A Long Journey That’s Barely Begun

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Earlier this year, I was asked to dig out any old photos relating to the early days of APMP UK as it celebrated its 20th birthday. There was the snap of the chapter chair’s “gavel of office” being presented to me at a conference in the States. There was the picture from the first conference, in Northamptonshire.

Guess the make up of the folks in the photos? Right: we could have been a stuffy old Mayfair club that only admitted men.

I founded Strategic Proposals’ UK business not long after. Our first four team members, who formed our board? All male. Our next two recruits? Yeah, guess.

Today? I’m thankful that we have a truly diverse business, across the thirty people I’m proud to call colleagues. And I know that we thrive as a result. Not just in terms of the SP ‘family’ being a wonderful community in which to work. But in terms of the mix of talents and perspectives that contribute to the work we do. And that all came from us recognising the issue, from others challenging us, and us challenging ourselves – hard.

Were we recruiting in our own image? Yes. Was the lifestyle associated with a training and consulting business – and the travel we were all doing – inherently discriminatory? Almost certainly so. Was our focus on only bringing in staff who’d already run bid/proposal teams leading us to subconscious age discrimination? Yes, to an extent.

Our business had to change. And I’m so glad it did.

It’s also given a platform for us to talk about diversity issues. Carrying out the research into gender issues in the profession, a few years ago, that led directly to the formation of the working party from which WIBAP evolved. Setting up the process that led to the bid and proposal apprenticeship programme, to create opportunities for people to enter our profession by different routes.

And yet I feel there’s still a long way to go. WIBAP does a wonderful job at providing opportunities for women to network and develop and has been welcoming to Allies from the outset. But, as a profession, are we talking about inclusivity and accessibility more broadly?

Are we really confident that the level of diversity at “director” or “head of” level is the same as it is for, say, “bid co-ordinators”? I guess not. And I suspect we all know which way it’s skewed.

Is the intake into our profession sufficiently inclusive, despite the good work of the apprenticeship scheme?

Do the inherent pressures of late night, last minute bid work make it harder for women – in a world where parenting responsibilities tend to fall more heavily on them, and the resourcing models for so many bid and proposal functions assumes that that’s OK – and even praises people for working late, working weekends?

And I say this as father of a two-year-old. But as the world unlocks, I’m starting to travel more again – and guess who’s the one left holding the baby? (Well, toddler! Erin’s offended if you call her a baby these days.) Despite the steps I’ve taken – a four day week, not working Fridays and never travelling on Thursdays – it’s a continuing challenge.

And we’ve all heard and read appalling stories of professional colleagues with disabilities whose organisations haven’t supported them.

This is not a conversation that’s happened in our profession – as in: past tense, done. It’s a real challenge, here and now. Do we need better guidance and education for those in leadership roles to assess, honestly and non-critically, where their teams are now – and how they can deliver real business benefits from delivering real change where it’s necessary? Should our industry’s award and certification schemes specifically address these challenges – a mandatory section at APMP Professional on this topic, for example? What else should we be doing?

Should people like me even be taking up pages in publications like this? Well, actually, I hope so. I’m so delighted that Martin and the Bid Solutions team have invited Charlotte and WIBAP to take over as guest editors. And I’m delighted that they’ve invited people who strive to be Allies to contribute. But I know I have so much to learn.

This article was written by Jon Williams.

Jon and his team work with clients worldwide to help them establish winning proposal capabilities and to capture major deals. He has built and led numerous bid and proposal centres; managed, reviewed and benchmarked countless proposals; worked in over thirty countries; and trained many thousands of course participants.

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