Corporate Innovation: from launch to 500,000 registered users with Yolt

"If you do things that are already known, you’re not innovating. New territory comes with making mistakes." - Frank Jan Risseeuw, Yolt

Hello friendly blog readers. I’m trialling a new format of the blog this month. If you find the podcast a little tl;dr, (too long; didn’t read) then you can now use this blog post to catch up in an easily digestible format. And if once you’ve read it, you want to have a listen, as always you can find us here.

This month, Ben and I spoke to Frank Jan Risseeuw, the CEO of Yolt, on their journey from an idea at ING 2.5 years ago, to 500,000 registered users and a plan for European expansion.

What is Yolt?

  • Yolt is a new money management ‘aggregator’ app which has just reached 500,000 registered users in the UK.
  • Why the UK? Yolt was launched here first because Frank Jan said it’s the capital of FinTech innovation, with a large appetite to test new apps. There’s also a wide banking landscape and a real opportunity to bring a digital only banking app to the market.
  • However, Yolt have recently launched a closed Beta test in Italy and France to see how the product will grow in this market.
  • The Yolt journey began in 2016 at ING, when the new open banking legislation was coming into play. ING wanted to capitalise on this and saw an opportunity to create a ‘bank without the balance sheet’. 

Many a corporate innovation or new idea never get off the ground. What is Yolt’s recipe for success? For Frank Jan, you need to have the following:

  • A clear purpose
  • A good plan
  • The trust of investors or the company backing the concept 
  • The right culture, which he defined as: the right people, who have the freedom to work and deliver 
  • Belief and trust in your idea: not bringing in new features and ideas every week – but sticking with the idea and having regular check-ins 
  • An ambitious yet resilient attitude – understanding that you need to get things to market quickly, in order to learn. When you do things that don’t work or make mistakes – that’s all part of it. 

ING had an idea, and Frank Jan took the role of CEO and started to build his team. What did he look for in the people he was bringing onboard?

  • People who can see the big picture, and understand the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve
  • People who can make traction, always taking small, agile steps to get things done
  • People who strive not for 99% but for 100% when the time comes

How did Yolt approach testing?

  • Test and learn cycles were employed throughout the process, starting with discussions with customers about their attitudes and thoughts on money management
  • Continuing to run focus groups and testing around the topic of ‘Unthink’, as Unthink Money is Yolt’s tagline, to continue to engage customers
  • Building a community of power users who were very invested in the product
  • A flexible roadmap of planned features which would change depending on customer feedback

And finally, here’s a picture of the Yolt team accepting their Excellence in Innovation Award at the CEAs this year. Well done Yolt!

Revolutionising the retail shopping experience

Ever been fed up with how the in-store shopping experience compares with shopping from the comfort of your own home? Market Gravity are taking on the challenge of changing the physical shopping experience.

Re:store is a new project that Market Gravity are working on in Leeds. The project brings together several partners; Market Gravity, Landsec (a large UK property owner), Leeds City and Alibaba Cloud Retail to deliver a new, evolved, shopping experience. A shopping experience that responds to the needs of customers and aligns the digital experience (arguably in many ways easier, slicker and more personalised) to the physical store experience). We’ve all felt the frustration of seeing an item in a shop window, going in to try and find it, being unable to, seeing a huge queue for the changing room and till, and then ultimately deciding to leave without trying anything on at all. This is what we uncover on this week’s episode, available here.

What does the project entail?

The project is made up of several elements: physical stores in Trinity shopping centre where new technology can be tested in real time with real customers; ‘The Walk’: the new work space for big brands and innovators in retail and tech to collaborate and re-imagine retail in a flexible workplace, and ‘shopalytics’ which is the Market Gravity name for the combination of technology that will be monitoring and gaining insight in the physical stores.

How did this project come about?

As you’ll hear on the podcast, the team were passionate about changing the high street shopping experience. It seems the current news story is that the high street is dying, with a new retailer going into administration every week. There’s no denying that traditional retailers are under threat, but 80% of shopping is still conducted in physical stores, as opposed to online.

“You read every week about some other bricks and mortar shop chain going into administration, and the exciting part of this is that it’s helping that world to evolve. Not to overtake…but to catch-up. We can really use technology to change customer experience for the better – and retail experience for the better,” said Tom Day, Innovation Director at Market Gravity. “The shopping experience hasn’t moved on or developed – most brands haven’t changed the ways they engage with customers.”

