International Women's Day 2024 Inspire Inclusion

At Pollen Street we strive to be an open and inclusive business. We think that everyone has their ‘superpower’ to bring to the table and that it is our different experiences, backgrounds, expertise, and identities that promote the environment that we want – an environment of innovative, entrepreneurial and progressive thinking.

We are proud to mark International Women's Day (IWD) with people around the world celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The theme for IWD 2024 is Inspire Inclusion which focuses on the active and intentional effort to create a work environment where all individuals, regardless of their differences, feel valued, respected, and supported. To celebrate we hosted leaders from around our network to share their thoughts, their personal experiences and their practical take on inclusion for businesses.

This is a theme that feels very appropriate for Pollen Street. The focus is how everyone can inspire inclusion, so thinking about how both male and female leaders can help, how all employees can do their part in creating an inclusive environment.

Inclusion is also particularly relevant when we think about how we build better businesses. Creating diverse teams can be particularly useful for businesses looking to transform, to be agile. Hiring – and truly including – people from different backgrounds avoids ‘group-think’ and keeps teams open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Our Panel

  • Lindsey McMurray, CEO, Pollen Street
  • Connor Marshall-McKie, Investment Director, Pollen Street (Moderator)
  • Helena Curtis, Talent and DE&I Lead, Shawbrook
  • June Ahi, Chief People Officer, Cashflows
  • Adrian McShane Chapman, People Experience Director, Proactis
  • Anne-Marie Schoonbeek, COO and founder of Key ESG

Key takeaways

  • Be bold. Take risks (for organisations and people).
  • Keep a growth mindset.
  • Communicate authentically and be yourself.
  • Believe in yourself. Think of your difference as your superpower!

What is your personal experience or understanding of inclusion?

LM: At school it never occurred to me, and I had never been trained to think that girls were less good than boys. I was naturally good at maths and all the other top students I remember were girls too, not the boys. Similarly, although I didn’t have a lot of professional industry role models growing up a lot of my teachers were women and my role model teachers were women. So actually, in some ways I was shielded from concern that I was less worthy. It was one of the biggest assets that I took with me.

My takeaways from that and from my career are to take difficult situations and use these as your superpower. If you’re the only person who looks a bit different you may be more likely to be remembered. You can be bold and use things to your advantage.

JA: A bit of a strict but very supportive upbringing instilled a lot of belief in myself. I’ve always been a natural extrovert so working with people was something I was always going to do and something I love.  A pivotal moment for me was being on a leadership team in a HR role, but not knowing that there was M&A going on, and hearing after the fact. It was frustrating that I heard afterwards but for me it was more like ‘challenge accepted’ to use the energy from that to drive my performance and show my competence. To continue the work and use it as an opportunity to show the value of what HR can do and make sure I was in a position where I was at the table.

A-MS: Further into my career, I found myself in New York with my co-founder. Both of us were 7 months pregnant. Manning our manic booth at a conference showcasing our software to the market, in that case private equity. And I remember myself thinking ‘we're two very pregnant bellies behind a booth’. I wondered about people buying into our software as they know we will perhaps be on maternity leave soon. In hindsight, I realised that it was me having those voices in my head. Looking back, I don't think anyone at the conference thought that. So, it's very much about me being aware of how I perceive certain situations and how people can power through.

AM-C: Moving to London to go and work in the city I saw the start of my HR career in the typically very male dominated fields of sales and investment banks. What I noticed is there was inequality that was visible to me as an outsider who'd moved to this wonderful city to be part of life here, but an inequality that didn't just impact women - but impacted LGBTQI+ people and people of colour as well. I could see opportunity wasn't afforded to colleagues of mine that looked slightly different to me or who came from a different place. As a HR professional, that developed in me a sense of wanting to achieve parity for people. Wanting to do my very best in my career, I can promote opportunities for people, and effectively give the underdog in the room the opportunity to have a voice, and to use their energy in a productive and thoughtful way.

HC: Building on that topic of the underdog. I'm the youngest of 3 daughters, from a long line of strong women, so there wasn't a thing around being weaker than the boys.

When I got into the workforce, probably for the first few years of my career, I was the youngest, only female, most junior person around the table, and I had to find a way to have a voice and influence. Looking back some of the behaviours that I demonstrated would be quite cringey now, to be one of the boys.

But I learned so many lessons in terms of influencing and understanding different people. And when I look back now, yes, I was the youngest and the only female and I didn't have that position of power, but I didn't need to think about ‘am I the only black person in the room, or do I need to cover who I love?’. So, it really gave me a great understanding of stepping into somebody else's shoes and how to reflect and really emphasize and share that kind of power.

What does an inclusive company look like and why is building inclusive businesses important?

LM: At Pollen Street one of our core values is Caring. It is of course about caring about the hard aspects of business and also caring about each other as you're delivering performance.

It's also respecting differences, and genuinely believing that you will get a better business if you bring people with different perspectives, different backgrounds.

Across Pollen Street we’ve shared a helpful ‘dartboard’ illustration of all the different aspects of diversity, going beyond gender and ethnicity. Whether you have a family, whether you're a single parent your background and whether you're looking after your elderly parents. The important thing is that every single person is on the dartboard, as below. It helps to remember that everybody's valuable to the organization in their own way. With that approach we can make sure we are inclusive in the DNA of the company.

JA: I think that people who feel valued and included are more invested in the business. You've got increased engagement and increased productivity.

One of the things we did at Cashflows when we revised our values is opened up that process to everyone. We ran workshops asking what are your personal values? And what would you want your values to be in the business? It was insightful to see what came out of that. From that we have our 3 C's. Courage, collaboration, and clarity. Wthe result was much more inclusive because it was something that was created together. Again, that inclusivity to Lindsey's point is having it in the DNA and genuinely acting on it

Looking ahead: pledging to be bold

It is great to hear from leaders inspiring inclusion across Pollen Street and our portfolio and we hope that taking time out on International Women’s Day to reflect on their career journeys, advice and anecdotes is an energising moment as we think about the pledges we can all make to help drive inclusion and get the most from our own careers.

Wrapping up, our panellists spoke about being authentic, not being afraid to fail, letting go of ‘perfect’ work-life balance and pledging to keep the momentum going.