HeForShe: Suki Sandhu | CEO & Founder, INvolve & Audeliss

Suki Sandhu

Suki Sandhu is CEO and Founder of INvolve and Audeliss.

Suki has worked in executive search for nearly ten years and is one of the UK’s leading specialists who is committed to helping businesses find diverse talent. He established Audeliss, a boutique executive search company in 2011.

INvolve is a membership organisation championing diversity and inclusion in business. INvolve is a motherbrand sitting above OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes, membership initiatives working respectively across LGBT+, ethnic minority and gender diversity. Through the delivery of events, programmes, thought leadership and advisory services, INvolve helps member firms drive cultural change and create more inclusive workplaces. In addition, OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes publish role model lists annually in partnership with the Financial Times, celebrating business leaders and future leaders who are leading the charge in their respective diversity spheres, and securing a diverse talent pipeline for the future.

Suki is also a Stonewall Ambassador and supports charities through donating a percentage of profits to Diversity Role Models, Albert Kennedy Trust, StandUp Foundation, Dress for Success, Clic Sargent and Terence Higgins Trust.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?

I’ve seen how women around me, my mother, sisters and friends have worked hard to define their roles in the working world. I have young nieces now and I want them to be able to enter the workplace knowing that their gender doesn’t define their abilities or talents – and I’d like to be a part of this change.

As a gay Asian man, championing diversity in the workplace is, and always has been, at the heart of everything I do. I launched Audellis, an executive search firm, in 2011 specialising in helping companies recruit diverse talent with a focus on ethnic minority, female and LGBT+ leaders. This evolved and in 2013 I created OUTstanding a professional network championing LGBT+ executives. Following OUTstanding’s success we launched EMpower and HERoes to celebrate ethnic minority and female role models. This year, I launched INvolve to sit above, and bring together the three initiatives, looking more holistically at inclusion in the workplace. At INvolve we believe in creating diverse and inclusive businesses where anyone can succeed and where individuals can bring their whole selves to work. A business world that involves 100% of everyone.

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

I believe that gender equality cannot be achieved in a vacuum. The fact is that those at the top of businesses are still predominantly male (there are only eight female CEOs in the FTSE 100 right now!) so male allies have an incredibly important role to play in working to achieve equality.

At INvolve we value the role men play in championing women in the workplace, as well as the female role models who are paving the way, which is why our annual HERoes list, in partnership with the FT, has a list dedicated to men who fight for gender equality.

If you know anyone you think deserves to be recognised for their contributions to equality in the workplace then do nominate them for our lists!

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

Men are always welcome as long as they have something constructive to say. Shockingly, there are men who believe that the lack of executive female talent is something to be ignored, or even laughed at. Recognising the imbalance and starting conversations is the first step in breaking down these barriers, so the more the merrier.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

Women need a forum that they can discuss gender equality freely in and this is often easier in an all-female environment, so it’s understandable that many of these organisations have the names they do. However, a lack of diversity in business is everyone’s problem, not just a female one, meaning men do need to contribute to the debate and work together with women to enact real change. Because of this, it’s important that these groups build strong bridges with whomever is making decisions within a business; male or female.

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

Invite them in to the discussion – it’s a moral issue first and foremost, and encouraging discussion and input is the first step to gaining support. Alongside that presenting the business case for diversity never hurts – the simple fact is that businesses that are more diverse are more profitable. At INvolve we recently reported that discrimination costs the UK economy £127bn a year thanks to the pay gap, with gender discrimination accounting for £125bn of that. Furthermore, the UK’s most gender diverse workplaces are 11% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry average.

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

I tend to mentor women quite informally, rather than a ‘formal mentoring relationship’. I sponsor them at all times, trying to actively introduce them to the right people who can help them in their careers.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

Women I have mentored tend to be more self-deprecating than men, who tend to have higher levels on belief in themselves, and highlight where they don’t have skills. I always try to change their focus, and get them to hone in on where they do have skills and how to use these as positives in order to sell themselves and further progress.

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