Sunday, 29 May 2016

‘Women Need the Chance to Show How Good They Are’


An increasing number of women are taking seats on the boards of stock market-listed companies, but there’s still room for improvement as Shelina Begum finds out.



The role of women in business is increasingly in the spotlight. This has been partly driven by the government-backed report from Lord Mervyn Davies, who has been championing gender equality in the boardroom.
The report calls for at least a third of boardroom positions at Britain’s biggest companies to be held by women by the end of the decade, raising its previous aim of 25 per cent in 2015.
So far, FTSE 100 companies have exceeded the target of 25 per cent – more than doubling the number in 2011 when the target was set.
Then, just 135 of 1,076 (12.5 per cent) FTSE 100 directorships were held by women.
Lady Barbara Judge CBE, the Institute of Directors (IoD) first female chair in its 110-year history, said that the strength of the targets has been successful in the UK.
With recent high-profile appointments including that of the CBI’s first female director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, and the British Bankers’ Association first female chair in its 96-year history, Noreen Doyle, the focus on women has never been stronger.
Lady Judge said: “The remarkable success in increasing the number of women on boards in the UK over the past six years shows how enthusiastically businesses have embraced their role as champions of female progression. Now, we must channel this progress into tackling the next item on the agenda – getting more women into senior, executive, decision-making roles. The onus must be on employers to do everything they can to harness their female talent. After all, it is a business’ loss if it fails to make the most of half their workforce.
She adds: “I believe if the chairman and CEO want it to happen, they can make it possible.”
The IoD has recently called on businesses and employers to step up their efforts to increase the number of women in executive leadership positions.
Lady Judge, who in 1983 was appointed the first female board executive director of London merchant bank, Samuel Montagu & Co, and has since held a series of senior positions in banking in the US and UK, outlined three measures she wants to see businesses explore which could make it easier for women to make it to the top table in greater numbers. These include:
1. Shake-up recruitment practices. All companies should look at measures such as gender-blind applications and make sure there is a woman on the interview or recruitment panel for senior roles.
2. Job-sharing and part-time executive roles. Where possible, businesses should introduce flexible working schedules, including job-sharing and part-time roles for their most senior positions to make it easier for both men and women to fit career progression around their family lives.
3. Mentoring. Businesses must champion women in senior positions and use them to help support those throughout their organisation and show them ambitions of the c-suite are both realistic and achievable.
Lady Judge said: “Shaking up recruitment practices is what we are doing. I believe if you pay a woman for four days a week, she will give you five days a week, there is no question about it. A female colleague will work extremely hard and the organisation will get good value for money.
“Quite a long time ago, a businessman told me that he only hired women. I asked him why?
“He said it made good economics. He said you can give women time off at home but they still get the job done!
“I believe that to progress we have to get big businesses to make senior roles more flexible and therefore make it easier for women, and even men, to fit their career progression around their family lives.
“When I was young and I wanted to go and see my son in a play, I would have had to say I had a meeting to go to, but today it is perfectly permissible to say that, so we have made a lot of progress, but not enough.
“I also think that we have to champion and help women by making sure they are mentored, so that they have someone to talk to, show them that ambitions to get to that senior executive level is possible.
“They have to be encouraged, mentored and supported so that the path will be open.
“I’m not saying that we should promote women who aren’t capable but we have to give them the career path to prove that they are acceptable.
“We have to give them experiences and opportunity to work in profit-making and in profitable parts of the business, not just staff roles such as HR and strategy. If we don’t give them the opportunities to show how good they are and give them the tools to learn the game, they will never win it.”
Vanda Murray OBE, the former CEO of Blick, a FTSE quoted support services group, and currently holding a portfolio of non-executive directorships including at Exova, Bunzl, Manchester Airports Group, Microgen, and Fenner, agrees that a shake up of the recruitment process is needed and will eliminate any ‘unconscious bias’ and that more work needs to be done to see more women rise up the ranks in executive level positions.
“Women are progressing as they should,” says Murray.
“Organisations are a little bit geared towards men and that’s because men are in the majority.
“There is a real problem of unconscious bias, it’s something that is just beginning to get a little bit of traction now.
“People don’t realise it, but we all like people a little bit like ourselves, and therefore you have to really learn to put that to one side and focus on the skills to get the right person for the right job irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or religion. I think both men and women need training to do that.”

