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Women On Top: Getting Women On Board(s)


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Nicola Bunting, Owner, La Vita Nova Executive and life coaching will be attending The Human Resource Forum at Savoy Place on the 1st November. She has conducted a study which looks into why such a low percentage of woman hold senior management roles:
 
Almost half of the UK workforce are women, but only 12% of FTSE 100 directorships are currently held by women, and women hold just 22% of senior management positions.

These are extraordinary statistics, especially considering how little this imbalance has been even spoken about until recently. And there are strong commercial reasons for redressing the balance. Mckinsey's study, "Women Matters" found that companies with most women in senior management roles outperform their sector on many levels...return on equity, operating results and stock price growth. On a more human level, including women in senior roles clearly adds to the rich multidimensional range of contribution, perspective, and growth.
 
What is holding women back from leadership positions? Here are a number of factors:
  • maternity and childcare-related issues
  • women choosing to step off the career ladder
  • the male breadwinner career model
  • the need to create a work pattern of career advancement that is more family-friendly, with less focus on time worked, and more attention to work/life balance and flexible working
  • women having less clarity about their career direction than men
  • women being less ambitious than men
  • women having less self-confidence than men and being more cautious about developing their career and taking on new opportunities and more challenges
How do men and women's different communication styles factor in? A new book by American academic John Lock, "Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently," argues that men often have a more forceful, win/lose, confrontational communication style which can be perceived as more authoritative, serious, and business-like, whereas women tend more toward the collaborative and connective, which can make them appear less leader-like.
 
Perhaps we need to expand our images of leaders and extend our archetypes to make more space for alternative models?
 
Carol Gilligan's classic, "In a Different Voice," also looks at men and women's relational styles as essentially different. So when we look at patterns and dynamics in work interactions , for example, we need to see who speaks up, who is comfortable asking for a raise or promotion, who is openly celebrating their achievements, who gets important clients...all of these areas may have gender implications.
 
Another fascinating new book, "Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital" by Catherine Hakim, contributes a different perspective by arguing that women should actively use their social skills, beauty and sex appeal to their advantage to get ahead at work, rather than trying to disguise their femininity in order to be taken seriously. Personally speaking, I can see a distinction between embracing who you are as a woman and being comfortable expressing your femininity authentically as part of who you are and your leadership style, versus actively using the impact of your sexuality to manipulate. But this is probably a different article!
 
For now, though, I celebrate the newly formed 30 Percent Club, a UK movement set up by Sir Roger Carr and others, designed to make boards thirty Percent female, and I suggest we all look carefully at how we can empower women and empower ourselves as woman to reach the full range of our leadership potential and make a difference at work and in the world. Clearly, work / life balance culture, flexible working, and recruitment policies all need to be addressed.
 
Leadership development also has a crucial and powerful role to play. I suggest that coaching, mentoring, and training programmes to help women actualise their leadership potential and step up into higher levels of confidence and aspiration could well be the most targeted and effective route to creating more balanced and successful companies where senior management positions are held equally by men and women, and where the board edges steadily up to at least 30% female representation.
 
Companies invest hugely in talented women, and need to retain them and help them reach their full potential from a business standpoint. Women are often not prepared to sacrifice their personal lives for their work lives, even if they are ambitious, and for their careers to be kept on track, companies do need to think about helping them manage their careers, rewarding business performance rather than simply hours in the office. And of course men can benefit equally from more enlightened workplaces which allow and encourage employees to have careers and personal lives that inspire each other, rather than being in constant mutually draining competition.
 
It's not just about "diversity" for the sake of it...or quotas as a reflection of the need for diversity. It's about giving capable, bright, and ambitious women every opportunity to step up and shine as senior leaders within an organisation, for everyone's benefit.
 
Nicola Bunting will be joining us a supplier at The Human Resources Forum at Savoy Place on the 1st November.

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