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Business leaders networking at the Peach 20/20 Conference  

24 Nov 2022

Accelerating Change: 12 takeaways from the Plan B Conference

The first ever Plan B Conference on 23 November featured around 30 speakers in a dozen different sessions—all focused on creating inclusive cultures where diversity thrives and female leaders flourish. The event, hosted and curated by Holly Addison and Emma Causer, culminated in the announcement that Plan B’s work will now expand under the new banner of ‘Balance the Board’.

Here are the top takeaways from an inspiring day.

1 ‘You achieve more with diverse representation’ 

Revolution Bars Group’s Rob Pitcher kicked off the Conference by saying that reaching a 50/50 male/female split on boards wasn’t just morally right for the business—it brings big commercial benefits too. It should also foster more female leaders in the future. “It’s been a hugely positive influence… you achieve more with diverse representation at leadership level.”

2 ‘Mentoring gives you confidence and self-belief’

A recurring theme of the Conference was the huge value of mentoring in nurturing female leaders. “It’s significantly changed things for me… it’s given me the confidence and self-belief to go for things and not be held back. I couldn’t encourage people enough to get a mentor,” said Pret a Manger’s Katherine Bagshaweon a panel session. Mentoring also helps businesses to keep top talent, said Lucky Saint’s Emma Heal. “Mentoring won’t be a silver bullet [in retention] but it can definitely help—and it’s free.”

3 ‘Accomplishments don’t speak for themselves’ 

To get proper representation, people need to celebrate and talk loudly and proudly about their achievements. That is what prompted Google’s #IamRemarkable initiative, which has run workshops for 400,000+ participants in 170+ countries. “Accomplishments don’t speak for themselves… there’s lots of noise out there, so it’s essential that people who make decisions about you… are aware of your accomplishments,” said Google’s Hugh Dickerson. Don’t be afraid that it’s boasting, he added. “It’s not bragging if it’s based on facts… you’re just telling the truth.” You can get involved with #IamRemarkable here.

4 ‘Believe in yourself and beat imposter syndrome’

Imposter syndrome holds many women back from progressing as they should, said Jeannette Linfoot of the ‘Brave, Bold, Brilliant’ Podcast. To beat it, we need to identify when it’s taking hold and remind ourselves that any success is deserved. “Believing in yourself is the single most important thing… we need to work on our mindsets every single day,” she said. Don’t be afraid to fail at things, surround yourself with supportive people, and find a purpose. “What gets you out of bed in the morning, and what’s important to you? When imposter syndrome kicks in, if you have a strong reason, it can push you through.” 

5 ‘Equality is a human right, but equity goes the extra mile’

A Conference panel highlighted the need for proper fairness in representation. “Equity should be the over-arching focus for us all, said Lorraine Copes of Be Inclusive Hospitality. “We need to stop taking about diversity and focus on proper representation,” added Olajide Alabi of Turtle Bay. “Equality is a human right, but equity goes the extra mile.” Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and allyship programmes can both help, the panel thought. “We need to create an environment where people can stand up for each other,” said Kelly Canterford of Freehold CIC. “Embrace where you are on a journey—everyone is at a different place, and that’s OK,” added Greene King’s Garry Clarke-Strange.

Balance the Board

6 ‘Change isn’t easy’

A ‘Change Maker’ session with Greene King’s Nick Mackenzie heard how the pub company has made big strides on issues like representation, inclusion and social mobility. “We’d been profit-driven rather than people-driven for a long time… people were telling me they were looking for change.” COVID has been a catalyst for evolution—but there have been some bumps along the way. “You have to be resilient. Change is not easy in a big business… You need to keep pursuing for it and showing that it’s important to you as a leader.”

7 ‘D&I is never done’

A Conference panel of HR directors explored the value and challenges of building inclusive cultures. Their tips included setting clear goals for work, designing structures and processes to get you there and staying focused at a time when all businesses are under pressure. “It might not add up in the short-term, but it’s the right thing to do and ultimately it’ll come through commercially,” said Adam Dilks of Greene King. “It’s got to be embedded in your culture… Leaders have to realise it’s a responsibility,” added Denise Allen of Searcy’s & Portico. Keep pushing forward, said panel chair Melody Moore of Liberare Consulting. “D&I is a journey we’re all on—it’s never done.”

8 ‘Getting on the board is the start of the journey, not the end’

A session with leaders beyond hospitality heard some inspiring stories of women rising to board level. “Women make an amazing contribution to boards… and when you get on, you have to see it as the start of the journey rather than the end,” said session chair Emma Woods, a board member of Tortilla among other brands. Clear focus, discipline and mentoring can all help to get you there, said Brandie Deignan of NHS Primary Care. Good board members ask challenging but constructive questions, added Tove Okunniwa of the BBC. Sasha Covington of JLL UK Valuation Advisory shared her powerful story from growing up in care to becoming a COO. “My fight has been hard… but I’ve always been true to myself.”

9 ‘You need to be part of the purple market’

With more than a fifth of the UK population having rights under disability legislation, and the ‘purple’ market worth around £270 billion a year, businesses need to work hard at attracting disabled customers and staff. “You need to be part of that market, and the solutions are pretty straightforward and low cost,” said Mike Adams OBE of Cartech and Purple. “Think about how your organisation represents all the protected characteristics. If customers can’t see themselves in your brand, they won’t spend in it.” 

10 ‘Inclusion is a digital skill’

Microsoft’s Hector Minto highlighted the importance of making content like menus available to everyone. “Accessibility is a responsibility,” he said. Technologies like captions and live translations can transform people’s experiences, he added, urging businesses to take advantage of Microsoft’s innovations in this space. “Inclusion is increasingly a technical skill.”

11 ‘We need to call people out’ 

Female entrepreneurs still encounter too many barriers and bad attitudes in hospitality, a panel session agreed. “There are all sorts of challenges that can destabilise you as a female,” said Mel Marriott of Darwin & Wallace. “It’s really important to highlight the positives of people who are supporting you—and to make sure you call out the people who aren’t.” Bharti Radix of the BloomsYard agreed: “We’ve got to stop putting up with it.”

12 ‘There’s an opportunity to reinvent leadership’

The Conference ended with the results of a Plan B and UKHospitality survey of females in hospitality that showed just how more work still needs to be done. More than half of respondents said they were worried about imposter syndrome, two in five don’t get any specific development provision, and nearly a fifth face regular harassment. On top of that, many women are still working longer hours for lower pay than their male equivalents. Female leaders need more visibility, support and respect, said Vic Searl of DataHawks. “The industry is on its knees in many ways, but we’ve got an opportunity now to completely reinvent how we think about leadership and future proof it.” Plan B’s work under the new banner of ‘Balance the Board’ will be central to that mission. 

Balancing the Board
The Conference was hosted and curated by Holly Addison and Emma Causer and supported by Plan B’s founding partners, Bidfood, BT Sport, Fleet Street, Greene King, Gusto, Harri, Propel, Punch, Revolution, Rosa’s Thai, Stint and The Restaurant Group; and by event partners CGA by Nielsen IQ, Peach 20/20, Searcys and UKHospitality.

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