By Sharron Gunn, ICAEW Executive Director, Commercial
Yesterday’s reshuffle is being hailed as David Cameron’s attempt to make his cabinet less male, less pale – and more female. But attention on the rise, or lack of, female leaders isn’t just reserved for front-line politics, but for businesses too.
When the financial crisis hit and bank failures and bail-outs dominated the headlines, there was a widespread call for change. Leadership was at its heart and changing its look was part of ‘doing something different’. Company shortcomings were suddenly linked to a lack of diversity in their board membership. But it’s not just about women. Diversity in an organisation’s leadership is about helping people to excel in their careers regardless of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity, social background or sexuality.
In 2011, the Government set out a target for 25 per cent of board posts to be occupied by women. If we fast forward to now, companies are making some headway to meeting this target. The proportion of women on FTSE100 boards topped 20 per cent for the first time in January 2014, up from an abysmal 12.5 per cent. This month I also had the pleasure of being part of the Women in the City Future Leaders Award, and I was thrilled to see a record number of talented women being nominated.
Why does it matter?
While we are moving in the right direction, businesses can’t afford to be complacent.
The lack of diversity raises doubts about business effectiveness
Where boards have people who ‘look the same’, it raises questions about its ability to ‘think outside of the box’. Diverse boards better represent the society and customer base they serve.
We trust diverse boards
Diversity can help to reflect the ethos of a company that supports equal opportunity. Having a diverse board can help to win customer trust and strengthen the understanding of a business.
Ultimately we think boards should set and assess their own diversity objectives. We look at the principal drivers of diversity in our recent paper, How Diverse Should Boards Be?
We believe in supporting businesses to identify and nurture their female talent
We’ve signed up to Think, Act, Report a Government initiative which aims to boost the pipeline of women into senior posts and to increase the number of women on boards. We also raise aspiration and leadership skills with our career development programmes. I meet inspiring female leaders at our Women in Leadership programmes, Return to Work activities, Women on Boards events and the Financial Talent Executive Network (F-TEN).
What’s more, we continue to support the Women in the City Future Leaders Award, which champions women who, at a relatively young age, make a contribution beyond their functional, technical or specialist area.
Ultimately we promote that women must take action: If your company does not support your development, you should pursue development opportunities outside your job. Training with your professional body, non-executive, trustee or other leadership roles and networking opportunities can all help prepare you for your next move. Returning from a career break? Work with your professional body during or after a career break so you feel your technical skills are up-to-date.
Through these types of initiatives we will continue to support and champion exceptional women who can inspire and act as role models to others, helping to redress the low numbers of women in senior roles.
With that in mind we’d urge as many women as possible to get involved in these types of programmes and encourage other organisations to follow suit and actively participate in the development of their female talent.
Learn more about our next Women in Leadership event.