The team believed that Leeds had the talent, resource and ambition to become famous for tech in the North. Leeds has a rich textile history, as well as as a vibrant personality and an intention to innovate.: the project ties in closely with the work that Leeds City Council is currently doing to transform Leeds. We spoke to Tom Riordan, head of the Council, about the project.

“It’s great that in the city where Thomas Spencer and Joseph Marks started Marks and Spencer we have innovation happening today. We have an ambition to be the best city in the UK- we want to be neighbourhood based, family friendly, with a strong social ethic.”

Leeds are working to digitise many aspects of their council, and to use technology to make improvements to challenges facing the community, such as social care, improving transport, and getting people online. All these elements came together to show that Leeds was the perfect place to run the project.

So the question was: how might we reimagine the future of the high street?

Market Gravity’s Shopalytics platform is an analytics platform that takes individual pieces of data and puts it into a model. This means that you can ask it questions, such as how many people came into the store, what did they do, how did they interact? Software and Hardware Lead, Pete Mills, told us: “The real value is being able to run experiments and see in a rational, objective way, which changes have made the most improvements” – which is a stark contrast to the way traditional retail stores are run today.

To support this, additional partners have been brought onto the project, including Alibaba Cloud Retail, on the technical side. All the data and interactions that you can do on e-commerce site can be tried out in the physical store. Alibaba has a wealth of experience in achieving that in China – where they combine online with in store experience.

In addition to the technical aspect, there’s also a physical space to transform. The challenge was to transform 7,700 sq ft of empty retail space above Leeds Trinity Shopping Centre into a retail tech hub with a clear identity, purpose and competitive market offering, dubbed ‘The Walk’. This hub would support the experimental approach taken in the physical stores, where new technology could be tested to measure its impact on the shopping experience.

Market Gravity are bringing their expertise by completing a 4 week sprint project to look at what the proposition and brand should be for The Walk. Based on a launch date of end of January, the team have been working to develop a set of experiments that will test their assumptions, brand positioning, and get the first businesses signed up to work in the space.

We hope you enjoy listening to this month’s podcast – it’s an exciting opportunity hear about how Market Gravity and partners are coming together to experiment and fundamentally change the way that retail responds to customers, providing better experiences for both customers and business owners.

Any comments or feedback? Let us know at

The Corporate Entrepreneur Awards 2018: recognising the best in corporate innovation

Market Gravity was founded on the core belief that innovation isn’t just for start-ups. That big businesses too have brilliant ideas. And from the hard work and dedication of sometimes just a few people, new approaches, concepts, products, services, and ventures are created. The people behind this work, the corporate entrepreneurs, make customers’ lives easier. They are the individuals and teams that are creating change for a better future.

We created the Corporate Entrepreneur Awards to recognise the people behind the best in corporate innovation. And we’ve just opened the call for entries for the CEA 2018.

These awards, now in their 9th year highlight the technologies, innovations and teams that are driving businesses forward, and aim to inspire and encourage a community of corporate entrepreneurs to share in their success, their stories and best practice. And with new categories in 2018 - there are more opportunities to be recognised.

New award categories for 2018

Innovation doesn’t start and end with having something in market. And the CEA celebrates and recognises that across three main award categories.

They are:

This award is to celebrate those who found a way to challenge harder, work faster and achieve more. It is for those who dare to take a new path and throw out the rule book to achieve their objective.

You’re not afraid to branch out and have a proven concept that’s ready to launch, and set to be groundbreaking. You know what you want to achieve and more importantly have taken on the challenge to make it a reality.

For those who had the courage to deliver something truly unique and forge a better way. This award is for those who have turned a big idea into a true gamechanger.

Shining a light on other’s success is just as important as celebrating our own. It’s good to be around those that ‘get it’, those, who in their own way believe in the power and impact of collaboration, just like you do. This award is voted for online by our corporate entrepreneur community when the shortlist is announced.

Entries for the CEA 2018 close on 26th October. Nominee teams and special guests will be hosted at the CEA party which takes place on Thursday 22nd November at the Design Museum London.

CEA Hall of Fame

Over 30 brands have won a CEA. Our past winners include Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, the AA, Virgin Money, Telefonica, Dyson, Skoda, Castrol, Barclaycard, and the Lego Group. See the full Hall of Fame here.

