Catherine Oliver, who spearheaded Sky’s Women in Leadership and Parents@Sky initiatives, has recently left the broadcaster to launch a consultancy that will guide businesses through the challenges of setting up their own diversity and working parents programmes.
Oliver spent 6 years at Sky, initially in a marketing role before moving into planning, strategy and implementation where she was charged with developing the operating models for new business areas, including Sky Store and Sky Mobile.
It was after the birth of her daughter in 2012 – returning to a team she claimed had no other working mothers (though this did eventually change) and little in the way of wider company support – that she decided to push for a working parents scheme.
“I wanted to set up a network and it took me a while because there was a lot of resistance I guess internally, because I was doing it in addition to my day job,” she told The Drum, saying it was eventually founded as 'Parents@Sky' in order to make it as inclusive as possible. “It really gained traction and started to snowball.”
The network was run by Oliver and a team of 12 other volunteers within Sky who set up an online forum and website as well as organised several webinars and workshops each year to offer support and advice to all of the working parents within the wider company.
“When I left we had 1,500 members of staff signed up to it. A budget of five-figures, two executive sponsors and a team of volunteers that would work on it in addition to their side jobs. It was quite unique as most other schemes I’ve looked at would have some HR element to it,” Oliver explained.
During this time, gender diversity in the workplace was an increasing focus for businesses up and down the country. A few years earlier, in 2011, Lord Davies had set a goal for women to hold 25% of boardroom roles by 2015. That goal was later extended to see at least a third of boardroom positions at the UK’s biggest companies to be held by women by the end of the decade.
Sky's own ambition was to make sure 50% of its senior leadership team was composed of women, a vow that led Oliver to also co-found the Women in Leadership initiative along with a small senior team of others who felt equally passionate.
“There was so much overlap between [Parents@Sky and Women in Leadership],” she said of taking on the added responsibility. “So it was a natural progression. It was successful. I can’t give numbers but the culture [at Sky] has changed enormously. It’s all moving in the right direction.”
Sky is now considered by many as a leader in both its support for working parents and the work its doing to bring greater diversity into the senior levels of the business. It was named one of the top 50 employers for Women by the Telegraph in 2016 and the same year won the Top Employer award from WorkingMums.co.uk, the number one community site for professional working mothers.
But feeling like she’d given all she could to it, Oliver resigned last September and decided to set up on her own with a view to helping other businesses do the same.
It’s still very early days; she has no business name, no website, and no clients – only the “gut instinct that I can make a difference with this".
“It feels like when I was at Sky, I knew what I wanted to do [but not how to do it] and I’ve got [the same] gut instinct that I can make a difference with this,” she explained eagerly.
“There is so much scope. Some companies, like Sky and a bunch of others, are doing brilliantly but there are others that aren’t just because they don’t know where to start, which is kind of where we were [at Sky]. So, it feels like there is so much opportunity to help and make a difference on a bigger scale. I’m just trying to work out how to do that and the right way to go.”
It’s Oliver’s hope that she will initially work with larger FTSE companies, believing that helping those still lagging to establish similar Working Parents and Women In Leadership programmes will have a “trickle down” effect on smaller businesses.
She has also taken steps to get involved in government work in both areas, saying that there’s no point just trying to affect change in one company when more could be done at a national level to support women and parents in business.