Webinar – City CV & Starfish present “Sorry, not sorry: Why women apologise too much #breakingthebias

Date & Time: Thu, May 26, 2022 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM BST

URL: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/955181353581911566

Many women in the workplace begin practically every sentence with the word ‘sorry’. They say, ‘Sorry, is this a good time?’ ‘Sorry, can I come in?’ ‘Sorry, can I speak?’ The ‘sorrys’ that we sprinkle through our days make us appear less confident and competent.

How to talk confidently, and unapologetically, about your achievements in an interview is one of the most common challenges we address in our coaching sessions.

Victoria McLean, Founder and CEO of City CV, will discuss the negative impact the ‘apologising habit’ has on careers and how to break that habit for good.

She will share:

  • What impact over apologising has on your career
  • Why women apologise more than men, especially in the workplace
  • Top strategies to break the habit

This webinar will show you how you can talk confidently, and unapologetically, to get the balance right.

Starfish Search. Leadership journeys, expertly navigated.

The hard and soft skills of successful non-executive directors

When applying for board positions, non-executive directors are expected to bring strategic and leadership skills to the table. In today’s challenging business climate, soft skills are also in high demand. 

Having a wealth of experience to bring to a non-executive board position is a clear advantage. Application processes for board roles are competitive, and the time to put your case forward is limited.

So, how do you prepare yourself when applying for non-executive directorships? 

Juliet Taylor, CEO of board recruiters Starfish Search, says, “Understand what the gap is that the organisation is trying to fill and make sure you are clear and confident about what you can offer.”


What is your signature skill? 

Across the globe, companies are experiencing extensive regulatory, technological and financial challenges. Managing business through these challenges requires highly-skilled and experienced board directors. 

“Most boards look for: knowledge, governance expertise, networks, and connection with audiences,” says Taylor. 

“You don’t have to bring all four things, though, so [ask yourself] what’s your signature contribution?”

You can make a difference.

Highly valued non-executive directors are well-versed in emotional intelligence – they can quickly grasp other people’s characteristics and agendas. 

“Understanding the nuance of board roles is also important,” says Taylor. “Consider where the organisation is trying to get to and what you can bring to the party. 

“We are seeing more and more people from all sectors looking for more purposeful ways of using their skills and who want to make a positive contribution to society. 

“Always remember: this is your time, so don’t forget to tell the organisation what the role would give you in return.”


What professional disciplines, or hard skills, are currently in demand on UK boards?  

“The pandemic recovery period means that effective non-executive leaders are in demand more than ever before,” says Taylor. 

“We are seeing increasing numbers of non-executive board members being sought for organisations who need to rebuild or refocus their strategy. 

“We have seen a strong trend in boards looking for people with digital expertise and backgrounds in customer service and organisational or cultural change. 

Those with financial skills and profit-making skills are now high in demand. 

“People who can help increase income or support financial management are also towards the top of the list, as are people who can bring insight into, and connection with, customers and audiences. 

However, it isn’t all about increasing the bottom line and opening the right doors. 

“One of the shifts we are seeing is a marked move away from focusing too much on professional disciplines. Organisations in all sectors are much more aware of their diversity now than they were before 2020. Creating strong, versatile and authentically diverse teams is now a consistent theme.”


What soft skills are in demand?  

An effective board member is hard to define, mainly due to their soft skills, such as the ability to listen and knowing when to speak.  

“It’s hard to tell a great non-executive on paper because so much of the role is about how people operate and not what they have done,” says Taylor.

“Great board members are people who understand how to deploy their expertise in a way that has an impact in a non-executive board setting.” 

Self-awareness is a powerful skill

“The skills that make the difference are the capacity for self-reflection, so people with insight and self-awareness, also diplomacy and listening skills,” says Taylor. 

“Increasingly, people are being expected to bring all their experiences into the board room, not just their professional accomplishments. Sound judgement is key to doing this well and to understand how you can add value.”    

When it comes to the interview

This is your time to reflect and prepare. The role you are applying for needs to be fulfilling and worthwhile for you as well. 

