HeForShe: Graeme Yell | Director of People & Organisation Development, NATS

Graeme YellGraeme Yell is the Director of People and Organisation Development for NATS, the UK’s air traffic navigation provider. 

He leads a team focused on building the capabilities NATS needs, both now and in the future, in order to achieve its goals. This includes learning, leadership development, talent management and oversight of all early careers entrants into the organisation.

Before joining NATS, he worked in a global leadership role for Vodafone, and was previously a partner in an international HR consulting firm.  He has a degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge university.

In his spare time, Graeme enjoys spending time with his family (including five amazing children) as well as cycling and playing the piano (not at the same time).

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?

I support the HeForShe campaign for all sorts of reasons, but first and foremost as a human being, I know it is the right thing to do. The world is (roughly) 50/50 and our workplaces aren’t – that cannot be right.  In addition I have other personal reasons – I have five children and I haven’t helped gender equality as I just have one daughter, she’s a fabulous, inspiring, independent 17-year old woman who I want to have a fairer world than is the case now (and I want my boys to feel the same way); my wife is a tech entrepreneur having to battle for every break in a very male-dominated world; as an HR professional I have a responsibility to the women in my organisation too.  And as someone said to me recently – we will be on the right side of history!

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

It is vital, no question.  Progressive men have a responsibility to act as advocates and be part of changing attitudes. Men have a unique role to play in this – asking women to do by themselves is unfair and unjust, and leaves them open to a backlash from men who justify their reactionary stance with the age-old cry of “political correctness gone mad”.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

I think it is easy (/lazy thinking) for some people to imagine that the gender debate is a bear-pit of angry men-haters, but that’s never been my experience. I have always felt very welcome.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “Women in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t their problem?

No – but I do think some people use this as an excuse.  When some women I knew formed a women’s network the response from too many men was “where is the men’s network?”. Somehow they failed to notice that the men’s network was happening all day, every day, further compounded by social activities where women were excluded. I do think that networks should be inclusive though – i.e have space for allies as well as the group themselves.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

In a word, leadership.  Leaders who are courageous enough to speak up and signal that the world is changing.  Too many leaders in too many organisations aren’t speaking about gender and assuming that changes to HR processes will fix it.  It won’t. Not speaking out, not being a leader, is being complicit in maintaining an unequal status quo.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

Yes

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women?

I know there’s research that points to women being less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities, I’m sure there is substance to it, but I am always a bit cautious about this one. I’ve worked with many ambitious, driven women and I’m always cautious of slapping a label on 50% of the population as clearly everyone is different.  Of course some people are less likely to put themselves forward for things, but this is where picking a good mentor is key (irrespective of gender) – someone who will challenge and support you and encourage you to see you strengths and fulfil your potential.

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