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CWN Welcomes Dawn Jackson, Inclusion and Belonging Chair, CWN Board.

CWN Welcomes Dawn Jackson, Inclusion and Belonging Chair, CWN Board.

I took the opportunity recently to meet and welcome Dawn Jackson to CWN. Anyone that knows me, will know I’m never one to miss an opportunity to meet new people as I’m always curious to hear what motivates them to do what they do. So, over a glass of bubbles at The German Gymnasium I asked Dawn a few questions about her background, what inspires and drives her, and what she wants to achieve in her role as the CWN Board Inclusion and Belonging Chair.

Here’s what she had to say…


Had you heard of CWN before you got involved?

Sasha Scott who came to Aviva to discuss diversity and inclusion with me at ICBC Standard Bank (ICBC) recommended the network, but really it was my meeting with Uma Creswell where I learnt more about CWN. I worked previously as head of diversity and inclusion at Aviva and was very well connected through other memberships and actively networking. Whilst working with an executive coach at the bank, we were discussing my thoughts about what else I wanted to do with my career, and he said you should meet Uma ‘she’s a great connector’. So, we met, she recommended me to Sally Todd, and then I met fellow CWN Board members Tracey Groves and Ann-Marie Balfe. I talked to them about my passion for diversity and inclusion and how I had brought it into the bank.

I came along to the balance sheet event with PwC and then I just thought there’s a great opportunity here – CWN is a great network, it is a diverse female network but there is an opportunity for the network to evolve and do other things. I felt I could make a difference and help make this happen. So, my involvement started there.


You’ve recently started a new job, tell me more about that?

After the freedom of travelling around the States for a month on the back of a Harley Davidson, I’m a few months into a whole word of new things! I worked for 6 months (part time) at Corndel Management School as a Professional Development expert supporting apprenticeships, coaching and tutoring as many as 25 learners from organisations including UBS and Bank of China, mostly from the financial services industry – I loved it.

I worked with people at the mid-senior management level; who are often called the frozen middle – including many women who were struggling with wanting to step up or make an impact in a male dominated environment. (Editor: Can you relate?). Although I had a standard curriculum to take them through, the key area of focus was leadership and development which often included conversations around how to maximise the effectiveness of teams and simply to be better leaders - which often led to some great discussions on inclusive leadership behaviours and what these look like.

Since leaving full-time corporate life and moving on from Corndel last month, I am now setting up my own coaching and inclusion business - CoachInclusion. 

I want to leverage my coaching skills to create more inclusivity from two different angles. Connecting diverse individuals within the talent pipeline to coaching, those talented individuals who often do not get to benefit from the value of coaching and secondly, coaching existing senior managers and leaders in how to be more inclusive with their teams


What appealed to you about working with CWN?

The idea of bringing people together to share experiences and ideas, the network is a real facilitator of this. Because I didn’t know much about CWN myself before I joined (Editor: note to self, we need to do more here!), I thought a lot of other people may be in the same position. They know about other institutions for example, Women on Boards, but I thought it would be really useful if the network had more of an impact and engaged more proactively with those within and outside it.


What was your perception of CWN?

Sometimes forums and networks can become a bit of a talking shop unless there is a clear purpose. I love the idea that CWN is focussing on development, education and awareness, it gives the network a structure for people to help themselves develop. People have a lot of choice in terms of networks and I am not absolutely clear and sure what makes them choose CWN. We have an opportunity to revisit this and provide greater clarity around what really distinguishes us.

Working on the diversity and inclusion agenda involves connecting with others and to learn from them. Networking is a big part of the role. You can’t stand still, remain insular and expect to remain relevant within this fast-changing agenda. We also have to think about how we provide opportunities for women in the CWN to connect with women of other kinds of backgrounds - they probably think about gender, but do they think about age, ethnicity and social mobility, as an example?


What is going to be your focus for CWN over the next 6 months? Do you have a mandate?

When I spoke to Sally Todd about the role earlier this year, she was keen to see how we can ensure CWN remains relevant, openly inclusive and diverse. The network is for senior women so we need to be mindful of that and retain this identity, however we should be looking at how we might work more proactively with other diverse networks. There will be networks that exist that we can work with. I asked some colleagues what would draw them to CWN – a network which was more openly inclusive was a key criteria.

It would be interesting to see what the demographic breakdown is of the membership and also take a look at what other networks exist. I am a great believer in having people work together, the power and opportunity for organisations to work collectively or in partnership to influence societal and organisational culture change is huge - but people very often look at it from a very individual perspective.

