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Sex and Power 2013 report shows lack of women at the top

25 Feb

Sex-Power-coverA new report from the Counting Women In shows just how few women there are in the UK’s top political and public sector roles.

The Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain? report says Britain is “falling down the global league tables when it comes to women’s access to power and representation in politics”. In 2001 we were ranked 33 out of 190 countries, but by the end of 2012 we had fallen to 60th place.

The report reveals the lack of women in key roles in the public sector and finance. Women make up just:

  • 22.5% of MPs
  • 17.4% of the Cabinet
  • 13.3% of elected mayors
  • 14.6% of police and crime commissioners
  • 11.1% of UK bank chief executives

The report makes a series of recommendations, including increasing the number of women candidates put forward for election, encouraging more women to speak on the platforms of major events, and for public recruitment processes to be more closely monitored for diversity.

The report concludes: “The lack of diversity in public life weakens democracy and public confidence in it. Women make a positive difference to actual decision-making itself. A more diverse body politic with a wider spread of expertise and reflecting the life experience of both halves of the human race would be better placed to lead us through the complex times that face us. Real, committed and targeted action is required. Failure to do so means the UK will continue to drift.”


IoD to launch directory of potential female directors

11 Nov

The male head of the Institute of Directors (IoD) has pledged to take a leading role in promoting and achieving boardroom diversity.

Speaking at the IoD’s Women as Leaders conference, director general Simon Walker said one of his core objectives was advancing the cause of female business leaders.

He said: “There is no doubt that role of a director has been seen in the past as a job for the boys. This image is changing, but it has not yet been entirely dispelled. The notion that women should not play an equal role with men in the boardroom is not only unjust, but – equally importantly – inconsistent with the efficient functioning of a modern economy. I am absolutely convinced that the IoD must assume a position of leadership in advancing the cause of diversity on boards and in other leadership positions.”

His three-point plan for supporting board diversity involves:

  1. The first IoD training course for female directors: Women as Highly Effective Directors.
  2. Requiring companies to report on boardroom diversity in their annual reports, on a comply or explain basis.
  3. Establishing a directory of potential female directors that could help headhunters and companies add female non-executive directors to their boards.

The IoD blog has helpfully summarised some of the key insights from the Women as Leaders Conference 2011. The point that stands out for me comes from ICAEW’s director of member services Sharron Gunn, who is quoted as saying that it’s not about women on the board today, but about how we manage the pipeline of women coming forward to fill senior roles.

Headhunters frequently bemoan the fact that there just aren’t enough women around at senior levels. The work needs to start earlier, with women being mentored and groomed for the top. For now, that pipeline is generally leaky and unsupportive.

Female entrepreneurs to benefit from £2m mentor scheme

7 Nov

Women’s and equalities minister Theresa May is to offer support to more women to help them become their own bosses via a £2m scheme that will train 5000 volunteer mentors to be role models for female entrepreneurs. She said she wanted women to aspire to be more than glamour models, and to set their eyes on a more ambitious prize.

She said: “We need to improve body confidence, so young women realise their future will be defined by their abilities, not by what they look like. If we fully used the skills and qualifications of women who are currently out of work, it could deliver economic benefits of £15bn to £21bn per year. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an additional 150,000 extra start-ups each year in the UK. And if the UK had the same level of female entrepreneurship as the United States, there would be approximately 600,000 extra women-owned businesses, contributing an extra £42 billion to the economy.”

She added: “The prize – a more competitive economy, a more equal society and personal prosperity – is worth fighting for. That’s why I am determined to do everything in my power to put women at the heart of our economic future.”

Her comments coincided with the publication of a report from the Fawcett Society, Continue reading

More women on boards could boost economy by billions

5 Nov

Having more women on the board and making better use of women’s skills in the workplace could boost the UK economy by £15bn to £23bn, according to minister for equalities Lynne Featherstone.

Speaking at an event to promote a six-month review of Lord Davies’ Women on Boards report, the minister said that progress was being made, but much more could be done by businesses to achieve diversity targets. She said: “The business case for increasing the number of women on boards is clear. It’s about improving performance and having a board that reflects and understands its customers. Better use of women’s skills could be worth billions of pounds to our economy each year. Progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go. Increasing women’s representation at senior levels will increase diversity and help close the gender pay gap.”

