Our latest Business Brain event in London brought together senior female executives in a roundtable discussion about the promotion of female leaders. Drawing on their expertise in the fields of financial services, public sector, law and luxury fashion, the event explored topics such as unconscious bias, organisational change and the path to senior leadership.
The event was facilitated by Kirsty Reynolds who, following a successful banking career with Citi, UBS and Deutsche Bank in both London and Paris, now heads up Templar’s female communication and leadership initiatives.
“We must raise both the ceiling and the floor”” ― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
According to various reports, a skills-based recruitment approach will level the playing field by allowing women to be in contention for more leadership roles. Much of the inequality we see could be rectified if more companies and institutions recruited employees based on skills rather than experience.
This approach is also more future-proof for assessing true suitability for a role: children born today will live to be over 100 with a longer working life and, consequently, an ever-more dated list of academic and career achievements. What becomes increasingly important is an individual’s ability to learn – their ‘learnability’ – and their core skills, such as communication skills and a strategic mindset.
Carving your own path
Business Brain panel member, Natalie Ceeney CBE, who leads a strategy consulting firm (Iceni Associates LLP) and has formerly held three CEO positions at The National Archives, The Financial Ombudsman Service and HM Courts and Tribunals Services, explained: “I’ve never consciously hired women because they’re women but rather I’ve hired the best people – I’ve always hired based on skills rather than experience.”
“What I’ve seen many women do – and what I’ve done is my own career – is to find environments that allow them to thrive, with bosses who are supportive. It’s therefore not surprising that many successful senior women have moved industries, taken lateral steps and forged more unusual career paths.”
“This does mean, though, that if a head-hunter or manager just looks for a classical, linear progression within an industry, it’s often the women who won’t ‘fit’, despite the fact that those women often bring extra experience and a new perspective.”
“Companies who want to improve their diversity need to ask themselves ‘are you looking for people who have ticked every box on a predefined experience set or are you looking for skills, talent and potential’? The talent is there, you’ve just got to look for it. ”
Expanding on the changing landscape of the hiring process, Gena Smith, who is the Senior Vice President of HR and Head of Global Executive & Creative Recruitment for LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), said: “Having been a headhunter for 15 years, the role of the headhunter is to mitigate risks for the client, so that’s why ticking the boxes becomes the criteria.”
“But I don’t think it’s the right strategy. There’s much more to assess than skills and competencies such as personal characteristics that could define future success. The bigger issue is how do organisations think differently about how to access talent.”
Women in finance
It was announced last month that the government-backed Women in Finance Charter has been adopted by 122 companies, representing a total of half of those working in the financial services sector. The charter was published by the Treasury in March 2016 with the aim of getting more women into senior roles in the City. The charter gets companies to commit to hard targets for promoting women and publish how they progress.
“The Charter reflects the government’s aspiration to see gender balance at all levels across financial services firms. A balanced workforce is good for business – it is good for customers, for profitability and workplace culture, and is increasingly attractive for investors.” – HM Treasury
In a statement, Commercial Secretary Baroness Neville-Rolfe, said: “I know how difficult it can be for a woman to get the recognition she deserves and achieve her potential. And in financial services particularly, women progress too slowly or they leave the sector completely.”
Kirsty Reynolds explains why it is important to support women and invest in their development throughout their career: “Effectively developing the female talent pool in an institution requires, in the first instance, a recognition that women often operate differently in the same environment and experience different hurdles on their path to success. Research has shown that the institutions which are most successful in achieving gender diversity have done so by providing specialised and focused training for women.”
The way forward
Besides initiatives such as these, there’s still an onus on all organisations to make culture and policy changes. After all, the evidence continues to show that more diverse organisations perform better and attract more top talent so there is a commercial reason for everyone to engage on this topic.
Another panellist, Mikki Mahan, Global Head of Communications for law firm White & Case, recently helped the firm’s Global Women’s Initiative articulate their key messages, aimed at recruiting, retaining and advancing talented women. She believes organisations need to change if they want to see more women advance into senior leadership roles.
“Businesses manage to objectives. Without some sort of target, you’re not going to be able to measure progress. If you’re not making progress, it’s an opportunity to take a look at what’s not working and fix it. There’s a lot that organisations can do to level the playing field.”
She added that women “need to take ownership of their careers and balance being successful today with building a better future.”
At Templar, we work with talent managers and business leaders on female leadership, development and diversity initiatives, as well as advising women on presentations, pitches and other spoken communication challenges. Whilst female executives undeniably face many of the same fundamental challenges as their male colleagues when it comes to spoken communication, leadership skills and career development, the right approach and practical skills needed to overcome those challenges is often gender-specific.