The next six months for me is about our members, and others outside it, starting to see some change. This starts with being thoughtful on this agenda and proactively delivering quality initiatives which show our intent and support for greater inclusion. This agenda is a complex one but I am a great believer in creating disruption through trying things that will take us a step forward. I am absolutely convinced we can learn and evolve the network this way.


What attracted you to working in the diversity and inclusion field?

I have always had an interest – particularly helping break down the barriers under privilege presents, especially regarding ethnicity and social mobility. I constantly educate myself around this which is very important. Whilst working at Aviva – working in a head of learning role, I was given the opportunity to take on a Head of D & I role, but I didn’t have a clue how to deliver everything from the start. That was my first realisation, that this is a big area but one that resonates strongly with my own values and passion. I have a strong belief in fairness, it’s a big thing for me and has guided me throughout my career. I want everyone to have opportunities, a sense of belonging and to feel valued. One of my personal value statements is "Valuing uniqueness. Empowering and enabling people to have a voice" which is important and something I care deeply about.


What do you see as the keys elements to delivering real progress within diversity for business?

I think the one thing is how do you balance the need for the environment to support a certain group, for example women, but with the need to be inclusive with everybody? If you focus too much on one network, you risk marginalising other groups.

There is a school of thought that says networks create polarisation if they concentrate purely on specific characteristics. I therefore didn’t attempt to manufacture the creation of networks when I was at the bank but allowed them to evolve when there were passionate individuals keen to lead them. I think networks need to be mindful of being inclusive and encouraging a sense of belonging more broadly as well as providing a safe space for people with similar issues to come together.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

I have a brother just 18 months older, who is an air sea rescue helicopter pilot. His love of aviation rubbed off as we spent a lot of time together when we were younger. I wanted to be an airport manager or an air steward. The airport was a happy place and the gateway for people to fulfil their dreams and see the world, I liked that but what was missing to me was “can I really do that?” I came from a socially poor background. I was the only girl in my school that went to uni. I was a little bit marginalised because I was very clever and was in a school that didn’t expect clever. (Editor: I can so relate to this as my comprehensive was an awful experience, a place where you had to hide your talents so as not to get bullied) My parents were always saying go and be a bank manager, a nice safe job. I have always though, had this thing about wanting to help people grow, succeed and achieve. I have now landed somewhere that is very fulfilling.

I am also in to better work life balance now, having spent so many years working full time in the corporate world. I am a curious person and I’m always learning; I like doing stuff. Life is ultimately about balance and giving back to yourself. And that is the way I can really help others.


What’s your passion in life?

To connect people. If I was (London) Mayor, I would look at bringing people together. I would love to create an environment where everyone can feel they can be themselves and feel able to reach out to and learn from others not like themselves. I love it when young people feel they can speak up to senior execs. Too many are afraid to speak up. I also love it when I seeing people connecting - walking curiously towards difference rather than away from it.


What’s your guilty pleasure?

I’m lucky to have a partner who likes to bake, so he makes me French breakfast rolls, fresh from the oven. My guilty pleasure is eating those! Provence Rose wine, cheese and French bread in my home in France is also my idea of bliss. How indulgent is that? (Editor: do you deliver?)


What book you are reading at the moment?

I read personal development books all the time. Currently I’m reading Playing Big by Tara Mohr – this is a brilliant book. As a female if you feel constrained because you have this feeling of not being good enough, it talks about the inner critic and contrasts that with the inner mentor (Note, we always pay attention to the critic and should be amplifying the mentor instead!!!) and thinking big. Women often think smaller – maybe due to conditioning and how we are brought up. It is an old-fashioned view, this idea that people thinking that when you have kids you lose something by going on maternity leave, it is about turning this around and seeing it positively. You gain personally (and so do organisations) because you learn from that experience and have other rich skills and experiences to offer on your return.

I’m also reading Gravitas (Caroline Goyder). It’s all about how you can come across with more impact and meaning in meetings and presentations. It has some very interesting, useful tips to try out.


What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

I would say very simply; you are good enough as you are. You can do anything you want in life. You are simply … enough. Don’t listen to other people in terms of what they think is right for you. The academic world is important - but think beyond that. What you bring is unique, so go with it.


Dawn Jackson was talking to Dawn-Louise Kerr, member of the CWN Marketing & Communications Committee.

To find out more about CWN and our Diversity and Inclusion Policy please visit our website