Can women in business make it to the top in today's market? Or do the barriers which have prevented them making it to the c-suite still exist? Marks & Spencer's Chairman Sir Stuart Rose recently claimed that there was no longer a glass ceiling. He believes that: "Apart from the fact that you've got more equality than you ever can deal with, the fact of the matter is that you've got real democracy and there really are no glass ceilings, despite the fact that some of you moan about it all the time." It is certainly true that legislation and changing attitudes have closed the gap between men and women in the workplace considerably, but how does this play out on the board? Are we seeing increasing numbers of women in senior roles? Or is the boardroom the final bastion of male power and dominance in the corporate world?
There are a number of highly successful women CEOs and Chairmen who spring to mind when discussing the issue of women in business. But are these individuals notable in their own right or because they are an exception to the long-standing stereotype that members of the executive and non-executive board are male? Penny Hamer, former Group HR Director, Energis and Associate, Criticaleye believes that there is still a glass ceiling but that women are often complicit in its construction. She says that women: "tend to be risk averse, fail to delegate effectively and will only put themselves forward for promotion when they know they can do all of the job, unlike men who are much more prepared to wing it. It could be said that women select themselves out."
The statistics speak for themselves. According to Mary Jo Jacobi, one of Her Majesty's Civil Service Commissioners and Associate, Criticaleye, less than 15 per cent of non-executive directorships are held by women, a figure that goes down to 11 per cent in FTSE100 companies. "There's a large pool of talent out there, now what we need are company chairmen to sit up and take notice," says Mary Jo. "It isn't easy for women or men to get onto large corporate boards which look not only for excellent candidates with top qualifications but relevant, preferably board, experience. After Enron, finance and audit expertise have become essential for potential directors and I would hope, after the recent financial debacle, boards will be looking for a working understanding of reputation, brand and crisis management."
What seems clear is that while the glass ceiling no longer exists in the way it used to, there are still barriers for women who want to get to board level. Chris Parke, Managing Director, Talking Talent explains: "Today there is far less overt and explicit bias against the promotion of women to more senior levels. The barriers are more subtle and unconcious. I think that organisations have more systematic barriers that exist below the surface. Can women make it onto boards, yes absolutely, they belong there too - look at the successes in Norway."
Alison Carnwath, Chairman, Land Securities reiterates Chris' sentiments. She says: "Women can certainly make it on to boards and there is more interest than ever from nomination committees and candidates. There remains a perception that there are barriers but I do not think that these barriers are real anymore."
To help women looking for senior roles increase their chances of board positions and overcome percieved barriers, we've asked experts from across the Criticaleye Community to give their top tips for aspiring women in business. Below are some of the points they raised:
- Become known for your expertise, your competence and your integrity: it's important to manage your own PR and personal brand
- Take risks: women in business are not going to make it to the top unless they consistently push their boundaries
- Get to know executive search consultants and make your interests and qualifications known
- Delegate as much as possible: it's important not to get submerged in detail so that you can see the bigger picture
- Find yourself some great role models, mentors and sponsors for your career: you always need more than you think
As always, we have some great Insights on the issues discussed in today's newsletter. In Route to the Top: What does it take for women to get on to FTSE100 boards? by Dr Elisabeth Marx, she profiles typical FTSE100 female board members and offers recommendations to female executives on how to achieve board positions. And Women in the Boardroom: The Risks of Being at the Top looks at the growth of successful small businesses owned by women clearly demonstrating the talent being missed out on by corporate boards.
Please contact me directly if you would like to discuss any of the topics raised in today's newsletter.