She adds: “What we have recently seen is that really good women have been appointed to the top of the organisation, so the target at the top is being met but not being met through the executive side, and that’s a concern. That means you have to go back through the organisation, look at the succession plans and any barriers to progression, and that takes a lot more work and more time.”
Both Lady Judge and Murray have also called on companies to recognizes the needs of working parents and that flexibility was key to getting the most out of their staff.
Lady Judge said: “Businesses have to understand that there are pressures such as family and in order to utilise 50% of the country’s talent and brain power, businesses have to make flexible working available so that both men and women have the opportunity to fulfil their family commitments at the same as their professional commitment.
“I do believe that if you have a supportive partner and supportive employer, then you can have both a good job with a strong successful career together with a good family life. But you need both.”
In May, it will be a year since Lady Judge took up her position as chair of the IoD, and it’s been a high-profile role which she says has been exciting and noteworthy.
“It’s been a great honour and privilege to be leading such an important organisation and I have been thrilled to be given the opportunity to make a case for women in a place where people can hear me. I am trying very hard to make the doors open wider to women at the IoD. There has always been women here but I want more.
“Sometimes it takes a woman to open the door so that another woman would walk through it.
And of her own challenges in the workplace, Lady Judge says: “When I moved to Hong Kong and became a banker, the man who was my predecessor was horrified that a woman was appointed as a director. I heard he was quoted as saying that no woman would take his seat. It was hard, I had to establish my own credibility with my own colleagues.”
She adds: “When I started in my career and people talked about ‘ambition’ in relation to a woman, it was a slur, but if you said the same word about a man, it was a compliment.
word about a man, it was a compliment. We have a come along way from that now.
“The next generation will have it easier because the sons of working women will assume that’s the way it always was and always should be.
“My son wasn’t mad at me for working all the time, he was proud.”
Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, from Catalyst Europe, the leading global non-profit organisation on advancing women in the workplace spoke about busting myths about women in the workplace when she attended a one-day conference organised by the Women Leaders’ Association, to mark International Women’s Day.
The Irish-born, Swiss-based senior director with the organisation, says that when it comes to supporting women, men have often taken a back seat.
“Men have been left out of the conversation to date as so many companies have framed diversity and inclusion efforts as ‘women’s work’, so Catalyst has tried to reframe the conversation to make sure that the dominant group is involved,” she said.
“Men and women don’t advance equally until they hit that glass ceiling, we have found that they lack from day one in terms of pay, in terms of advancement and we have done a whole series of studies around this.”
The organisation has been following the lives of a group of female MBA graduates for the last decade, looking at their pipeline of work, strategies, career progression, choices both in the workplace and at home, to see the impact it has had.
Ondraschek-Norris says: “The myth that women don’t ask, that they are not proactive, that they choose not to relocate or turn down international assignments, all those things have been shown to have been myths.
“Women do ask and they do say yes to international assignments. These are women who have invested in their career, they are clearly educated and ambitious but they are still lagging.”
She added: “Men are the solution to the barriers. The key barriers are bias and stereotypes, when people think leader, they think male. There’s a lot of views of leadership we are working with, which are still outdated.”
Marne Martin, CEO of Service Power, the Stockport-based AIM-listed field management software specialist, says her career progression has been positive.
“I have been very privileged and fortunate to have opportunities throughout my career and they’ve been given to me by men,” says Martin.
“I totally passionately believe in the value of women generally moving up the rank and getting women from middle management to take on leading roles in management but also board appointments.
“It is definitely a multi-faceted issue. I think targets are helpful as its gives companies objectives to measure themselves against and brings attention to the issue, but I think
where targets are problematic, at least in the initial stages of implementing a quota, is that if you haven’t spent the last 10 or 20 years cultivating that talent, you might not have the talent to put on the board even if you have a quota.
“I think it’s very good to have at least elective quotas and we have to be aware that leading a company or contributing to a board really is something that will have to deliver value.
“If quotas or targets mean that people who are under qualified are put in positions they are not ready for, then that won’t put in as much value as the qualified women.
“We have to continue to cultivate more women to get qualified for those positions and when you do have that body of qualified women, obviously then having targets will be helpful.”