To coincide with Cranfield’s report The Female FTSE Board Report 2013 business leaders of prominent UK organisations took part in a debate on women on boards. The panellists included James Raby, Trustee, Sainsbury Management Fellows; Anne Richards, Chief Investment Officer at Aberdeen Asset Management; Nicola Winn, COO Finance Infrastructure, Deutsche Bank; Jenny Young, Manager of Diversity, Royal Academy of Engineering and Caroline Cake, Director of 2020 Delivery and Sally Davis, holder of several Non-Executive Directorships including at the BBC.
Hosted by Helen Pitcher, Chairman at IDDAS and David Falzani, President of Sainsbury Management Fellows, the panellists explored the bottlenecks preventing female board appointments and practical steps to increase the number of women on FTSE boards.
Cranfield’s latest report shows that whilst there was a hive of activity after Lord Davies’ women on boards report published in March 2012 – 44% of new FTSE100 appointments and 36% of FTSE250 posts went to women – over the last six months the level of appointments has fallen significantly to 26% and 29% respectively.
Three main themes dominated the debate:
Mentoring and Sponsorship: Role models play a vital role in helping women to envisage their own success. The debaters said that prominent business women allow other women to imagine what they too can achieve. Being mentored by a successful business woman enables an aspiring director to think through career goals and weigh up different options. A mentor can also explore assumptions and perceptions that lead women to opt-out of new opportunities.
Helen said: “It is vital for successful business women to set aside fears about mentoring and share their knowledge and experience with other women. Mentors can help by challenging self-limiting beliefs – which are often based on inaccurate stereotyping of senior roles, and how the job might be done by them, rather than a predecessor.
The panel also highlighted the need for women to seek a sponsor; someone who sees the talent and potential of an individual and goes further than a mentor. A sponsor actively supports the individual in their endeavour to secure new senior roles, for example, through referral, endorsement or recommendation.
Having a positive attitude and confidence are key to success – women can build their confidence through mentorship, as well as skills and personal impact training.
Confidence: Most women who aspire to boardroom positions have a hunger to achieve at this level and will strive to create and seize opportunities, but the panel felt that some are held back due to lack of confidence linked to cultural grooming. Subliminal messages that start from childhood work to boost boys’ self-confidence and moderate that of girls and this can follow into adulthood and the work pool. This results in women not putting themselves forward for promotion, or worse, selecting-out of opportunities.
Research into the differences in promotion between men and women shows that huge subliminal bias still exists amongst both genders when promoting staff – men are promoted on potential (32% of men get onto a FTSE board without ever having been on a FTSE board), while women are promoted on past performance. They panel argued that those responsible for promoting staff must kick-against bias and promote men and women on equal criteria.
Helen Pitcher said: “In my experience women apply for senior roles only when they have almost 100% of the job specification nailed, whereas men have the confidence to apply even when they do not tick all the boxes. The panel felt that to get more women on boards in a sustainable way, employers and women must eliminate limiting beliefs about women’s capability to do the top jobs.
Panellists who had worked in the USA commented on the marked difference between the aspirations for women in America compared to the UK. They felt America has much higher expectations for women reaching senior posts, which we should emulate. Women should be encouraged to shake-off concerns about applying for jobs only when they are 100% qualified because skills can be learned.
Networks: The panel concluded that there is a stark difference between the way men and women network, to the extent that women restrict their chances of being put forward for senior posts. Men have much larger networks than women and regard networking as an integral part of their job – it’s where they build contacts, share knowledge and acquire new information.
Anne Richards, CIO at Aberdeen Asset Management said: “Women network far less than men. Many see it as extra-curricular, something that encroaches on personal time so other priorities trump networking. Consequently, women are known by fewer influential people and are less likely to be recommended for unadvertised posts and excluded from head-hunters’ interview lists. Women must treat both traditional and social media networking as legitimate business activities, where they learn, broaden their perspective, build relationships and promote themselves.
“LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool where women can promote themselves to the search community, which is using it increasingly to find senior candidates.”