The CEA party

Over 400 of the UK and Europe’s most creative, disruptive and entrepreneurial business leaders will enjoy an a fantastic CEA party which offers a great networking opportunity and the chance to learn from and share stories with other innovation experts from some of the world’s largest brands. This is not your average awards night – there are no round tables and no black ties required!

How to enter

If you, your team or another team in your business has created change, have a proven concept that has the potential to be game changing or created and launched a proposition to market, you could win an award. Enter online today – completing the simple entry form takes less than ten minutes.

Visit for more information and to enter.


Celebrating the best in corporate innovation at the CEA 2017

Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, The AA, British Gas, ŠKODA, Ageas and rradar scoop CEA awards in what has been another incredible year of corporate innovation!

Market Gravity has announced the winners of the eighth annual CEA (Corporate Entrepreneur Awards) - the only event celebrating corporate innovation and corporate entrepreneurs, the individuals and teams behind the ideas remarking that “Science fiction is becoming science fact. It is the large, established businesses that are leading the way”.

The proposition design consultancy opened the nominations and voting out to the corporate entrepreneur community with shortlisted entries from big businesses in sectors such as retail, fintech, healthcare, telecoms, media, non-profit, banking, automotive, utilities, legal and wider technology which were then judged by an independent judging panel. Innovations needed to meet criteria such as differentiation, customer focus and demonstrable impact – both in the market and within the organisation.

Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank scooped the top award for Best New Proposition for Studio B. Studio B brings together an in-branch open innovation lab (the first bank in the world to do so), a digitally led branch, and events space to create an exciting, engaging environment. It’s doubled B’s brand awareness in London, attracted the attention of global businesses and visitors and has been shortlisted for design awards. Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank also scooped the Innovators' Choice award for Studio B which was voted for by guests on the night.

Clydesdale & Yorkshire Bank - 1st Place winners of the CEA 2017 Best New Proposition & Innovators' Choice awards for Studio B

Second place was awarded to The AA for Car Genie which was launched exclusively to AA members this year. From helping to prevent breakdowns to tracking the location of a customer’s car, this engaging multipurpose connected car solution is helping to engage customers and staff alike. And it can be set up by the customer in their specific vehicle, in under one minute.

The AA team - CEA 2017 2nd place winners of the Best New Proposition for Car Genie

Third place was awarded to the Local Heroes team from British Gas. Local Heroes offers jobs completed in the home; booked within 30 seconds online and backed by a 12 month British Gas guarantee. Since launch it has consistently achieved a Net Promoter Score in the 80s and bought 30,000 new-to-brand customers into the British Gas eco-system.

British Gas Local Heroes - 3rd place CEA 2017 winners for Best New Proposition for Local Heroes

Three brands also achieved a huge number of peer votes and a strong response from the judging panel and were Highly Commended. These were:

ŠKODA for ŠKODA Live Tour which connects customers through live video streaming to a Live Tour showroom, where a Product Host uses a mixture of cameras to showcase ŠKODA cars in HD detail is on-hand to answer questions.

ŠKODA - Highly Commended at the CEA 2017 for ŠKODA Live Tour

Ageas for Elastic – a more flexible home insurance that fits with people’s lives. Just like the Netflix of home insurance, it just keeps rolling on a monthly basis. You don’t get tied into an annual contract and can choose monthly price plans.

Ageas - Highly Commended at the CEA 2017 for Elastic

rradar for rradargrace and rradarstation - a virtual assistant, powered by AI and machine learning, that provides simple answers to complex legal and HR questions. 60,000 businesses can now access rradar’s 24/7 and unlimited risk management advice and business protection for Legal, HR, Claims and Regulatory Investigations.

rradar - Highly Commended at the CEA 2017 for rradarstation and rradargrace

It’s been an incredible year of innovation.

In the past 12 months both Amazon and Google helped us talk to our homes. Dyson and Volvo announced their commitment to electric cars. And marking the tenth anniversary of the original, Apple released the iPhone Ten.

Peter Sayburn, CEO and founding partner for Market Gravity, says: “Bigger and better than ever, the CEAs have steadily become THE event for big company innovation. Everyone that enters the awards and guests that join us at the CEA party truly represent the pinnacle of corporate entrepreneurship”.

“We started this event eight years ago with a clear purpose. That purpose still makes sense today. We believe in the positive power of entrepreneurship. And we believe that entrepreneurship is alive and well in established organisations, as well as start-ups. So good to see that our previous year’s winners too are going from strength to strength, a few of which joined us at the event tonight”.