Be clear. Tell the organisation what you can bring to the table to help it reach its goals and why it matters to you.


Leadership journeys, expertly navigated





It’s time for revival not simply survival

Like many industries, the charity sector is having a tough time; it is not exempt from making redundancies.

Dramatic loss of funding coupled with ongoing restrictions on the workforce means that organisations are having to deliver significant change internally and at pace.

Change has, in fact, become part of everyone’s life: many have had to embrace the reality of remote working since March and this or a hybrid office-and-home model looms in the future. While some have adjusted, others endured isolation and missed the social interactions with colleagues.

Without the clear-cut change of location and defined office hours, many find it harder to divide their personal and professional time.

And Covid-19 is not just a six-month blip, that much is clear. Organisations need to be agile when the normal rules do not apply. Many charities are under huge financial pressures and are tweaking their internal models to pool resources in the right areas.

Keeping on top of change

Organisations need more responsive structures to get through these times as traditional operating models are changing forever. Chief executives must embrace this change; they need to tilt the axis of the organisation so that innovation and fresh thinking thrive at every level. They will have to take risks and do things differently.

Janina Vallance is an experienced Change Manager who has worked at board level for over 10 years delivering strategic change and transformation programmes across Retail, Consumer, Finance and most recently the Charity Sector. We discussed her experiences of delivering change across multiple industries and what charities can do to continue their change journeys. It is time to ‘Revive not Survive’.

“There is no point doing more of the same, hoping the world returns to normal at some point. Your people, culture and processes have adapted and modified during lockdown; continue with the momentUill to embrace the many opportunities”

We discussed areas where investment in change and transformation can not only revive, but can also establish a firm foundation for growth, when services may be more in demand. Here’s Vallance’s key piece of advice:

Digital Innovation

Further investment in digital transformation. Having one strategic digital lead can make a significant difference to your organisation – digital is changing so quickly and you need one person who tunes into this and takes advantage of new technologies, leap frogging expensive, complex and outdated solutions.

This helps access new communities to expand reach, fuelling your profile, brand engagement and fundraising. With the use of AI and chatbots on the rise, many charities have moved to delivering help and support services online, especially during lockdown.


Face to face and events fundraising is on pause and many have turned to digital events for income – there has been huge amounts of innovation around engagement with existing supporters. What is more challenging is increasing income from new supporter audiences digitally.

The National Theatre’s online programme of events is a fantastic example of pushing activity online. They streamed 16 of their shows for free over four months. Nine million households tuned in across 173 countries – this was globally supported, and theatre became accessible to a diverse and wider audience.

Now not everyone can stream their shows, but what inspiration can you take from other markets? A fantastic collaboration for fundraising that has just taken place is the ‘Massive Get Together’ – an evening of live music and comedy where funds raised split between 10 charities. The pandemic has produced unique collaborations as people and organisations do things differently.

Innovate internally

Internal innovation encourages cultural change and helps create new ideas, improvements and solutions. Are you encouraging diversity of thought by engaging with your wider workforce? Are you asking your organisation what changes needed to happen? Does your culture support inclusion, challenge and feedback so that you can build on that left field opinion? Change must come from within but can lack ownership. Consider hiring an interim manager as an expert to support organisational change.


The call to action for volunteers during the height of the  pandemic was phenomenal and in the early days, British Red Cross and NHS were overwhelmed with support. We need to develop this community spirit further so we harness the power of our communities for social change.

If you get this right, you will bring in new supporters, who give their time and financial support. There is a vast talent pool of individuals who are job-hunting and want to stay active while they look for their next role; people may have more time to volunteer but these must be accessible and flexible opportunities.


How are you funded? Can you diversify this and develop commercial opportunities?  Can you provide more services to a broader range of beneficiaries? Can you provide training? Can you collaborate and build partnerships with others?

Many organisations have operated with leaner structures for the past six months and plan to change old structures. We are likely to see an increase in mergers and consolidation in many sectors, including charities.

