Most people would agree that gender equality is a common sense goal, especially as women represent half of the population and around 83% of consumer purchases.
Female executives are ambitious and sure of their own abilities to become top managers, as found in recent McKinsey research. Although it also suggests that mind-sets and company culture have a big effect on women’s confidence to achieve their career goals. Having senior support or ‘sponsorship’ and engagement are seen as significant cultural game changers and there are many examples where diversity is seen as a business advantage.
We have seen the recent improvement in board statistics with over 26% females on FTSE 100 boards. But it is not goals and targets that are going to make the real difference – it is positive action.
I am passionate about shifting the gender agenda and help female leaders in their careers and also in building a positive female talent pool. In Scotland, I collaborate with the IoD running their boardroom experience workshops, help find mentors and coordinate an IoD and Scottish Government joint initiative for “board ready” females to get a board shadowing experience. One participant commented how positive the experience had been, providing a chance to shadow a high calibre chairman, a board addressing a turnaround situation and a business building an employee ownership culture – a wonderful learning experience and she has gone on to chair the board she has since joined.
I am also part of a senior women’s network, the Two Percent Club. We also encourage young women to participate, and have started a few “reverse mentoring” relationships for young women to mentor more senior executives.
One example of was with a young entrepreneur Lauren Currie of Snook and Leslie Evans, then Director General and now Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government. Lauren realised this could be a real chance to challenge preconceived ideas about the strategic role of young women in Scotland’s future, and learn more about the machinery of government. Leslie was equally curious about how this might work, especially as she mentors (and is mentored) along more traditional lines.
Leadership programmes, mentoring, shadowing, talent development, women’s networks and sponsorship all contribute to inspiring the next generation of female leaders, but the key question to be answered is “how do we provide what women really want from work?”.
If we get this right, we wouldn’t have a “leaking pipeline”, particularly in the mid-thirties age group. Women’s career ambitions can be as high but also quite different from men, and not necessarily in a smooth linear trajectory.
Credible changes in corporate culture and increased agile working is helping, as is the sharing of perspectives, bringing unconscious bias to the fore and getting our male counterparts to help us – and it’s only going to be good for business!
Caroline has extensive experience of working with senior teams and bringing out talent at all levels within an organisation. She has a keen interest in the behavioural aspects of executive and board development, which is supported by over 20 years’ experience as an executive coach.