“2017 has been a big year for Market Gravity! We now have over 60 people in our five locations around the world. We helped our fantastic clients to design and launch dozens of new propositions for their customers. And in June this year, in recognition of our amazing team and the great work that we have done together, we because part of Deloitte - the world’s leading professional services business”.


The CEA is a showcase of the best in big company innovation and they recognise the incredible commitment and achievement of the teams that deliver it. The people behind the ideas.

The award ceremony took place on 23rd November 2017 at the Design Museum, London with over 300 of Europe’s most creative, disruptive and entrepreneurial business leaders from over 100 brands attending the unique event.

You can find out more details about the CEAs and how to enter at


The CEA 2017: Nominations for Best New Proposition

This year’s call for nominations across several industry sectors is seeing some fantastic entries. As the voting deadline falls closer (27th October!), here’s a sneak peak at a few of them! Meet the big businesses who are launching new innovations and creating an impact in their industry.

The AA: Car Genie

Car Genie, one of the first consumer-led offerings in the telematics space, is a connected car device that plugs into a car’s on-board diagnostics port with a range of benefits for the driver and society at large. This smart little device:

  • Prevents 1 in 3 breakdowns from happening
  • Knows your car’s location so you can find it or see if it’s been moved
  • Detects a crash and triggering a call from us to help
  • Offers fuel efficiency tips, interactive maps and recording your trips

The customer simply checks compatibility for their vehicle online, buys the product, downloads the app, plugs in the device and they're all set.

Watch the video here.

Sky: Sky Mobile

Sky Mobile has been designed to reflect the way consumers use their phones today, offering flexibility, great value and ensuring that customers don’t waste paying for data they don’t use or need.

Sky launched SIM only plans in January 2017, which included the Mix, Roll and Sync propositions.

Customers can mix up their data, calls and texts to create a monthly plan that’s right for them. They can change their plan whenever they like so they only pay for what they need. In addition, Sky TV customers, can enjoy free unlimited UK calls and texts.

Roll enables customers to roll over any unused data for up to three years. There’s no limit to the amount customers can store and they can dip into their online Sky Piggy Bank whenever they like.

Swap gives customers the opportunity to get the latest phone every year with Swap12 or to get our lowest monthly price on bestselling phones with Swap24.

Post Office: Over 50’s Motor Insurance

The Post Office Insurance team wanted to deliver a proposition that the over 50’s segment truly valued. The result? A proposition that offers a range of benefits for this particular customer segment. Customers are guaranteed a saving of at least £50 compared to their existing provider’s best offer with customers often saving much more. The well-researched range of extended protection features such as a no claims discount and excess protection following a non-fault accident with an uninsured driver or following a vandalism claim; £150 child car seat cover for parents and grandparents; and £250 to cover hotel expense or alternative accommodation.

O2: O2 Drive

By using the mobile signal from a customer’s O2 mobile phone, O2 Drive builds a pattern of the customer’s journeys and prices each policy based on the individual’s driving behaviour. Customers can use the driving app to track their performance, provide hints and tips on improvements and even run competitions rewarding customers for safer driving.If a driver understands how they’re driving - they have more control over safety and reduce the likelihood of having a claim and keep their insurance costs as low as possible.

Customers also have access to Car Assistant - a service that makes car maintenance easier. Customers can arrange repairs and services through the assistant, who will secure a competitive price at a local garage and book the work for them.

PS Energy UK (subsidiary of nPower): Powershop

Powershop is not only new, it’s unique. It treats electricity like other consumer goods, allowing customers to purchase as much as they want, when they want. So, for the first time people can now buy energy in the same way that they fill up their car with as much fuel as they need, or stop off for milk when they’re running low. Most energy providers charge a fixed amount every month, which is often based on an estimated meter reading. If this doesn’t cover all the energy used the customer will receive an unexpected bill to make up the shortfall.

Powershop is different, because it gives customers the power to actively manage their account online, or via a free mobile app. So, there are no nasty surprises. And, it gives them the opportunity to make savings against its standard rate by buying discounted bundles of energy called Powerpacks. The more of their usage they cover with Powerpacks – the more they can save. In short, with Powershop, it’s the customer and not the energy provider that’s in control.

GreenFlag: Alert Me!