Consider using external support to shape this thinking, interim transformation/change managers will help you secure new opportunities and uncover solutions.

Strategic intervention can add significant value. You may not have the expertise internally, so providing the organisation with support and acting quickly will pay dividends.

Interim managers are uniquely equipped to join senior teams at short notice and provide essential support with their trademark resilience. As we move deeper into the next phase of Covid-19 and with the furlough scheme being extended,  we would encourage organisations to think laterally about the solutions they need, and to consider the benefits that this Interim Management community offers.

Survival is a valid goal, revival an even better one. Achieve more from your change.


Leadership journeys, expertly navigated


To discuss this article or Interim Talent more generally, please contact catherine.kift@starfishsearch.com


Changing role of the CFO through COVID-19 and beyond

Saras Seth, a career interim of several years, joined Prince’s Trust as Interim Chief Finance Officer earlier this year and has since joined permanently. I recently caught up with him to discuss his experiences of leading as a CFO through lockdown and how the priorities within his role changed during this time.

How did you feel about going into lockdown not long into your new role?

It was as a challenge; I was a new member of the team but as the CFO I was central to most of the decisions being made within the organisation at this time. I had to learn how the organisation worked very quickly. As an experienced interim, I quickly assimilated what needed to be done. I had a similar experience four years ago whilst I was at the BBC. At the time, we had no offices for three-four months, and I had to manage the whole team remotely. Being an interim did not affect how I behaved, you look at what needs to be achieved and endeavour to get it done, no matter what.

How has your role at Prince’s Trust been able to respond to the pandemic and beyond?

Currently the main objective for any CFO is to preserve cash. In the current climate the finance professionals have become the most important cog in the wheel, and they drive the organisation forward whilst also adopting a defensive/ survival mode.  Most CFOs will have this skillset and you find yourself almost taking control of the ship, providing guidance inside and outside of the organisation. You find yourself running lots of scenarios and numbers and what the hypothesis are, updating the board and the team constantly. The role becomes critical as it is the only one that can present what might happen in the future.

We discussed the CFO role being the driver for change within organisations. How would you describe your leadership style and how have you motivated your teams during this change journey?

Interestingly, during the pandemic there have been far fewer staff for the business to manage due to furlough. All organisations have their own DNA, processes, and momentum but with fewer people you find yourself trying to navigate a business which is becoming leaner. You make structural changes within the organisation and learn how to operate with less staff.  Staying positive is important and to succeed over this period, you must simplify things. At the Trust we looked at what adds value and focused on that. Being clear with the team on what you expect to be achieved and give realistic timelines.  It feels more prescriptive (due to remote working) and there is more clarity and centralisation. To keep the organisation engaged, you must know what you need to stop or continue doing to keep the business on track.

How do you think your role might be changing as we emerge from the pandemic? 

The role of a CFO will be challenging for the next three to five years. The challenges that will be in place for this role will be one of constant evolution. Mapping forward as far as possible but not committing too far forward in a hard sense. There will be more scrutiny and focus on the delivery of our services and to navigate the future you will need to be as agile and as nimble as possible. Organisations will start to centralise a lot of their processes and then outsource to reduce committed costs. 

What changes do you see for finance more generally as we look to the future?

There will be a bigger focus on governance and oversight by the Trustees. It will cover GDPR, risk, forecasting and safeguarding. There will be an increase in scrutiny from the board and specifically the Treasurer in this current environment. My current challenge right now is governance, forecasting, asset management and commerciality.

Give us your insight into what positive changes have occurred due to COVID?

We have found ways of stopping doing things which were not adding value and have focused on the tasks that pay dividends. One of the insights we have had at the Trust is that remaining teams have become focussed more on core processes and Charities will have to find a balance between the value add they require and the amount of resources they want to commit to things ; we may find that many Charities are over-resourced as delivery models change.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Trying to improve processes and quality of insight whilst working remotely.  It has been challenging trying to relay information virtually through technology. Working on projects remotely without excellent collaborative digital tools has been difficult.

