. The first is when I started at Royal Ordnance, at a factory in South Wales, I was struck by how many women there were. I'd been thinking that I was going into a fairly male dominated engineering organisation. But as I started to dig into the reasons behind it, I found out that it was due to women taking jobs in the factory when huge numbers of men went off to fight in the Second World War, meaning that still today there are significant numbers of women employed in the manufacturing site. That's not a situation we would ever want to repeat, but it is an example of a disruptive change that allowed it to be culturally acceptable for that to be an acceptable career for women.

When I worked at BAE Systems, it was fairly gender balanced at the level I worked at but moving up through the senior levels it was predominantly male. There were also some really visible young female leaders that were being encouraged up the chain, so I didn't see it as a particular issue at the time. When I lived in the USA it struck me how confident the women were in the workplace and how many senior female leaders I came across. But I wasn't able to work out what exactly led to that being the case.

One thing that was highlighted very clearly on my return to the UK, coming back to work on the London 2012 Olympics, was just how strong their inclusion and diversity strategy really was. It was embedded in the Olympic Delivery Authority right from the start, throughout their set-up and initial recruitment. The organisation was effectively a start-up, a non-departmental public body, and we had a truly diverse group of people, across every protected characteristic you can think of. It was also a completely inclusive environment; people felt comfortable being themselves at work to the extent that they could openly identify with a particular sexuality that they would previously have kept hidden in different workplaces. The way that the organisation was set up had an active and positive impact on people's lives, and that culture is something we celebrated.

Thinking now about your current role in DE&S, could you tell me a little about your experience of being a senior woman in government, in defence. And also about the changes that are underway at DE&S in the gender balance space.

I now rarely sit in a room with a senior woman present, and that is something I find frustrating, particularly given some of the organisations I've come from and particularly in my role as Gender Champion at DE&S.

But things are changing. Slowly, but they are changing. For example, at DE&S we've been selected as one of the Government Equalities Office's five pilots to address the gender pay gap and look at some of the interventions that might be made to improve it. The first stage has been handing over anonymised recruitment and promotion data for analysis to the team running the pilot and we're expecting to receive a series of recommendations for targeted interventions that we can take.

In the meantime, we're running so many other programmes - as many interventions as we can get! - whilst remaining mindful that we need to select interventions carefully and consider any potentially negative side effects.

For example we're being very pro-active on recruitment. We're proposing that we have at least one person with protected characteristics on every senior management recruitment panel. We're also looking at who applies, who gets shortlisted and who gets selected, as well as who we retain, collecting and analysing this data in terms of protected characteristics. We hope that this will help us better understand what is working and what isn't.

In addition to that piece, we have the Women's Network at DE&S, which now has a fantastic 800 members, and we're running lots of events. Events around confidence, public speaking, resilience and also one on domestic abuse. And DE&S have put all of the senior leadership through intensive inclusion and diversity training. I'm also working on empowering people to have a voice, to know that they can come to me as Gender Champion and be heard, and that I will do something about it. And alongside that I'm empowering the members of the network to run with ideas that they have. For example recently two women returning to DE&S after maternity leave were frustrated with the process, and discovered that many others were too. They've now managed to influence that process and implement a Keeping in Touch policy with HR and have run a Keeping in Touch day that 70 people came along to, including 20 babies! And it's not only that stage of people's lives we're focusing on - we've got a Menopause Champion now too. Our flexible working policy is excellent on paper and we are working on how best to implement it throughout the organisation.

So we're looking right across the picture, right across the many different elements that create an environment where it's more difficult for women to rise up through an organisation. We're taking it very seriously. And yet the fact of the matter remains that I'm the only female Director at DE&S out of eighteen and that there are no women more senior than me. I am coming to the conclusion that we need a disruptive change as the model to keep women in the workplace particularly when they have demands of children is extremely hard. I was fascinated to see at a global summit of the Singularity University they have one of their keynotes as ‘The Power Women Bring to the Future of Work – Rebranding Motherhood’ with a trailer that More Fortune 500 CEOs are named John than there are women CEO’s. We aren’t at the tipping point yet but we are getting closer….

Thank you for those very candid insights. As you say, a situation that's highly frustrating at the moment but one where change is happening and the issues really are being taken seriously and looked at in the round, with lots of interventions hopefully adding up to have a big impact.

Now, turning to something that Women in Defence UK is really excited to be working on jointly with the MOD, which you're co-Chairing with WiD UK Founder Angela Owen, is the Women in Defence Charter. I think people will be really interested to hear more about that, so could you give me a flavour of what the Charter is and what it hopes to achieve?

Something that was brought to my attention by working in an organisation that works with private contractors at a senior level is the lack of female presence in any industry engagement that I have. So I was looking for an intervention with industry that we could collaborate on and Angela came with the idea of a Women in Defence Charter. We have worked on that, have set up the Taskforce that, as you mentioned, myself and Angela co-Chair. We have presented the Charter through the MOD to the Defence Suppliers Forum chaired by Secretary of State, to a very positive reception from the defence suppliers in the room, and we are planning to launch in September 2019 at DSEI.

The Charter itself is looking to replicate the good work that's being done by the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter and also the Women in Finance Charter. The aim is to encourage individual organisations to set targets that achieve the common goal of increasing the number of women in defence, and particularly the number in senior management positions.

That's really exciting to hear about, and it really feels as if this is the right time, the moment. And I know that 2019 is certainly a year of step-change for us at Women in Defence UK, not only with the Charter but also our new values-led vision and all the new energy and activity we have flowing out of that. With that in mind, it's always really useful to hear from those we speak to about how they feel WiD UK can have an even bigger impact. So my question is for 2019 and onwards, what would you like to see us doing more of?

I would like to see us publishing data collectively and sharing best practice across organisations. So where an organisation has had success in getting a high percentage of women into senior management positions to try and understand how they've made that happen with a view to learning from it and replicating it in other organisations. I'm thinking in particular of the great work that POWERful does in the energy sector, gathering and sharing very simple statistics, such as the percentages of women in executive committee and board positions in energy organisations. A relatively simple action, but with a big impact in terms of highlighting the current situation, inspiring organisations to keep working on gender balance and showcasing where pockets of best practice lie to help us all get there.

Well that definitely gives us some food for thought at WiD HQ, so thank you for that. And now just one final question from me as I've heard that you're coming on board with us as judge this year for the Women in Defence UK Awards, which is very exciting for us. So I wanted to ask why you've decided to take on this role with us and why you think the Awards matter?

When I first joined the industry I was sceptical about having Awards just for women because I never viewed myself as needing a separate category, but having been in industry now for a number of years I think we need every intervention we can find! Celebrating the success of women, and other individuals and teams that contribute to gender balance, within the defence environment, is so fundamental to helping raise the profile and make an actual, meaningful change.

Thank you so much Morag. I know I speak for all of the WiD team when we say we're really happy to have you on board, and even more so given you coming from a position of initial scepticism about the value of having a special Awards programme for women in defence!

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