Interview with Madeleine Hallward, Non-Executive Director, Office of Rail & Road

Inspired by International Women’s Day, at Grayling we wanted to shine a light on the incredible women in the Public Affairs industry and the work they do.

Over the coming weeks, we will be posting a series of interviews with inspirational women across the Public Affairs industry, discussing their careers and their experiences so far, how we can make the industry more inclusive, welcoming and progressive – for both men and women – as well as their predictions for the year ahead in politics. This week, we spoke to Madeleine Hallward, Non-Executive Director of Office of Rail and Road.


Madeleine Hallward is an experienced non-executive director and communications professional working in the public affairs industry for 17 years. Through her career, she has become an expert in internal, external and crisis communications, stakeholder engagement, change management, and media relations. Her previous in-house roles include (Ford, Diageo, Bloomberg, and the Energy Retail Association. She is a persuasive advocate and trusted adviser, with policy expertise, sound judgement and an informed instinct for internal and external networking. She has recently joined the Taylor Bennett reverse mentoring scheme, and is being mentored by the brilliant Samiah Anderson.

What attracted you to a career in public affairs?
I fell into public affairs by accident – I had worked in parliament, which was a really enjoyable year but I didn’t consider it as a career because I was more interested in the PR marketing side of things. I joined Diageo’s graduate scheme and was working in the marketing department when a job came up in the government affairs team. I took it and never looked back.

So whilst it was curiosity that got me here, it’s the variety that has kept me here. This is an industry filled with really smart, social people; there’s so much to keep your brain engaged.

What does International Woman’s Day mean to you?
My relationship with International Women’s Day has changed a lot over the years. In my younger years, I was faintly embarrassed by it and it wasn’t until I married and the question about whether I would change my name came up that I rediscovered my latent feminism.

So I went from faintly embarrassed, to pleased that it prompts conversations, and now frustrated that more than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, we still don’t have equal pay – in fact, we have a persistent and occasionally growing gender pay gap in the UK, whilst parental leave is still talked about as a female benefit.

So, I’d say that my attitude towards International Women’s Day is that it’s not an excuse to do nothing for the rest of the year. That’s why we need things like the gender pay gap bot @paygapapp, calling out companies who commercialise the day yet continue to have a gender pay gap and an absence of female representation in the board room.

What advice would you give to women who want a career in public affairs?
My advice to women in the profession is what I always say to women in my team: don’t wait to be offered flexibility, seize it as you need it and be the leader that you want to see.

Don’t wait to be asked in a meeting – if you’re invited to a round table, make sure you’re seated at the table. Take the chair, make the point; don’t wait for space, because there probably won’t be one.

What has your career highlight been to date?
There have been lots – I’ve amended primary legislation, I’ve spearheaded successful campaigns. But I think probably, the highlight is that I’m still doing interesting, intellectually challenging work 20 years on – and politics only ever gets more interesting.

What are your predictions for the coming year in politics?
I would hesitate to predict. I always say that actually, general elections and the political cycle shouldn’t really make any difference to the way that public affairs practitioners engage with politicians and with politics. Your engagement should be sufficiently broad and deep to withstand whatever changes there are in the political weather.

So, as you were and expect the unexpected would be my predictions.

How can the public affairs industry deliver on the International Women’s Day theme of embracing gender equity?
As an industry we are a microcosm of the problem, which is that up to about four years into a PR or Public Affairs career, women have a positive pay gap versus their male counterparts. But over the next 15 years or so, getting to the leadership roles, women drop out and there are more women who work part time or who leave the industry all together because they don’t get the flexibility they need and they’re still generally expected to be the caregivers.

As an industry with all these women, we have the ability to take a really good, hard look at what policies are needed. We need parental leave; we don’t need good maternity policy, we need good parental policy. We could be offering that flexibility to practitioners across the board and we shouldn’t be describing our parental leave as industry-leading unless it is offered to both mothers and fathers.

We need to talk about tackling responsibilities more widely. Responsibilities come in many shapes and sizes, and we need to recognise that for every individual work and life is a balance we all have to deal with and that looks different for everybody.

At Grayling, you’re in a particularly good place to start doing that. On the whole, women are so underrepresented at board level, but with both your Global CEO and Global CFO being women, you’ve got real balance at the top and that’s unusual.