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Inequality rules UK

In 2010, the PWC survey shows that 44 percent of men believe that equality now exists and only 11 percent of men think that women are good leaders. Leadership coach and consultant Rosemary Cooper-Clark asks, as first decade in the 21st century comes to a close, just what is the gender agenda?

During the Equality Act’s development, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) revised the governance standards for listed companies. They updated the UK Corporate governance Code in May 2010. The “Code” retains its trademark of “comply or explain”. Now, Boards should consider the importance of diversity and gender balance in appointments. FTSE 350 companies should also have externally-facilitated Board reviews at least every three years. Furthermore the Government wants the Boards of public sector organisations gender-balanced by the end of their current term.  So, is there an issue?

In the 2004 the HRG/ILM survey, most male managers felt that more female leaders would not have any effect on their organisation’s performance. In 2009, Stuart Rose claimed that the “glass ceiling” had been smashed. In 2010, the PWC survey shows that 44 percent of men believe that equality now exists and only 11 percent of men think that women are good leaders.

Hudson, a global professional services firm’s research of executives, 152 women and 439 men, found that all leaders demonstrate more masculine characteristics. Women having altruism and openness traits, tend to be more people-orientated and score higher on “conscientiousness”, which correlates to effectiveness and job performance. However, they tend to “dampen” these to become leaders. Despite proving better business performance with senior women leadership, women remain a small percent of leaders in every sector.

Is the evidence being ignored, or just not getting through?

Leaders respond to the question:

Chris Parry founder of the leadership development consultancy, Centre for High Performance Development (CHPD, believes that top management “get it” but middle-management is less aware. She receives gender-specific responses when she questions a Board’s gender balance. Women cite personal confidence and political awareness for themselves and a lack of role models, mentors and family-friendly policies from their organisations. Men believe that women’s need for a better work/life balance and a lack of experience holds them back.

Enterprising Women’s founder Bev Hurley, winner of the ‘Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion’, supports women entrepreneurs in developing their own businesses. Bev sees many corporate women leaving because of non-progression. Their main reason for change is a desire to control their destiny. Less status but running your own business still offers recognition and immense job satisfaction.  

Adrian Livesley. Managing Partner at solicitors Birkett Long LLP, experiences gender balance at home with his working wife, two girls and two boys, and at work. Birkett Long has women in senior management and Partnership roles. Adrian recognises style differences. Some women are less confident and need more support for presentations or networking. He also highlights an opportunity for women to impress in the “herd” of dark-suited men.  Adrian feels that checking is unnecessary if everyone practices an open and inclusive style and he sometimes feels frustration at the Government’s eagerness to “tell us what to do”.

Sarah Nancollas heads up LEPRA Health in Action, a medical development charity fighting diseases of poverty in Asia, south east Africa and Latin America. Gender issues also affect LEPRA’s work, as rural and tribal women are often disadvantaged in accessing health services.  Sarah was the only female Shift Controller of 650 men at Blue Circle where she learnt the value of using empathy to motivate the workforce.  Although opportunities for women to stand out are greater, so is the risk, should they make a mistake.

What is needed to speed up women’s appointment into leadership roles?

Sarah feels that gender balance is not the issue. Leadership development must recognise and be tailored towards differences. Senior management’s duty is to create mechanisms to help everyone, male or female, realise their potential.  Everyone needs to be equally empowered but may need different support structures to get there.

Chris Parry provides three keys.

1. Strategy.  Female high potentials should understand the rules of engagement and how to apply them, whilst staying true to themselves.
2. Any male-dominated culture should be addressed through good dialogue in mixed gender groups.
3. Organisational processes have to be reviewed against leadership best practice, not just for fairness but good quality leadership.

Bev Hurley says that to succeed, women need to network, find a mentor and become politically astute, accepting that, in the corporate world, they have to influence decision makers until they become one themselves. Progress is slow and more could be done, by women themselves, their organisations and through awards, programmes and guidelines. Jane Merrimen comments in the CEO Business Women’s Club. “Gender balance is a business issue, not an issue women must “solve”. In this, the UK Corporate Governance Code surely helps.

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