GreenFlag Alert me was the first successful rescue telematics product to hit the market. GreenFlag AlertMe uses state of the art telematics technology to integrate with a vehicle’s Engine Management and Power Management Systems and translate automotive engineering into easy to understand customer directives through the GreenFlag App.

AlertMe has two primary functions: 1) It monitors the health of the vehicle’s battery and can predict failure before the battery lets the motorist down so they can take preventative action and avoid a breakdown. 2) It connects to the engine management system and translates the meaning of the Engine Management Lamp illumination into one of 16 directives, some of which are safe for the vehicle to be driven to a repairer therefore saving the customer time waiting at the roadside.

HSBC: Beta

HSBC Beta offers a range of innovative new features that give customers more control over their money. HSBC Beta, announced to the press in September 2017, is a trial environment that allows the business to test and iterate a new mobile banking proposition. It is part of HSBC UK’s response to the increasingly competitive, digitally-driven, “open banking” world and reflects an understanding of our customers’ ever-changing relationship with money and their financial needs.

The initial release allows customers to aggregate all their accounts on one screen no matter who they bank with. Customers can add accounts from up to 21 different banks including Santander, Lloyds and Barclays and allows users to see not only their current account but credit cards, loans, mortgages and savings too.

Over the next few months, new features will be added to Beta, including a spend analysis and a digital coach so users can learn how to spend and save better.

British Gas: Local Heroes

Local Heroes offers customers jobs completed in the home, booked within 30 seconds online and backed by a 12 month British Gas guarantee. The service provides customers with price estimates before jobs, has no call out charge, offers online payment and provides the best of both worlds – local service with national backing. The service also provides a new generation of tradespeople that want jobs, on their terms, with flexibility and without having to pay for leads.

The On Demand home services market before this proposition lacked a provider that offered customers an end-to-end digital experience with robust customer support and quality. The market was really limited to directory websites and lead generation sites who had no real ‘skin in the game’ to ensure that the service quality was high. Local Heroes offers that end-to-end journey that others haven’t dared to do. For tradespeople, there were many models which insisted on high membership fees and charges for leads that might not convert, Local Heroes offers a new way of engaging with the market and paying only for the jobs you complete.

The Market Gravity Corporate Entrepreneur Awards

Now in its 8th year, the Market Gravity Corporate Entrepreneur Awards highlight and celebrate the technologies, innovations and teams that are driving businesses forward, and aim to inspire and encourage a community of corporate entrepreneurs to share best practice.

Visit for more information.


Dare to disrupt Diversity

Last summer, Saatchi & Saatchi’s executive chairman Kevin Roberts caused an uproar and had to eventually resign when he was quoted saying that the debate on gender diversity was “over” and that the company had “never had a problem”. He was clearly missing the point, ignoring the vast amount of evidence around the business benefits of diverse leadership, but he did make one interesting point. Not all women want the big jobs. Some are quite content with doing great work at the level they are and would rather prioritise other things in their lives. Which made me think; surely this polarisation of views is part of the problem? To suggest that women aren’t as ambitious as men is as bad as suggesting that all women should aspire to get the top – because we end up generalising and therefore alienating some of our audiences. We are all individuals and perhaps the time has come to stop talking about women as a collective and take a different approach to gender diversity.

Perhaps the time has come to disrupt diversity?

Why shouldn’t we apply the same innovative thinking we use to resolve other business problems to gender diversity? It IS a business problem after all…

In this blog, I’ll share some recent research on this topic and my own views of how we could approach this challenge. Oh, and – I do talk about ‘women’ a lot, i.e. I am generalising. Which is exactly what we shouldn’t do. But I will get to that towards the end so please bear with me…

Women in Innovation

We recently ran an event at Market Gravity called ‘Women in Innovation’. We held a panel debate, moderated by the writer and freelance consultant Polly Courtney and joined by Suzy Levy, an expert on diversity; Moran Lerner, father of four and a successful tech entrepreneur; and three leading ladies from the world of corporate innovation: Rakhi Rajani from Travelex, Jo Towers from HSBC and Kaisie Rayner from Aegon. As preparation for the event, we researched the topic to understand the current gender balance in innovation professions, what women could bring to the table, why we don’t have more women in the profession, and what we can do about the imbalance.

