Women in Leadership: Making a difference with catalytic male female collaboration
2nd March 2012
BIE’s latest forum was led by Full Potential Group’s John Blakey and Carole Gaskell on Friday 2nd March at One Aldwych where senior business leaders and HR professionals were invited to join the debate as to why there are not more women at senior levels in organisations and on their Boards – the Women in Boards February 2011 UK government report stated that women constituted only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. Attendees agreed some of the key challenges included:
- A shortage of women at senior management levels with the right skills and experience
- Is the Board an appealing place for women (or male) executives?
- Are many leadership teams dominated by an entrenched ‘male’ culture?
- Are women too self-critical and lack the confidence or desire to promote themselves and network their way into the ‘corporate board’ environment?
All agreed that the key question every organisation must address is how best to capitalise on the intrinsic benefits that male-female collaboration can bring to business performance which means concentrating on three critical issues: the need to evolve a collaborative corporate culture that actively champions male- female collaboration, encouraging women to believe that a senior appointment is ‘worth it’ and redefining what success means for men in the evolving corporate world.
The Corporate Context and Business Case for Women Leaders
Carole Gaskell, CEO, and John Blakey, Non-Executive Director, from Full Potential Group, chaired the discussion on ‘Women in Leadership’ and why, at this pivotal point in business evolution, women have a critical part to play as transformational catalysts for business growth.
A Catalyst report ‘The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards’ clearly underlines that companies with more women on their boards are found to out-perform their rivals. The February 2011 UK government report ‘Women in Boards’ referenced this survey, stating that ‘companies with more women on their boards were found to out-perform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity’.
However a March 2012 report from Mercer3 underlined the following findings in a recent European study:
- Women executives’ pay lags male counterparts across Europe
- The pay disparity for female executives is greatest in Germany (22%)
- Men receive higher base salaries and bonus payments
- Women comprise less than one third of the executive workforce
The European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, has also called for European countries to set themselves a target of women comprising 30% of board members by 2015, and 40% by 2020, following the success of quotas in countries such as Norway and Finland. However, the UK government is favouring a more voluntary approach, with Business Secretary Vince Cable saying the government was “already working with businesses to increase the number of women at senior levels, rather than imposing government quotas.”
“Board appointments must always be made on merit, with the best qualified person getting the job. But, given the long record of women achieving the highest qualifications and leadership positions in many walks of life, the poor representation of women on boards, relative to their male counterparts, has raised questions about whether board recruitment is in practice based on skills, experience and performance.” Lord Davies of Abersoch, CBE, Women on Boards February 2011
The Challenges for Women … and for Men
Carole opened the roundtable discussion stating that the challenge for everyone was to understand how best to harness the collective power of male-female leadership to drive the business success and cultural shifts needed for 2012 and beyond. The role of women’s representation in executive roles is no longer one focusing on equality and fairness but much more the ‘value that their presence brings to the upper echelons of organisations: more innovation and better decision-making, a better reflection of a company’s inclusive values and better representation of the customer base.’
To stimulate the debate, Carole invited attendees to consider two questions and a summary of the viewpoints are listed below:
- Why in your opinion are there not more women on boards?
- How is your organisation approaching women’s succession?
- Is there a shortage of women at senior management levels with the right skills and experience?
Several attendees underlined the fact that there are insufficient numbers of women in the ‘pipeline’ with the right skills and experience required for board level roles. The number of women applicants applying for senior executive roles continues to be significantly lower than the male equivalent. However recruitment consultants can play an important role in shortlisting candidates and some will tend to put forward ‘safe’ candidates – one attendee describing a preference amongst UK companies for “male, pale and stale” applicants. The current challenging economic climate has also resulted in an abundance of candidates for roles and there being enough ‘safe’ candidates to avoid the need to consider more ‘risky’, less tried and tested female applicants.
- Is the Board an appealing place for women executives?
