Women on Boards – Let the excuses begin

The interim report from the Hampton Alexander Review caused headlines last week. On explaining why they didn’t have enough female representation on their Boards, the review cited the most commonly heard reasons from FTSE 350 chairs and chief executives:

  • “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”

I would have some sympathy with this if it were presented as a problem that needed solving rather than a reason for non-selection. There is no doubt that the culture and environment of board rooms across the world needs to progress and modernise, but that’s exactly why more diversity is a good thing.

  • “There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex”

Oh my…where to go with this one? It reminds me of a CEO many years ago who, when asked why there were no women on his board replied, “Why? Are the men doing such a bad job?” Words fail me.

  • “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”

This could be true. But how do you know? It certainly isn’t representative of the senior women executives I’ve worked with throughout my career. I’d have sympathy if you’d been repeatedly trying to hire and receiving this feedback, but my guess is that isn’t the case.

  • “Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?”

There is more than one stakeholder group that is important to the good running of a business, and more than that, this is about leadership. Show some leadership.

  • “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”

Then you should probably have more vacancies on your board available to women. Can you imagine this conversation being acceptable in any other forum or part of society?

  • “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”

Whereas there is a plethora of average, middle-aged, white males?  I admit they “might” be harder to find, they might be less forward about coming forward, less likely to self promote in the board environment (I have no evidence to support this, I’m just being generous). But a lack of good women? That’s far from my experience.

  • “We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn”

If there was ever a response that suggested tokenism, then this would probably be the World Cup winner. This probably worries me more than the other responses because it represents such a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

  • “There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman”

If this read, “we haven’t had a vacancy during my tenure” I might be able to get with it. Also, maybe not just think about it, but actively pursue a diverse shortlist. Maybe.

  • “We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector”

Yes, yes you do. But not just that. And board representation should pull on experience from different sectors and different backgrounds to ensure good governance and a diversity of background and opinion. So don’t stop the pipeline, but think about how you could turbocharge it too.

  • “I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to”

No. You could appoint them because they’re the best person for the job.

If you’re interested in finding out more, the full and latest Hampton-Alexander Review is published on 27 June.

Everyone needs a career plan

Most of us are going to spend the vast majority of our lives in work. If you start at 18, you’re probably going to be going for around 50 years. Depressing, isn’t it?

Whilst not everyone wants to be CEO, given the amount of time you’re going to commit to your working life, don’t you think you’d better have a plan? I’m not taking about the, “by the time I’m 30 I want to be xx”, but understanding what you want to be doing, where you want to be doing it and what makes you happy.

It may not always feel like it, but the simple truth  is that you have ultimate control of your career decisions. We all need to pay the bills, we all need to be economically productive, but most of us in work have choices that we often fail to see. (NOTE: NEET, long-term unemployed and areas of low social mobility are topics for another post.)

When I speak to employees who are seriously unhappy at work, more than not I can  track it back to a feeling of being “done to” on one level or another. And when you discuss it further, there is usually a choice or decision that has been overlooked or disregarded. Part of the importance of having a plan is that it puts you in control, it makes you conscious of the work decisions that you are making.

Let’s say you have a new boss that you’re struggling to get on with, you have a choice. You can put effort into building rapport, you can try to adjust your style to adapt. Or you could decide that you just can’t get along and look to move team or leave the business, that’s the ultimate choice. Which route you choose should relate back to your plan. Is the company in the right place for me, am I doing a job I want to do, is this part of a longer term career path?

What often happens when people don’t have a plan is they sit, react and get resentful. They defer responsibility, “I didn’t appoint them”, “they’re an arse”, “things use to be so much better”. And whilst all of these points are probably true, it doesn’t really matter because they are the circumstances you’re in. So what are you going to do with it?

Having a plan gives you forward energy, it gives you control and it makes you beautifully responsible for your own happiness. If we’re going to spend so much time in the workplace, it feels a shame to spend it feeling angry, sad and powerless. So take a little time, reflect and spend it on yourself and ask yourself the question, where do I want to be?

Five simple steps to improve social mobility

I was genuinely saddened by the news this weekend that Alan Milburn and others were resigning from the board of the Social Mobility Commission. I’ve had interactions with this work for the last seven or eight years and I’ve been a big champion of their agenda.

If there is one good thing that comes from this, I hope it is a renewed focus and energy to address the topic. At the Skills Summit last week I was really pleased to hear the Minister for Education Justine Greening make it a central point of her proposals. But talk on its own won’t change a thing.

I personally believe that businesses and employers can do so much more to drive the social mobility agenda forward, without the need for Government to lead the way. So if you’re serious about putting your effort and energy behind change, here’s a few simple steps you can take.

1. Check out the data. There’s a brilliant social mobility map from the Sutton Trust that you can find here and the State of the Nation 2017 report from the Social Mobility Commission (here) to understand the make up of the geographic area in which you operate. Until you understand the problem you’re going to struggle to fix it.

2. Review your approach to new talent. Do you really need a graduate? And if so, do they really need to come from those universities? Are your recruitment processes stuck in the past? Do they really focus on finding the best possible talent? What are your obligations to the communities within which you operate? Quit whingeing and get behind the apprenticeship levy and make it work.

3. Build relationships with local schools and colleges. Providing opportunities isn’t enough, you’ve got to show that the opportunities are really available – and obtainable. Building a long-term commitment to relationships with local education providers helps not only support the education of all, but also can help raise aspiration.

4. Create sustainable careers. Not only in terms of fair pay and benefits, but training opportunities, security of employment and opportunities for progression and advancement. Mobility is exactly that, it isn’t about charity but opportunity. And that opportunity doesn’t stop when you make the hire.

5. Start to measure. Like every other aspect of diversity within the workplace, you need to understand the construct of your workforce and start to target improvements. We’re more familiar with measuring other areas of diversity (and I’d argue more comfortable with asking the question), but there are some good indicators that can be used some of which you can find here.

And of course, if you want to chat about it or think that we can do some work together, you can always give me a shout.

Are you in A job or THE job?

Most of us in our careers will move between jobs and employers. We will spend time in roles that we love and roles that we need to do. The ability to recognise which type of role you’re doing, and why, is critical to being both successful and happy.

You’ll do “a job” for a number of different reasons. It might be necessity – needing to pay the bills put food on the table. It might be development – learning a new skill, getting sector or management experience. Or it might be more personal – the need to stretch or push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Doing a job is fine. It gets you where you need to be at the time that you need to be there, it provides a means to an end – as long as you know the end that you’re after. It only becomes a problem when you forget and confuse it with being “the job” and then it seems to lack something else.

By this I don’t mean that there is one perfect ideal role for all of us. For some that may be the case, for others there will be more than one. It really depends on your career, your drive and your desire. And of course, “the job” may not be a constant state over time – things change.

Working in “the job” has a higher level of fulfilment, it meets your needs on more than a functional level. It could be the people who you’re working with, the fit between your work and home. It might be the ability to do things that you’ve always wanted to do, or work in an industry that you’ve always wanted to be in.

When we look back over our careers, I bet we can all differentiate between the two. Sometimes it is harder to do so in the moment. So if you’re feeling downbeat or ill at ease with your current employment situation, ask yourself – is this a means to an end, or an end in itself? If you can be clear where you’re at, why you’re there and where you’re going next, the whole thing becomes a lot more tenable and clear.