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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.


Women need to be ‘more pushy’ to succeed in legal careers

10 Nov

Women need to be “more demanding and pushy” and ignore stereotypes forced on them if they want to forge a high-level legal career, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette.

The magazine quotes a panel of senior judges and barristers at the Bar Conference 2011 saying that more needed to be done to support women to apply  for Queen’s Counsel and senior judicial roles, although for some outstanding women not “even a ceiling of reinforced concrete would prevent their rise”.

One female QC, Nirmal Shant, is quoted in the report as saying that women needed to change their “attitude and spirit” and become more “demanding and pushy”.

However, while the likes of fictional female QCs appear always to be clever and formidable like the wonderful Julie Walters in ITV1 series The Jury, being pushy does not endear female lawyers to their legal secretaries, according to a separate report.

A survey of legal secretaries by law professor Felice Batlan – as reported in – revealed that 95% would prefer to work for a male partner rather than a woman. Their reasons? Because women get too emotional and stressed, they’re passive-aggressive, often act above themselves, and are perceived as too independent.

Analysis in the ABA Journal says: “Batlan suggests that women lawyers may be ‘in a double-bind situation’. If they don’t behave like men, they are perceived as too emotional, and if they do act like men, they are perceived as putting on airs.”

Seems like this is one case the female lawyers are destined not to win.

Common career strategies benefit men but not women

14 Oct

Doing all the right things to progress your career and being the ideal worker has no impact on a woman’s career – while it benefits their male colleagues, according to a report from Catalyst.

The Myth of the Ideal Worker: Does Doing All The Right Things Really Get Women Ahead? says that being proactive helps men’s careers but not women’s. Common career strategies analysed in the report include: letting your boss know you’re ready for the next challenging project, putting in the time and effort to realise your ambitions, and building relationships with your boss’s boss as well as your own boss worked brilliantly for men, helping them to get ahead, but it had little impact on the rate at which high-potential women made it to leadership positions.

The report explodes the myth that women don’t ask for pay rises – they do – but asking doesn’t lead to better compensation. Also, women are not seeking out slower career paths, and are in fact less satisfied than men with their career growth.

Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, said: “This study busts the myth that ‘Women don’t ask.’ In fact, they do! But it doesn’t get them very far. Men, by contrast, don’t have to ask. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Just as individuals need to manage their careers effectively or risk lagging behind their peers, organisations must learn how to attract, develop, and retain high-potential women – or risk losing out to their competitors.”



Women get a better salary deal when negotiating for someone else

29 Sep

Women will back down in salary negotiations and settle for much less than they deserve because they fear they’ll give off the wrong impression if they come across as too assertive and independent. In other words, they conform to stereotypical gender expectations, according to research from Colombia Business School.

It’s not that women can’t bargain as well as men in salary negotiations, or set their sights lower. It’s that they fear a “social backlash” when negotiating for themselves, according to the report. However, women are much more effective at negotiating when doing it on behalf of someone else, such as for the family or the team. This is “a context where assertive negotiation reads as caring and therefore consistent with the feminine gender role”, said the report.

Professor Michael Morris, Chavkin-Chang professor of leadership at Colombia Business School, said: “The research has uncovered a missing link in the effect of gender on negotiations. Though women seemingly fare worse than men in most distributive negotiations, they are not less capable bargainers. Rather, women are savvy impression managers who consciously negotiate gender role expectations.”

He suggests that rather than training women to be more assertive negotiators, they should be coached in a way of negotiating that is framed as bargaining on behalf of the team. He said that gender pay inequality would be improved if women were not obliged to negotiate their salaries, and instead for salaries and pay rises to be awarded by the organisation on the basis of objective performance criteria.

Businesswomen in skirts make a better first impression

20 Sep

Women wearing skirts for business make a better first impression and are perceived to earn a higher salary, according to research from the University of Hertfordshire.

I know that the trouser suit hasn’t been in vogue for some years – and there’s been a recent debate about women such as Hillary Clinton continuing to ‘power dress’ with masculine-style suits –  but I think women should dress in what they feel most comfortable in. I feel personally much more confident and professional in skirts/dresses rather than trousers, in business situations the impression I am hoping to convey will surely go beyond what I’ve chosen to wear that day.

However, the study The Effect of Appearance on First Impressions did not include facial expressions or anything else that might reveal personality. It concludes: “The woman in the study was perceived more positively in a skirt suit than in a trouser suit. Women generally have a wider choice of dress style for work than men, but still have to maintain an identity that balances professionalism with attractiveness, and the skirt suit may achieve that balance without appearing provocative.”

As the research was carried out in conjunction with Mathieson & Brooke Tailors, it is perhaps no surprise that the study concludes that a made-to-measure suit for a man gives the impression that he is more confident, successful and wealthy.

Buying into the ‘supermum’ myth can make working mothers depressed

22 Aug

If you find yourself frantically juggling your home and work life – spending sparkling time with your children, as well as shining your reputation at work – then the effort of being all things to all people can leave many women exhausted and depressed.

Are you buying into the myth of the supermum? (pic credit: istockphoto)

Even if the pressures are self-imposed – and many of us do have that in-built drive to be the absolute best at absolutely everything we do – we can find it unbearable if we end up dropping any of those many balls we’re juggling.

Maybe that’s not surprising for most working mothers, but the main finding of a report from the University of Washington, by researcher Katrina Leupp, is that working mothers who buy into the ‘supermum myth’ put themselves at risk of depression.

Her analysis of 1,600 married women round that those who worked were less likely to be depressed than women who stayed at home. But for the mums who do work, seeking to be a high achiever at work and a domestic goddess at home would lead only to frustration and depression. They feel guilty for not being brilliant at everything, and uncomfortable about making tradeoffs, such as leaving work early to pick up the kids.

The key to happiness, says the report, is making some sacrifices either in the workplace or at home. So, successful career women can’t always expect to attend sports day or recorder recital at their child’s school. Or a mother who seeks a more comfortable work-life balance may not put herself forward for a promotion that requires longer hours and nights away from home.

Leupp said: “Women are sold a story that they can do it all, but most workplaces are still designed for employees without child-care responsibilities. In reality, juggling home and work lives requires some sacrifice, such as cutting back on work hours and getting husbands to help more.

“You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you’re willing to let some things slide,” she added. “Employment is still ultimately good for women’s health. But for better mental health, working mothers should accept that they can’t do it all.”

Looks like new Dragon, Hilary Devey, might have been right all along.

Related article: Women can’t have it all, says new female dragon

Workplace sponsorship drives women’s career success

19 Aug

Most women know that just being good at your job is never enough to win a coveted promotion or the chance to work on a high-profile project. Yet being too self-promoting often doesn’t work either. What it takes to propel women to the heights they deserve is having a good sponsor.

That’s according to Sponsoring Women to Success, a report from Catalyst, an organisation committed to expanding opportunities for women and business. The report says that mentoring can only take you so far; it’s effective sponsorship that accelerates your career. Good sponsors can get you noticed at the highest levels; ensure you’re introduced to the right networks; and can coach you into thinking more strategically so you can make an even more meaningful contribution to the company.

Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, said: “Good sponsors can supercharge a woman’s career by providing her with access to essential networks, bringing her achievements to the attention of senior-level executives, and recommending her for key assignments. Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enable protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organisations.”

However, that sponsorship has to be earned, says the report, by “building reputations as flexible, collegial professionals who are consistently committed to their own career development”.

As well as a flourishing career for the protege, sponsorship can also develop their reputation as a senior leader committed to developing talent; and organisations can help improve employee engagement, attract and retain staff, and strengthen their talent pipeline.

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