What have you learned about yourself in lockdown? 

I have found out I am not a big fan of working from home and I have learned that the work/life balance line has become exceedingly blurred!

What will be your next priorities at the Trust? 

My next focus will be on the improving the quality of information. 


If you would like to discuss this is more detail please contact yomi.johnston@starfishsearch.com


Leadership journeys, expertly navigated 

Positive Action Vs Positive Discrimination

One of the first questions I am asked when discussing a recruitment campaign is ‘can you guarantee a diverse shortlist?’ To answer anything other than ‘we will do everything we can but there are no guarantees’ might be disingenuous; nevertheless, it’s hugely frustrating for councils to hear.

It is inevitable that selection panels will be disappointed with homogeneous shortlists. Countless studies have for years confirmed that genuinely diverse workforces are more creative, innovative, and produce better decisions. They also have a deeper understanding of their customers and audiences. We know that councils are persistently under the spotlight as organisations who should be getting this right.

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a brighter light on social inequality and diversity and will be a powerful catalyst for change. For now, however, we can achieve progress together through the choices we make locally. Doing this properly means gaining clarity on some basic principles.

First, what is positive discrimination? An employer falls foul if they appoint or seek to appoint an individual based purely on a protected characteristic rather than experience or qualifications. Protected characteristics include race, gender, age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.

It is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number of people with a protected characteristic. There are of course some occupational exceptions e.g. a women’s refuge can apply a requirement for its staff to be women.

Second, what is positive action? Positive action became legal in 2011 and comes into play when an organisation is deciding between candidates who are equally qualified. In this situation, an employer can choose to appoint an individual from an underrepresented group if they are as qualified and fit for the role as the other candidates.

Positive action can also include employers taking measures to address issues within their organisations to support employees with a protected characteristic to overcome disadvantage and discrimination.

In an effort to leave unsuccessful diversity recruitment strategies behind, many organisations are now implementing targeted development programmes for existing staff. These can be very effective in progressing fourth and fifth tier managers whilst enhancing the reputation of your organisation. Councils need not work in isolation; you could partner and work within regional clusters to develop talent and OD programmes that extend opportunity and choice for our future leaders.

As experienced recruiters we are already playing a valuable role in enhancing diversity in different sectors. Coaching and guidance on navigating unfamiliar recruitment processes is a small part of the puzzle but has enormous impact in helping to fulfil potential. 

To find out more contact penny.ransley@starfishsearch.com



Leadership journeys, expertly navigated

How to hire great finance leaders through economic uncertainty

It seems that almost every TV and radio advertisement is using the slogan “now more than ever” at the moment.  Now more than ever, we should be shopping at Aldi.  Now more than ever, we should be dying our grey roots…  Well, now more than ever, organisations need to think hard about how they can recruit the very best finance leaders.  

The role of Finance Director or Chief Financial Officer is not only an essential part of a charity’s mitigation of negative risk; great FDs are trusted partners to the Board and Senior Management Team as they assess the healthy risks required to capitalise on new opportunities in a challenging market.  Below are our observations on how charities can hire the very best talent first time.

