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Scaling Up On A Call For Real Change : Women In Business

Posted on April 21, 2013 at 2:20 PM

I suspect that it isn't often that the UK's Confederation for British Industry (CBI), which describes itself as the country's "top business lobbying organisation" can spare its President for half a day.

And it isn't every day that FTSE 100 chairman Sir Roger Carr stays  for four hours at an event after spending 10 minutes introducing it - all the while listening intently and quietly helping himself to coffee. It was an event at which he was in a minority - as a man. But that was the whole point.

I can bear witness as I was there last Friday morning at Bloomberg offices in London, where the 30% Club held a seminar entitled ‘Accelerator Steps for Female Talent Development’. I have been to a lot of events in the last two years since the launch of the review by Lord Davies on the lack of representation of women in the boardrooms of UK plc. In that time it has become painfully clear that the issue is a far greater one of the need for social change.

Boardrooms are the icing on the cake - it's about building a pipeline of talent for businesses that breaks down barriers to participation and ensures fair and meritocratic criteria for evaluation and promotion. In the end it is about competitive advantage, not women.

From a crisp 8am start in a packed-out room, this was a seminar that meant business. Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club - and the newly appointed Chair of Opportunity Now  - is scaling up the impact of the campaign and the pace of change for women at work.

We heard from a host of speakers (and once again I was struck by the fact that the only one using valuable time to say very little was a headhunter) - and they were (almost) all energising.

Mckinsey Partner Dr Emily Lawson talked about the findings from pro bono work for the 30% Club done with law and accountancy firms to find out what happens between women entering work and partner level - among other things, they don't get promoted in the way men do. It's about evaluation criteria and unconscious bias.

Vodafone and PwC - both organisations that have recently won awards for advancing women in the workplace - spoke of how they did it - by measuring constantly and rigorously, by holding teams accountable for their actions, by using 'red cards', by addressing each local market separately....and more. (The links will tell you more and my comments are merging some of what each company said so they do not necessarily apply to each)


One of the most interesting presentations was from Lauren Leader- Chivee from New York City's Center for Talent Innovation who encouraged us to think about what constitutes 'executive presence' and the extent to which appearance, composure and credibility are important to get ahead.

Women in the UK often think that their American sisters are somehow 'more confident' or perhaps just 'more strident' - there is a lot to be thought about and learnt from honest conversation. (If you haven't read Sheryl Sandberg's interview w/the FT's Gillian Tett, read it now here if you have access to FT.com).

'Sponsorship' rather than 'mentoring' was the focus here as well - as sponsorship includes two essentials - you have to earn it, and the reputation of the sponsor is on the line.

This was all much headier stuff than we have been used to hearing. I have to tell you here that when Ms Leader-Chivee asked us to think of an example of 'gravitas' - the name 'Roger Carr' sprung simultaneously from many lips (including mine) causing much mirth all around. But there was plenty of serious thinking to be done as well - I , for one, would ditch the word 'gravitas' altogether - I am sure we can do better in 2013.

I have not had time to go through all the excellent detail we were given - as I do, I will share the best of it if I can.But for now, this is what you need to know:

Two new initiatives have been launched by the 30% Club to speed up the pace of change.


1.'Balancing The Pyramid' is a project which will collate  data across companies to measure progress by gender at all career points. It intends to use the study of behavioural differences between men and women with a view to facilitating more gender-intelligent skills development - which sounds like a big project. But it is the 'middle manager ground' in companies where much of the momentum is stuck. It is also going to devise new pre-employment initiatives to encourage young women at the start of their careers and is led by Pavita Cooper of the 30% Club.

16 companies are already involved - make sure you get in touch with the 30% Club.

And while all businesses are urged to think about the value of 'sponsors', a new 30% Club mentoring scheme is also being piloted. Developed in conjunction with Ernst & Young and spearheaded by E&Y partner Joanna Santinon, this new scheme is aimed at enabling hundreds of talented mid-career women to benefit from cross-company mentoring, an opportunity that until now has been reserved for senior executives.

They will be mentored across sector, in order to nip fears of 'poaching' in the bud.

We do need "more emotion, anger and debate"  (as Ms Sandberg tells Gillian Tett) for things to change - and a lot more action by businesses. They need to see it as part and parcel of 'sink or swim' - because it really is.

For more information on 30% Club initiatives these are the people to contact:

Gay Collins, MHP Communications +44 20 3128 8582/07798626282

Toto Reissland-Burghart, MHP Communications + 44 203 128 8100

Jamie Brookes, BNY Mellon +44 20 7163 2146/07769900417

Email: 30percentclubpr@mhpc.com


Categories: Women, Appointments, Measurement