Last week I met Sarah Day who is the head of Finance and Projects group at DLA Piper, Leeds which has been providing legal services for over 200 years. I asked her what helped her to become the first female Managing Partner and elected member of DLA Piper’s International LLB Board.
Her response was that she was brought up with the belief that you can achieve anything regardless of gender. And that a strong and supportive network enables her to do what she does. Her passion and enthusiasm for her work was clearly evident.
Why aren’t there more women in senior positions?
Barriers to getting to the top include: the male dominated culture and attitude at senior level, those who have children may get stuck if they returned part-time and can’t see a route for advancement, whilst some will chose a less senior role to give a better balance (Women Matter: Making the Breakthrough McKinsey 2012)
Similarly more men in senior roles and their attitudes, lack of flexible working opportunities, culture and lack of female role models are cited as barriers to women progressing ( Women in Banking 2012 ILM report) An earlier study also cited maternity and childcare-related issues, low confidence and career aspirations in women progressing (Ambition and Gender at Work, ILM 2011). The latter is supported by a study which showed that among young women who have entered the workforce in the UK only half believe that they will rise to the top with their current employer as compared to 73% of males (PwC 2012)
Balancing work and family responsibilities, childcare and lack of senior or visibly successful female role model are cited as contributory factors (What Holds Women Back? ) together with and long hours and hard work ( Accenture 2011)
The business case for women in senior management
It seems surprising that as women make up half the population and are as talented and qualified as men that there needs to be a business case. Women add emotional intelligence, bring new and different perspectives to board level decision (Harvey Nash 2012) leading to new ideas.
Companies with a significant number of women in senior management experienced better financial performance (Women Matter, McKinsey & Company, 2007, Catalyst 2007) are more profitable than their peers in terms of returns on assets and investment (The Conference Board of Canada, May 2002) and have a more objective, active boards with greater participation in decision-making and stronger management oversight (Adams and Ferreira 2009)
Getting more women on boards
Globally, the proportion of women in senior management has fallen from 24% in 2009 to 20% (Grant Thornton International Business Report 2011). In 2003, a 40% gender quota was introduced in Norway, helping to boost the percentage of women in boardrooms from 7% in 2003 to 44% in 2008 ( Hoel 2008) with countries such as Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain adopting similar approaches.
In the UK, at the current rate of change it will take over 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms. Lord Davies recommended that companies should aim for their boards to be 25% female by 2015. At the end of February 2011, Cranfield found that the proportion of female directors on FTSE 100 company boards had risen to 15% and predicted that this could rise to 27% by 2015 if the changes continue.
Progress continues to be slow with 63 % of companies having at least 20% of different initiatives in place as part of their gender diversity programme (Women Matter: Making the Breakthrough McKinsey 2012). At current rate of improvement, women will account for under 20% of seats on Europe’s executives committees 10 years from now (Women Matter: Making the Breakthrough McKinsey 2012).
Do women want the top jobs?
Senior roles involve long and unsocial hours and extensive travel and often come at a time in a woman’s life when she is having children or bringing up a young family. Juggling the demands of work, family and other commitments means that women are often pulled in multiple conflicting directions all at once. It’s a time when women are faced with and will have to make some tough decisions. The dilemmas of being a working mother is captured by Janine di Giovanni .
In her controversial report, Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: flawed thinking behind calls for further equality legislation, Catherine Hakim writes, ‘In Britain half of all women in senior positions are child-free, and a lot more of them have nominal families with a single child and they subcontract out the work of caring for them to other women.’ She calls on ministers to drop policies pushing for flexible working hours, more time off for fathers, and more places for women on company boards and concludes that the battle for equality is over and any pay gap is down to women’s lifestyle choices. Success in business whether you are male or female depends on commitment to work and the willingness to put in long hours.
I don’t believe that it is as black and white as that. Women do have better opportunities and choices. Some may chose to stay and home and bring up baby, some may chose to juggle family with work and some may chose not have children or when do have a network that supports them so that they can continue to progress their careers. Using one’s values, purpose, passions, and priorities can help when making choices and to give reassurance that the correct choice was made at the time.
Getting to the top is not for everyone. It requires a strong desire and will to be there, effective leadership, resilience, stamina and good networks. Those who chose to go there, can be seen as cultural change agents paving the way for future generations.
What’s your take on this? Love to hear from the men out there.
What’s your experience of being a working mother? What choices did you make?
Hoel, M. (2008). The quota story: five years of change in Norway. Women on Corporate Boards of Directors: International Research and Practice, Eds. S. Vinnicombe, V. Singh, R. Burke, D. Bilimoria, & M. Huse : Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.