  • Start with your Board.  The role of the Finance, Audit & Risk Committee is quite rightly to provide scrutiny over the charity’s financial activities, internal processes and governance to protect it from being in a weak or exposed financial position.  However, ensuring that there is also sufficient strategic finance knowledge on your Board will promote best practice within the charity through appropriate levels of financial analysis and challenge power.
  • Not all CFOs are the same.  What is right for a £500m charity, is not necessarily right for a £50m charity. That is not to say that the individuals within those organisations could not be inter-changeable, though the requirements may not be the same.  When recruiting, you will need to think about what is most important to your own organisation and tailor the brief accordingly.
  • Beware of your own unconscious bias when interviewing.  Removing unhelpful or irrelevant criteria or judgements about where an individual has studied or worked previously will help you attract a broad shortlist of the best FDs; it is also the only way that the Sector can truly hire diverse talent.  Do not be afraid to ask searching questions about what made someone choose the path they have – you might just be surprised at the response and it shows you actually care about their personal motivations and career plans.
  • Test creativity in thinking.  Finance leaders should be providing challenge, promoting innovation and supporting non finance professionals right across their organisation.  Ask candidates what their personal legacy will be in their current organisation and what opportunities they have spotted for yours.  This will ensure your new FD has the biggest and most positive impact on your charity when they join. 
  • Do not be afraid to hire on potential. Fulfilling potential is one of the most powerful ways of developing diverse talent pools for the future. Charities can be understandably nervous about appointing first-time FDs who may not bring the same breadth of experience in areas such as influencing Boards, but this does not mean they can’t do it.  Test the candidate’s thinking around how they might tackle a situation, rather than look for examples of times where they have done it.  Consider the support they may need and whether your culture and working practices provide the right conditions for them to develop in role. Understanding what innovation and fresh thinking they bring will also offer a platform for them to stand out from others in an interview – and potentially in role. This is especially important for today’s rising talent amongst senior finance professionals, many of whom can be characterised by a strong commitment to continuous professional development. This cohort of rising FDs has developed through senior management experience gained during the tough times: they can be creative, engaged, curious and forward-thinking. 

The evolution of the Finance Director across the Social Sector over the past decade has empowered and enabled finance leaders to operate in a genuinely advisory capacity at the heart of decision making.  Only by having a great finance leader can an organisation really achieve its ambitions in an intelligent, well-managed and sustainable way. Do not be afraid of taking appropriate risks when hiring any great leader; be sure to challenge your own thinking and perceptions when you meet an impressive candidate who does not 100% meet your initial brief.  Not only will lateral thinking open up the doors to a wider and more diverse talent pool, it will probably also get you and your Board thinking differently too.

Starfish Search provides senior executive search and interim management services to create strong and diverse leadership teams. Our focus is on developing effective leadership by enabling people to fulfil their potential. We promote individuals from all backgrounds and want new leaders to be encouraged to enter the frame. As trusted partners, we provide balanced, thoughtful recruitment advice based on intelligence and insight and ask the difficult questions that help clients appoint the best, not the predictable.


IR35 Summary

From April 2020 the administration of IR35 was meant to have changed, this got delayed for a year due to Covid-19. IR35 known as intermediaries legislation was introduced in 2000 by HMRC to stop ‘disguised employees’ from avoiding tax by operating as contractors, whilst working in a similar way to employees. The liability has mostly fallen on contractors, until April 2020, when hirers will be responsible for assessing the IR35 status of contractors. 

Hirers Responsibility 

From April 2020 Hirers across the private and not for profit sectors will be responsible for conducting ‘reasonable care’ in case-by-case assessments of contractor’s IR35 status. Hirers will be liable for these assessments meaning it is important to consider the key factors outlined by HMRC to determine whether a contractor operates ‘inside’ IR35 or ‘outside’ IR35.

Contractors Responsibility

Private sector and Public sector contractors have been impacted differently by IR35. From April 2020 private sector contractors will be subject to the same process as public sector contractors. Hirers will assess the status of a contractor to determine how their relationship most aligns with IR35 regulation. Factors such as in work practices and written contracts can be part of the assessment, so it is important for contractors to understand how they can demonstrate most accurately, their service. 

IR35 excludes “small” businesses, meaning the contractor could still be responsible if their business falls in line with two or more the following;

  • Annual turnover is no more than £10.2 million
  • Balance sheet total is no more than £5.1 million
  • No more than 50 employees.

In this case a contractor will be responsible for determining their own IR35 status and paying relevant taxes/dividends etc. 

IR35 Key Aims 

The changes to IR35 are important to HMRC as they aim to stop contractors from intentionally avoiding tax or attempting to pay reduced tax by changing employment status not job role. For example, an employee could stay within one company and maintain the same responsibilities, whilst officially leaving as an employee on a Friday and returning as a contractor on a Monday. Often this reduces the amount of tax payable by the contractor, whilst they sustain the same job role and income. HMRC will use IR35 legislation to ensure contractors providing a service will pay broadly the same tax and national insurance contributions as an employee would. 

