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About the GDS Women’s group

We’ve been running a Women’s group at GDS for a year now. I wanted to share why we do that, what the group has done so far, and what we plan to do next.

A collage of four photos representing the GDS Women's group

It’s not just for women

The Women’s group is for everyone, irrespective of gender, who cares about having an equal and diverse workplace – but that’s not a snappy and concise name for a group. So we're calling it the Women's group.

Having an active and supported Women’s group can help make GDS a better place for everyone to work. Issues that affect women don’t just belong to men or women. And, whilst the group may have been set up originally to provide a safe space for women to discuss their experiences, our actions haven’t been limited just to the women in the organisation.

GDS is still only a few years old, and has seen a lot of changes during that time. We faced some of the same problems that many tech start-ups face - including working so hard to get the job done that we didn’t always focus on promoting an inclusive culture.

People who were naturally more confident and more assertive thrived, but people who prefer to take time and collaborate could be left out. The Women’s group was formed as a direct response to this, and its aim from the start was to make GDS a more inclusive place to work. We’ve been empowered by our senior team and by whole organisation to make recommendations for change, and we’ve always been listened to and strongly supported.

Things have changed since our early days. GDS's role in government has developed, and with that we’ve had to find more sustainable ways of working. We’ve found ways that encourage whispers as well as shouts, and ways that encourage people to collaborate as well as lead.

The Women’s group works closely with the management team and our operations group to improve our culture and make GDS a more diverse and equal workplace.

What we’ve achieved

We started last year with 5 objectives:

  • raise awareness and be a voice for women
  • solve problems
  • provide support
  • provide training
  • socialise and network

So far, with help from colleagues across GDS, we have started as we mean to go on.

We've rolled out unconscious bias training to all line managers at GDS

We all have unconscious biases that impact our choices and decisions. Most of the time they’re harmless, but understanding your own helps you to spot when you’re making a decision based on logic, or if you’re being lead by bias.

We’ve set up a reverse mentoring scheme for all senior civil servants

Members of the senior team are mentored by a junior member of the Women’s group. This helps managers find out what people outside of their usual sphere think about working at GDS and opens up lines of communication.

We run monthly talks by inspirational women

We've already welcomed speakers from tech and digital industries, government, and the House of Lords. We've also secured funding to host six CodeBar events in 2016.

We published our parity pledge on International Women’s Day

We committed to send more women to speak at events, and not to send speakers to events where the organisers aren’t working hard to improve the speaker diversity of their event.

We’ve started work on presentation and public speaking training ...

... for everyone at GDS no matter their seniority, skill, or experience.

We’ve ensured all GDS interview panels are mixed

And we've increased the pool of women who feel confident conducting and chairing interviews by running training sessions. Teams can contact the group if their panel doesn’t have a woman on it and get a volunteer, who in turn learns about a different area or role in GDS and gains confidence.

The GDS executive board have published their objectives, and each included one on diversity

We’ve pushed for hiring of more permanent civil servants instead of Fixed Term Appointment (FTA) contracts, which can put women off applying and impacts maternity leave.

We linked up with the GDS LGBTQ+ group

We want to support them with their events and communications.

Not bad for year 1.

What’s next

We’re constantly looking for ways to improve. We hold open workshops every six months to work out the next set of objectives.

Here’s our current plan:

We’re expanding unconscious bias training to all staff

We’re training up members of the group to facilitate these sessions.

We’re working with our recruitment team to increase the number of women hired into technical roles

Improving how people find out about working here, looking again at what events we should be speaking at, and how we write job descriptions that don’t put women off applying.

We’re setting up more training sessions

This includes interview, presentation and public speaking training, and finding more opportunities for women to speak and develop their skills. We take our pledge very seriously, so we want to build a network of women to talk at events, and encourage senior men to step aside and promote other people to speak on their behalf.

We’re setting up a work experience programme with Stemettes and Next Tech Girls

This is so that girls can get experience of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) jobs at GDS and learn from the women who work here. We’d like to roll this out across government too.

It doesn't take long to make a change

When we held our first workshop 14 months ago, concern about culture was the number one issue that people wanted to tackle. We’ve worked hard to find ways that we could improve things for everyone. In April we held our third workshop and saw only one sticky note on the wall that talked about a problem with culture.

So things are improving. And they’re improving fast.

We'd like to hear your views, about GDS or about your own experiences - feel free to comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter. Don't forget to sign up for email alerts too.

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  1. Comment by Jenny O'Henry posted on

    "It’s not just for women
    The Women’s group is for everyone, irrespective of gender, who cares about having an equal and diverse workplace – but that’s not a snappy and concise name for a group. So we're calling it the Women's group."

    Sexist. And endemic of how UK Government doesn't care about men's issues.

  2. Comment by Malcolm Stirling posted on

    GDSers are welcome to join us on 22nd June 2016 the official launch of the Tech Talent Charter at M By Montcalm Hotel, London

    The Tech Talent Charter is bringing together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles #TechTalentCharter

  3. Comment by Laury-Anne posted on

    It sounds amazing!
    I wish there were other women's groups in other departments, or maybe a general SG one with "sub-groups"!!!

  4. Comment by Julie Byrne posted on

    Zara can I come and talk to you about this?

  5. Comment by Maxine Paintain posted on

    Would love to learn and share more - part of the DWP Women's group any contact details to collaborate would be great

  6. Comment by Nataly Anderson Marinovic posted on

    Great initiative! Could you include a link or contact details for the group?

  7. Comment by Helen Lederer posted on

    A fantastic first year and real evidence of drive, determination to make a difference and inclusion.