The Women on Boards Six-Month Monitoring Report from Cranfield University School of Management found that:

* Women make up 14.2% of FTSE 100 directors – up from 12.5% in 2010.
* Women make up 8.8% of FTSE 250 directors – up from 7.8% in 2010.
* 23% of all board appointments since publication have been female.
* There are 13 all male boards within the FTSE 100 – down from 21 in 2010.
* 47.6% of FTSE 250 companies have all male boards – down from 52.4% in 2010.

Co-author of the report, Professor Susan Vinnicombe OBE, director of the International Centre for Women Leaders, said recruiters and headhunters should cast the net wider when searching for female directors, rather than relying on the “straitjacket” of looking for women with a financial and banking background.

Businesses need to have a talent pipeline of women who can step up to senior roles, and diversity has be led from the top. This was reinforced by Steven Holliday, chief executive of National Grid, who was a panellist at the event. He said: “Board diversity may be the ‘shop window’ but the real prize for business is to ensure increased diversity throughout the leadership of a company.”

Look to the US for lessons on boardroom diversity

28 Oct

As the UK struggles to find enough women to fill boardroom roles, and with progress since the publication of Lord Davies’ report still slow, there are certainly lessons to be learned from the US, where more women than ever are leading Fortune 500 companies.

IT giant IBM has this week appointed its first ever female CEO, Virginia ‘Ginni’ Rometty; pharmaceutical firm Mylan named Heather Bresch as its CEO; and last month Hewlett-Packard announced Meg Whitman as its CEO.

There are now 18 women running Fortune 500 companies, which is still a tiny percentage (3%) but at least it’s moving in the right direction. The lessons the UK can learn are summed up in this excellent article in USA Today, which says that change has to come from companies and from women themselves.

In summary, progress for women doesn’t depend just on more female CEOs being appointed but for businesses to set diversity targets, measure them and report on them. Women have to seek out mentors and sponsors, and be stronger and more expectant at the salary negotiating table.

However, the quote that stands out for me comes from IBM’s new CEO Rometty, again in the USA Today article, where she says women have to change their mindset and stop hesitating when offered the chance of a big job. She said: “You have to be very confident, even though you are so self-critical inside.”

Royal Navy appoints first woman warship commander

10 Aug

This is a woman making headway and headlines in a man’s world: Lieutenant Commander Sarah West has been appointed the first woman to command a warship in the Royal Navy’s 500-year history.

She will take command of the frigate HMS Portland in 2012, and was reportedly given the promotion for her “leadership, confidence, moral courage, sound judgement and excellent people skills”.

This is no mean feat, given that the Royal Navy only allowed women to go to sea in 1990 – and is evidence that even a male-dominated environment can recognise and reward opportunity for all.

With such a role model to emulate, perhaps little girls will have more ambitious dreams than just having their heart set on becoming princesses.

What would the workplace look like if it were built for and by women?

7 Aug

Much has been said about women getting on in a man’s world – and often having to adopt more masculine behaviours and attitudes to survive and thrive in an environment that has been structured around a man’s way of doing things.

Of course, you can’t generalise about ‘male’ or ‘female’ leadership characteristics – and I’m not for one minute advocating all-women offices. However, I found this Delaware Online article on Why women find it hard to reach the top rung thought provoking. It asks what a company would look and feel like if it were built on women’s norms, rather than according to masculine norms.

Taking existing women-led companies, the article points to several patterns. It suggests that a company built for and by women would be more:

Nurturing: providing flexible policies around healthcare and retirement, for example.

Sensitive: not assuming (or saying) that a woman wouldn’t want a challenging job just because she had children, or might want them in the future.

Supportive: pointing to the face that men may get on in business through informal networks such as the golf course, to help create similarly supportive networking environments for women so they, too, can take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Focused: In a different article on Reuters, In business, a woman’s place is in the boardroom, it looks at patterns of behaviour in Norway, where there are quotas requiring 40% of the boardroom to be female. As a result, evidence suggests that women – dubbed the ‘diamond skirts’ are more focused during boardroom discussions, having done their homework beforehand.

Direct: I’m not saying women don’t have egos – I’ve worked with plenty who do – but I’m inclined to agree that women aren’t afraid to ask direct or difficult questions, because they want straight answers, and don’t feel they have to put quite so much attention on protecting their  ego.

In the UK, major companies have signed up to the 30% Club, an initiative to ensure more diversity on the boardroom. Not just for the sake of it, but because they believe a balanced board is ‘key to driving profitable growth – and positively influences a company’s culture and the decision-making process’. It has already committed to an Action Beyond Words programme on the basis that if change is going to happen then it will take companies, government and headhunters to work to make it happen.

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