Outside IR35  

If a contractor is identified by a hirer as outside IR35 they are deemed to be operating a genuine business. Contractors outside IR35 are responsible for paying their own salaries and tax payments. Even if a hirer has declared a contractor outside IR35, HMRC can still investigate a contract. Although the hirer is responsible for the assessment, it is important for contractors to produces relevant evidence and ensures they agree with the outcome. It is the legal requirement for a hirer to provide evidence of assessment to a contractor when requested. 

Inside IR35 

If a contractor falls inside IR35 they are subject to PAYE and considered an employee for tax purposes. Recruitment agencies or umbrella companies can act as an employer by paying through their payroll, deducting tax and NICs. To ensure the required tax is paid, a contractor may be required to make a deemed payment of income tax at the end of the tax year. If HMRC determine a contractor inside  IR35 who has been operating outside IR35, the contractor (or hirer in the case where unreasonable care has been placed), will be responsible for paying income tax, interest, NICs and penalties payable during the accounting period in question. 

Who is Responsible? 

Compared to the responsibility previously being held in the main by the contractor, the changes in 2020 will require hirers to conduct assessments before engaging with contractors. Hirers will be responsible for determining whether a contractor falls inside or outside IR35. A hirer may become liable for tax that should have been paid during an accounting period by a contractor, if the hirers cannot demonstrate ‘reasonable care’ within the assessment. 

What constitutes reasonable care?  

To assess a contractor the following indicators can be reviewed. It is important for a hirer to use a demonstrable level of care when assessing contractors to avoid financial liability. There are no direct requirements laid out by HMRC to outline reasonable care. Reasonable care can be demonstrated by conducting case by case assessments opposed to blanket determinations that do not accommodate for individual circumstances.

Key Indicators for Hirers  

Although ‘reasonable care’ has not been elaborated on by HMRC, there are key indicators that hirers can use in making their determination, based on learning curves of the public sector. These indicators can be displayed in working practice as well as written contracts between contractors and hirers. 

3 Core Factors: Supervision – Substitution – Mutuality of Obligation

Supervision and Control should remain largely with the contractor if operating outside IR35. As a contractor has been instructed for their service, they should maintain autonomous control of the process. For example, working times, schedules or working locations. If a hirer is involved in this area of service, HMRC could deem the employment relationship inside IR35. 

Right of Substitution enables contractors to substitute themselves with another worker or instruct help from other workers. This should be possible when operating outside IR35, as it demonstrates that the contractor has been instructed based on their skills/qualifications not based on them personally. This clause is not at the cost of the hirer, as reasonable grounds will allow them to veto substitution. 

Mutuality of Obligation affects both parties. When a contractor operates outside IR35 they hold no obligation to accept ongoing jobs from hirers. Instead, contractors are obliged to accept a job offered to them on a project-by-project basis. Overall, a client has no obligation to offer a contractor more work in the future, and a contractor has no obligation to take such work on. 

Other Indicators

Financial Risk is considered a key indicator of contract work outside of IR35. Contractors payments are often subject to the delivery of their service, unlike employees who are unlikely to receive a negative impact to their salary, based on poor performance. Contractors often receive payment when a service is complete or at key milestones of a project. If a worker is receiving a regular or guaranteed income they are likely to be inside IR35.  

Provision of Equipment such as resources, training and insurances provided by the hirer could be considered as indicators of employment (operating within IR35). Contractors providing their own equipment, training and insurances is likely to constitute as business outside IR35. 

Employee Benefits commonly associated with employment such as holiday pay, sick pay and pension contribution can all be considered indicators of an employment relationship inside IR35. 

Get in touch with Starfish if you are an Interim candidate or a hiring client. We have the skills and expertise to advise you on the best ways to approach the IR35 changes effective in April 2021.



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