Firstly, it was apparent that the gender gap we see in other areas of business is present also in innovation. We looked at the 20 most innovative companies (1) in the world and they are all led by men. We looked at FTSE 100 and 80% of the lead innovation roles in the top 20 are held by men. (2)

We looked at the top 100 venture capital firms where 7% of the partners are women, and accelerators and corporate venture firms where 12% of top jobs are held by women. (3) And finally, we looked at UK entrepreneurs, of which 25% are estimated to be women. (4)


But why is this a problem?

Of course, there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that diversity is good for business, and more balanced teams produce better results. But we wanted to understand what women could bring to innovation more specifically, and what kinds of results were achieved if the innovating teams had a better gender balance. So we interviewed 15 women and men working in innovation, from a mix of start-up and corporate worlds, to hear their views and learn from their experiences.

All the interviewees wholeheartedly agreed that more diversity was good for innovation, as it allows you to explore a range of views, to debate and to challenge – in order to build better products, services and businesses that appeal to diverse audiences. Women, they thought, typically brought specific strengths around four areas:

  • Empathy & emotion – helping the innovation teams gain deeper insight and understanding of customer needs and behaviours
  • Connecting things – identifying related ideas and forming more ‘stretchy’ concepts that expand and build beyond the original idea
  • Collaboration – creating less competitive and more productive teams
  • Openness & inclusion – seeking and listening to a wider range of ideas and opinions

So what’s holding women back?

When we started exploring why we don’t have more women in innovation, it was harder to keep ‘innovation’ separate from the broader world of business. Nevertheless, we discovered some specific challenges that are exacerbated in an innovation context:

  • Societal norms – that condition us to behave differently, with girls feeling the need to be ‘right’ rather than to ‘try’, making them more fearful of failure than boys
  • Lack of confidence – resulting in women selling their ideas of innovations ‘short’
  • Unconscious bias – favouring ‘people like me’ in recruitment, promotion and investment decisions
  • ‘Modern’ world of work – limiting our ability to work as flexibly as our lives sometimes demand.

Now some of you will be thinking, why should the last point be a woman’s challenge, surely that is a challenge for any of us, regardless of who you are and how your life evolves? I could not agree more – and suggest you read on, as I will get to it later. This is just playing back what we heard.

So then, if those are the challenges, what should we do? The million dollar (or, actually £100bn (5) ) question.

Right intentions, wrong results?

During the panel debate, we explored the topic of what could be done about the above challenges and how we could all make a contribution towards equality, in our professional and private lives.

We heard that while society may condition us to behave differently, there are in fact also biological reasons for our differences that we simply cannot change. For example, from the moment they are born, girls look for more reassurance, affirmation and safety, making eye contact with their carers earlier than boys. But the way we build on this in later life is not always helpful. Just look at the way some retailers are promoting clothes and toys; for boys, there is an adventure waiting and for girls, a crown (i.e. marrying into success). See this recent Gap advert for a case in point.


Another example is the way in Britain we still hold a notion of a girls and women as ‘ladies’ which comes with its own set of behavioural associations and expectations.

We talked about the confidence issue, which can divide opinion. It is a commonly held view that women are less willing to speak up in meetings and confidently put across their arguments. We have seen research and opinion pieces to suggest that this is in fact not about confidence but humility and self-awareness (6) – women holding themselves to higher standards before opening their mouths. I suppose we can debate the causes but I will say this; it came up in every single interview we did, with both women and men, and it was something that many of the female interviewees and panellists recognised in themselves.

We also learned that women lose confidence at key moments in their lives, for example after the birth of their first child. Many companies have good intentions to help returning mothers, giving them lighter workloads and less responsibility, when in fact this may just exacerbate the problem, making them feel even less confident in their abilities.

While everyone enjoyed our lively panel debate, it did leave me craving for more answers. What should we do? How can we tackle such a broad problem, where should we focus? McKinsey and Lean In recently reported lack of progress in this space, with women still trailing behind men in advancing their careers (7) , so perhaps time has come to try something new. Perhaps it’s time to try and innovate ourselves out of this imbalance?

How do we disrupt diversity?

To understand how we might learn from disruptive innovators, let’s first look at some of the things they do very well:

  1. They are crystal clear on who their target customer is and obsess about their needs
  2. They challenge orthodoxies, turning deeply held, widely shared beliefs on their head and imagining what might be if the opposite was true
  3. They choose one problem and are laser-focused on solving that better than ever before, continuously testing and iterating their solution

I am sure there are many others, but let’s use these 3 as a starting point – for argument’s sake.

