Celebrating women in governance

Yesterday we marked International Women’s Day with a webinar ‘Celebrating women in governance – beyond the glass ceiling’. Our panelists shared their thoughts and experiences of working with the board and more.

Yesterday we marked International Women’s Day with a webinar ‘Celebrating women in governance – beyond the glass ceiling’. We had a fascinating panel of women from across the governance sphere sharing their thoughts and experiences of working with the board and their ideas for achieving greater gender parity and overall diversity.

Victoria Penrice, President of The Chartered Governance Institute, who hosted the webinar, was joined by

  • Fiona Chalk, National Head of Governance Development at The Education and Training Foundation; Founder of Governance4fe and The Chartered Governance Institute’s Governance Champion of the Year 2020
  • Genevieve Leveille, Principal Founder and CEO of AgriLedger
  • Precious Sithole, CEO, Social Practice ENT & Academy
  • Juwon Osundina, Deputy Company Secretary at RPMI & RPMI Railpen
  • Francesca Fossey, Fund Services Client Company Secretary, TMF Group Fund Services (Guernsey) Limited and joint winner of The Chartered Governance Institute’s One to Watch Award 2020.

Coming on a day when the Financial Times reported that just one in ten recently appointed leaders at large companies was female, the #ChooseToChallenge theme of this year’s IWD seemed particularly apt. Women hold the greatest spend per household and research has proven that diversity improves organisational performance, so one must indeed question why companies are still failing to recruit more women for the top jobs.

The overarching message from the panellists was that awareness and education are part of the continuing challenge to achieving gender parity. Awareness and getting women to understand that they are good enough.

Boardroom behaviour has a crucial role to play in nurturing the type of boards women want to be part of. Governance has a strong role to play to shape the direction and metrics of the company from the top. Its supports creating the type of board women want to be part of. Fairness and respect are traits that are attractive to women and this can run contrary to the behaviour sometimes witnessed in the boardroom. Collective behaviour has a huge impact on board performance, far more so than the individual capabilities of directors. COVID-19 has shown the value of compassion and empathy and being tough on the topic, not the individual, is something that all boards should aspire to. Challenge is, after all, the best way for boards to be truly effective.

It was clear from our panellists that having good role models helps to set the aspiration of those in the earlier stages of their career. They all had examples of managers or role models who had inspired them, be that by allowing them the room and space for their views to be heard or by being authentic. We are often told that women suffer from Imposter Syndrome, but the solution lies not in ‘fixing’ women, but in fixing the place where they work. Women should not have to hold themselves up to a male template. Rather organisations should create an environment that fosters a variety of styles of leader.

It is important to remember that women are not a homogenous group. Intersectional complexity needs to be considered, and organisations need to be truly inclusive so that people can bring their whole selves to work. You need intention and a road map to enforce change. Goodwill is not enough.

Allyship is important as change will work best in a culture where everyone will thrive. It must be accompanied by a genuine commitment to champion women amongst senior leaders. . Having structured mentoring and training programmes in place helps to nurture the pipeline. Succession planning is also crucial. Similarly, recruitment agencies have an important role to play in targeting certain parts of society rather than waiting for candidates to come to them.

It was inspiring to hear one of our young panellists urge other women not to set their aspirations on what has gone before but rather to be themselves and not be afraid to carve out their own path for fear of being hindered. Organisations must take the time to understand how they become inclusive in a viable and consumable way. Otherwise, they are doing a disservice not just to society but to themselves as well.

Top tips from the panellists:

  • Know yourself and how you can position yourself and your value
  • Understand how to get through to people and don’t take things personally when your views are challenged
  • Find a mentor you feel comfortable with and be clear and intentional about what you want to get out of the relationship.

Maria Brookes, Media Relations Manager, The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland

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