A powerful partnership: Compass Group's new programme to help parents back to work

10 March 2019 by

Compass Group UK and Ireland has partnered with Mumsnet and training provider Corndel to support parents back into the workplace. James Stagg talks to HR director Donna Catley about the programme

Why is diversity so important to Compass?

It's important for many reasons. It's the right thing to do to ensure that we reflect our society from a gender, ethnicity and disability point of view. Beyond that, we're a consumer business and we want to understand our customers. We are also a people-intensive business facing a contracting labour market. It's about ensuring that everyone is welcome to work for Compass and make a difference. So it's heart and head.

Is it more important than ever that you support women returning to work after maternity leave?

Women can find it challenging to return to work and balance motherhood in any business. Through our new partnership with Mumsnet and Corndel we want to do everything we can to support women to return to any of the roles we have in the business. We believe we're the first company in the UK with such a support partnership.

What does the partnership with Mumsnet involve?

The partnership will support those returning from maternity leave with a tailored development programme, designed with Mumsnet and Corndel, which will help them move into management and leadership positions. We hope the partnership will be powerful, as Mumsnet is the UK's largest network for parents. They have a huge amount of knowledge around returning to work.

Will the project include women's progression more generally?

We want to support women whatever point they are at in their career. One of the other programmes we're putting in place is helping women progress into management and leadership positions. We already have a significant proportion of women on our leadership and executive team; however, we want to make sure that we are not complacent when it comes to female progression within the business. As part of that, we're asking women in our business what support they would like to help them progress. This will then inform a women in leadership programme that we'll roll out later in the year.


Have you already identified some challenges that need to be overcome?

As in many businesses I have worked at, the feedback so far has been around sponsorship and mentoring. That's really about ensuring that women have the right supportive network to turn to and champion their cause.

How will you measure success?

In the short term, it will be the feedback from the participants themselves: have they found it useful; how have they applied some of the learnings into their lives? It will also be around retention and progression, as well as the qualitative feedback.

What kind of feedback have you had so far?

The feedback has been extremely positive. Mumsnet and Compass is a potent combination. The partnership is a powerful indication of how seriously we take equal progression for all.

You've been running the Women in Food programme since 2016, with a target of female chefs forming 50% of the workforce by 2020. How compatible is it being a chef and a parent?

It's up to us to set the tone that it actually is compatible. Certainly in much of our business weekend working isn't required, so in that sense it is compatible. We have been very successful in attracting female chefs into our apprenticeship programme and our recent Apprentice Chef of the Year awards indicate we have some fantastically talented female chefs in the business.

The reality is that if we don't provide the right conditions, we won't be able to access all the talent that is out there in the UK.

What advice would you give to women looking to develop their careers?

It's deeply personal, but it's about identifying for yourself what those important boundaries are. It can be as simple as going to the class assembly or school play, or trying to work flexibly on occasion to get home earlier. Those boundaries need to be communicated with your line manager, to give the business the opportunity to support you.

com women in food hotelympia 02
com women in food hotelympia 02

Chris Garside, managing director, Compass Group UK and Ireland, explains why diversity is important to the business


As a people business, it is really important that our workplace represents the UK's social and demographic make-up and that we are doing all that we can to create an open and inclusive environment. The industry is changing, and we need to lead that change.

I'm really pleased that women now make up nearly half of our UK executive team. I hope this sends a strong message to the business that we are committed to diversity and developing our female leaders, but I know there is still more we need to do to encourage our female managers into senior roles.

As part of this we are introducing a number of new programmes focused on attracting, retaining and developing more women at all stages of their careers, which I believe will make a real difference. As an example, we're investing in an early careers programme for schools, colleges and universities to promote the opportunities, flexibility and progression that our industry offers.

As Donna explains, we have joined forces with Mumsnet to launch a Maternity Returners programme focused on advancing women into leadership and we've refreshed our talent programmes to ensure we are enabling women to progress into leadership positions. We know there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so it's important we continue to keep our activity under review and also track the impact of these programmes so we can really make a difference.

Women in Food

Emma Pearson,managingdirector of B&Iand executive sponsor

While our female chef workforce (36%) is much higher than the industry average, we are aware that often our female colleagues are in the minority in kitchens. Of course, all of our chefs play an important role in our business, but we believe there are significant benefits to all in achieving greater gender diversity among our brigades.

We also need to make sure we have the right career development pathways in place to nurture the talent we have and support our female chefs with their skills development and training.


We recently brought together our Women in Food ambassadors to set the direction of focus for 2019. Our ambassadors are female chefs from different parts of the business, at different stages of their careers. They provide us with a great insight into how we can provide additional support, both with their development and more broadly the development of female chefs across our industry.

qf 5660 quorn logo minsize colour2
qf 5660 quorn logo minsize colour2
One area raised was the opportunity to provide support for those who would like to get involved with competitions and awards, and ensuring great visibility on job promotions, so a big part of our work this year will be around creating a culture which supports all of our chefs, including our female chefs, in their development, to enable them to thrive.

Quorn sponsors Compass Group UK & Ireland's Women in Food programme.

Child's play: The hospitality operators with a simple solution to get parents back to work >>

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