A Royal Invitation To Men In Business: Lead The Change By Sponsoring Women For Executive Roles
The message is coming across loud and clear. The UK government is dead serious about changing the gender balance at the top of British business, and it has royal backing.
At the first dinner of its kind last night, hosted by the Duke of York, the government-backed Women's Business Council brought together influential men from across industry to encourage them to personally sponsor between one and three women in their organisations with the potential to secure an executive role within three years. They have been asked to #leadthechange by championing the challenge set by the 2016 government-backed Hampton-Alexander Review, that 33% of executive level and senior business leaders are women by 2020.
The event at St James's Palace, a dinner for 90 business leaders which I was lucky enough to attend, was marked by strong words and a determination to take action. Only 29% of FTSE 100 board members are female, and only 13 CEOs and 21 Chairs in the FTSE 350 are women. But a recent report shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.
"We cannot afford to ignore the abilities of 50% of the population....it's a matter of identifying potential and saying 'let's give you a little bit more' and trust you. Fundamentally, it requires people...to think about their business needs and find ways of re-investing in people" said the Duke of York.
"Why is it that women have not been included?" he asked. In the 21st century, he suggested, it should not make "one jot of difference" if you are male or female if you could be just right for a particular role.
Mckinsey estimates that if women had the same role in labour markets as men, up to an estimated $28 trillion (26%) could be added to global GDP. By 2025, the year for the prediction, their Global Institute research also estimates that bridging the UK gender gap in work could add £150 billion to the UK economy.
Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities, used an apocryphal and humorous anecdote In her speech last night to make a point around gender differences. When a woman rents a car and takes receipt of it, she said, she checks the wheels, the side mirror, the tyres....whereas a man grabs the keys and drives off. It appeared to resonate with those attending, and was part of a common theme on gender differences as both a positive and an energising mix that contributes to better run businesses.
"The fortunes of mankind depend upon the inclusion of womankind. Without enabling women to reach their full potential and to lead our organisations and institutions, we will not be able to meet the challenges of our time" said the Minister.
Last night's event was part of the Men As Change Agents (MACA) initiative of the Women's Business Council, whose co-heads are Emer Timmons and Denis Woulfe. "If we are going to escalate more women in leadership positions, we need sponsorship. More action, and less talk. That person (the sponsor) will be your advocate and fight for you" said Emer Timmons in her speech.
The UK Goverment Equalities Office - with its name emblazoned on the goodie bags for guests pictured above - last month published a new 'What Works' guidance for companies to help them improve the recruitment and progression of women and close their gender pay gap. The guidance, including details of all of the research evidence, has been published on the gender pay gap website.
The advice to employers includes recommendations to assess candidates based on actual tasks they would be expected to perform in their role and make interviews more structured to avoid unfair bias creeping in, encourage salary negotiation by showing salary ranges, as women are currently less likely to negotiate their pay than men. and introduce transparency to pay, promotion and reward processes.
There is also a toolkit sharing ideas for business leaders to help encourage women's progression in the workplace.
At the end of the day, there is no argument in the world for ignoring female talent that makes sense. Or any talent, for that matter, in challenging times. For more on that, please read my latest Governance Watch for a boardroom consultancy and do browse both Board Talk and my first DIY website which was in urgent need of digital transformation. It has a great many (paywall free shhhh) interviews for the Financial Times with the great and the good - CEOs and Chairs - who I personally know support this initiative.
Sir Philip Hampton, Chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review, was one of them. He was Chair of RBS when he gave my returners career a real momentum by agreeing to let me interview him for the FT on his personal and professional career path.
Here is his persuasive video for MACA, which I independently found online and have shared previously on social media.
Photo credit: fstopstills.com