Despite huge advances in flexible working and moves towards a more family-friendly workplace, many women are choosing to leave the corporate world at middle to senior management levels. One attendee stated that many women are “just not interested in the roles. They do not like some of the aspects of the senior roles or what is expected of them to get there. There is not enough inherent satisfaction in the role to make the compromises.”
- Are many leadership teams dominated by an entrenched ‘male’ culture?
Some male business leaders recognise the intellectual value women bring but culturally the organisation is not ready to embrace female leadership. In such a ‘male’ environment, women can find it difficult to succeed, particularly when trying to balance family and corporate life. As Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”. The result has unfortunately been that many women contract out of corporate life and prefer to follow other career paths such as self-employment – one attendee posed the question as to whether women are self-selecting themselves out of corporate life or whether the business is pushing them out?.
- Are women too hard on themselves?
Women can also be very self-critical, judging their own abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than men do. Some female executives are against quotas as they want to be selected on merit rather than just to reach company targets whereas men have a tendency to be more confident and happier to take advantage of situations without questioning their own ability. The fundamental question has to be why we are seeing such differences between the sexes and how this can be addressed? One attendee also highlighted that a greater focus is needed at the ‘junior management’ level, recognising that women do network in different ways to men and companies should consider identifying talent earlier and assisting ‘junior’ women in gaining greater visibility across the company.
• The role of men and attitudes to corporate life?
John then introduced a new question into the debate – did attendees feel that there was a general change in attitudes to corporate life and, moreover, were more men starting to find the corporate world less engaging and motivating and therefore questioning whether the family-life sacrifice was really worth it? The view from attendees was that yes, attitudes were changing but, in sharp contrast, the realities of meeting short-term shareholder demands still dominated business operations above and beyond more personal needs. Leaders are still very much selected and judged for the ‘commercial’ value they bring to the organisation over and above the softer ‘personality’ skills they might bring.
The recent recession has clearly underlined the dangers of ‘naked capitalism’ with several huge corporations allowing the ‘macho-behaviour’ of certain leaders to take the company to financial ruin.
There is undoubtedly a greater awareness of the need for change in corporate leadership circles but attendees questioned whether the pressure for short-term shareholder returns was inhibiting advances and preventing the move towards a more open, honest, authentic leadership style. The current changes in global economic cycles and financial power bases suggests that the future leadership agenda will be driven by Asians not Europeans, introducing a whole new array of cultural and leadership perspectives into the future leadership equation.
- “A leader is nothing without their team”
Success at Board level for any individual, whether male or female, does require the full support of the CEO and their team. Simply fast-tracking a woman to meet quota guidelines without addressing the company culture and the ‘team-workings’ within the Board members will result in failure. The focus needs to be on behaviours and building a fruitful, innovative, open and honest team rather than purely looking at gender or race. A truly effective team requires a leader who can foster an environment based on trust and respect amidst the never-ending pressure to reach financial targets and deliver shareholder returns.
- A new model is needed for collaborative, yet catalytic leadership
As a means to assess different leadership styles, John introduced the concept of the integrated brain model which involves the use of a ‘multi-brain’ perspective as a model for catalytic leadership, suggesting that any successful leader, male or female, will need to be able to integrate all three ‘brains’ (Thinking, Heart and Infinite) to achieve the long-term results and growth they desire. A strong leader will move across the three brains and use all three levels holistically as appropriate to the situation.
One of the keys for any individual in the process of realising catalytic leadership is to hone the Thinking Brain and know and understand themselves. Effective leaders need the ability to ask themselves strong questions and to be very clear and confident on precisely what their strengths are and the value of their contribution to the organisation. On a Heart Brain level, personal values and needs come into play, involving attitudes and beliefs which are fundamental to who a person is. In addressing personal challenges, leaders need to notice the areas they keep resisting, where they feel uncomfortable and what fears they need to face. It is by drawing confidence from their strengths that individuals develop the self-belief to assertively tackle these challenges. The Infinite Brain is the hardest brain to quantify in that it requires leaders to connect to their intuition, ‘gut feelings’ and their purpose. The Infinite Brain capabilities require a leader to demonstrate vision, meaning and purpose, imagination, creativity, faith, storytelling abilities, humour and humility.