So, who is our target customer?

Conventional thinking has been focused on helping mums return to work and work flexibly to help juggle family and career responsibilities. Companies typically offer mothers extended maternity leave, flexible working policies, child care vouchers, you name it. But what if we approached our audience as we would our customers? What if we segmented our female workforce based on their attitudes towards career and life, their aspirations and their potential? Understanding the differences between those who want to fast track their careers, those who need to take a step back and those who are looking for more varied challenge. And designing our supportive actions and initiatives accordingly.

Or – what if we focused on the guys instead?

Research has shown that the first year of parenting sets out the roles that are usually played out for the rest of the child’s life; in other words if the mum looks after the child in year 1, they are also more likely to carry the majority of the childcare responsibilities after that. If we focused our efforts on encouraging men to share the parental leave during the first year, not only could the mothers return to work earlier, they would also have more time to spend on their careers as the parenting duties are shared more equally. Of course the government has already taken steps in this direction, introducing shared parenting leave in 2015. However, one year on, less than 1% of eligible fathers had taken up on it (8) , showing that there is still a long way to go and much more to be done to encourage fathers to take the leave (and mothers to share it!).

Breaking assumptions

Next, we need to pick an orthodoxy, a common assumption to break. What would you choose? How about coming back to that old chestnut of women not promoting themselves confidently enough?

And challenging the conventional wisdom about how we should respond? How about…

“Women’s leadership and mentoring programmes are effective in helping women further their careers”.

To address the gender diversity challenge, many companies have rushed to set up women’s leadership and mentoring programmes where they get extra support, coaching, visibility, guidance, coaching and… frankly, work. To prove their worth, that they are ready for the promotion, ready for that leadership role. But are these programmes working?

Someone I recently spoke to actually dropped out of one such programme because they felt it was just adding to their already heavy workload and they couldn’t understand why as a woman, they needed to do all that extra work to be recognised – and why their work-related achievements could not be celebrated in others ways. According to HBR (9) , “Women often have to provide more evidence of competence than men do to be seen as equally capable, a problem documented in scores of studies on double standards, attribution bias, leniency bias, recall bias, and polarised evaluations.” So what’s the solution? How about…

…rather than advising women on how to push ahead and make them work harder at it than the men, you put positive bias in the system and start sponsoring them instead?

Another piece of research published on HBR (10) reported that where traditional diversity programmes had largely failed, engaging leaders in the business in solving the problem and encouraging social accountability for the results resulted in dramatically better outcomes. Those made accountable for the results started to feel ownership for it and therefore began sponsoring women and using their own influence to affect change.

The third lesson from disruptors is to pick one problem and obsess about solving that as well as possible, testing and iterating your solution until you get it right.

What is the one thing that would make a real difference in your organisation?

Another commonly held belief is that we don’t have enough women in senior leadership positions because they leave the company around the time that they start families. At Accenture, where I used to work, deeper analysis of the issues showed that, in fact, quite the opposite was true.

Women with families were amongst the most loyal employees in the company – they were not leaving, they were stalling. The data also revealed that one of the most critical stages of the consulting career – the few years prior to making MD (“Partner”), tended to coincide with the time to start a family. And if the babies came first, the women were highly unlikely to progress to partner in the subsequent years, even after returning to work. As a consequence, one of the company’s key objectives became to accelerate women’s MD promotions, reducing the average time to MD by a couple of years.

Another interesting approach is offered by Joan Williams in ‘Hacking tech’s diversity problem’ (11) . She recommends companies to learn from the lean start up playbook – to collect detailed data about gender bias in daily workplace interactions, identify ‘interrupters’ to experiment with, and trial things until you get it right.

But let’s be clear: none of this will happen without the commitment and focus from senior leadership.

If you believe that a more gender balanced workforce will deliver better business results, you should approach it just as systemically as you would any other change – setting objectives (yes, this means targets), making people accountable, identifying measures to track progress and identifying action plans. Although the last one you should leave to the accountable parties, so that they can engage in the problem and the solution – understanding their customer, challenging the status quo and setting out their action plans.

If it was you, what would you do? We’d love to know.

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(1) Forbes most innovative companies in the world:

(2) FTSE 100 companies list, MG own research to identify the head of innovation / chief innovation officer / global innovation director



(5) According to Deloitte, better support for women entrepreneurs could provide £100bn boost to UK economy (