Inspirational Woman: Jane Farrell | Co-Founder & Chief Executive, EW Group

Jane FarrellI am co-founder and chief executive of EW Group, the full-service diversity and inclusion consultancy.

As chief executive, I lead the business, but I am also very hands-on because I am so passionate about inclusive leadership. I have a brilliant MD and team so I can get involved with clients designing and delivering inclusive leadership programmes, co-creating strategies, conflict resolution and devising complex change programmes.

I co-founded EW Group with Dr Annie Hedge in 1992. We were both working in education at the time and understood how many students came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, some had learning difficulties and some experienced racism. We could not be excellent teachers without understanding sexism and doing something about it. We recognised that in order for students to thrive, those teaching them had to be aware of how advantage and disadvantage operate and know what to do counter the negative effects of these realities.

We knew that bringing such an inclusive approach to workforce and leadership development, and equipping managers with the skills to not only notice difference but to adapt to it and leverage it, would make a positive difference to their organisation, so we joined forces and set up the business.

Today we are based in London and work with businesses and organisations across the UK and globally including the BBC, The Economist Group, adidas, the Association of Charitable Foundations, and many more.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I focused on trying to focus on what I was passionate about. I followed my Dad’s lead and discovered that I loved teaching. This then grew organically into a passionate interest in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and how companies can derive benefits from being inclusive, as well as it being so important for individuals and groups. The big leap that I made was to set up the company that I still own and lead.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course! Setting up a business called Equality Works in 1992 was not easy. We have always looked at socio-economic factors, alongside racism and sexism and all the other factors that impact on who gets what in organisations. It was a radical thing to do at the time. I had no financial backing, and no savings. This fact helped me focus on ensuring I got very good, very quickly, at communicating the benefits of diversity and inclusion! The financial crash in 2008 was also a challenge which meant that I needed to change the business model. I learnt that although it was tough to do this, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Creating the leading EDI consultancy and training company that is known for doing serious work that focuses on delivering practical and positive change, working with SMEs, global companies, the public sector, and charities. I couldn’t have done that without working with brilliant people at EW Group and our clients who are as passionate as I am about ensuring people know how to address EDI issues in their day-to-day work whether that is as a CEO or a front-line worker.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I absolutely love what I do. I know just how privileged I am to be able to say this, after nearly 30 years.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think it can play an important part in ensuring that people feel heard and respected. A great mentor spends 80% of the time listening, and helps people reflect, ‘lift their head’ above the immediate, and see different possible futures. Reverse mentoring is also very powerful. When people at the front-line mentor senior leaders, it gives them perspectives they may be unaware of due to hierarchy, social class, ethnicity, sex, or all of these things. I mentor two people a year and always learn a great deal from it.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

It would be to ensure that every board and executive team really spend the time understanding the specific opportunities and risks of getting gender equality right or wrong in their organisations. If this forensic analysis is done, on gender, and ethnicity, and all other aspects of equality, everything else follows. They will ensure this understanding is woven into the culture and translated into how they and their staff behave and operate, day in and day out.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

All will be well, relax a little.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

EW Group has never been busier, so the next challenge is to facilitate growth, and innovation and creativity, in order to effect positive change.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

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