The Opportunities for Business Growth and Collaboration
Another new survey released this month by Inspire, the business network for senior board level women, supported by Harvey Nash, confirmed that most executives believe that hiring more women into board positions brings more emotional intelligence to the top table. The survey of over 300 executives found that 64% believe that women bring a greater level of emotional intelligence (EI) to the board, exhibiting greater empathy and understanding as well as higher level communication skills. An even greater majority, 92%, supported the statement that women can bring new and different perspectives to board-level decision making, such as a different approach to risk or greater pragmatism.
“At a time when companies are desperately seeking new ways to create revenue streams through innovation and entering new markets, the need for creative thinking and cultural understanding of customers and staff has never been greater. This survey shows that companies bringing on women onto boards can be one way they achieve great board emotional intelligence, and in turn better board effectiveness. But whilst the survey shows greater board EI is an overwhelmingly positive thing, it also shows that it can make boards operate differently. Boards must recognise that becoming diverse is more than just a change in their make up; it can often create a change in their approach altogether.” Carol Rosati, Co-Founder of Inspire and Director of Harvey Nash
The value women can bring to corporate leadership teams has been clearly demonstrated by the numerous surveys referenced above and yet attendees all agreed that despite many of their leadership teams recognising this fact, progress was indeed slow. The only exception cited by attendees was Scandinavia, where the introduction of a gender quota for board members has resulted in Norway having women on 37.9% of boards in 2010, Sweden 28.2% and Finland 25.9%.
However as this article was completed, Lord Davies and his review panel published the first annual progress report7 on his review of last year’s Women on Boards report February 2011, with some encouraging results. They reported a ‘growing recognition’ of the benefits gained by business, the economy and society by appointing more women to decision-making roles and an ‘unprecedented pace of change’
seen in the make-up of UK boardrooms. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of women directors had effectively plateaued, stalling at less than a single percentage point rise year-on-year. However, in the twelve months since Lord Davies’s February 2011 report was published, the largest-ever annual increase in the percentage of women on boards has been recorded:
- Within the FTSE 100, women now account for 15.6% of all directorships, up from 12.5%, and 47 female appointments have been made since publication of the ‘Women on Boards’ report last February. 27% of all board appointments have been taken up by women, up from 13% and just 11 all-male boards remain, down from 21.
- Within the FTSE 250, women account for 9.6% of all directorships, up from 7.8% and 26% of all board appointments have been taken by women. For the first time ever, all-male boards are in the minority, 112 companies, or 44.8%, down from 52.4% and 53 female appointments have been made since the publication of the ‘Women on Boards’ report in February 2011.
In summary, Lord Davies said, “I believe that we are finally seeing a culture change taking place right at the very heart of British business in relation to how women are seen within the workforce.” However, commenting on the report Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management, said: “While the continued focus and debate on the number of women in senior positions is a step forward, there needs to be a similar focus at every level of management to address the issue at the heart of the problem – the lack of an effective pipeline for female talent.”
At Full Potential Group, we believe it is still too early to talk of a genuine culture change regarding how feminine values and behaviours are regarded in business. As Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.” The real work will start once we have achieved the goals set out in Lord Davies’ report and we can then focus on using the best of both male and female contributions to foster a boardroom culture that is genuinely collaborative across all the diverse stakeholders who demand a stake in 21st century business affairs.
The key fundamental issues all board leaders need to address in their organisations is how to evolve a collaborative corporate culture that actively champions male-female collaboration and fosters new approaches to growth, innovation, risk, decision-making, leadership and customer insight. This collaborative culture must focus on women coming to believe that a senior appointment is ‘worth it’, reframing belief and mindset around what it takes to lead, contribute and deliver at board level while, in parallel, redefining what success means for men in the evolving corporate world.