Challenging the Status Quo: Women in Leadership

When a female-focussed Government reshuffle and the Church of England’s breakthrough on women bishops dominate the headlines in the same week, you might be forgiven for thinking that the glass ceiling has been smashed to smithereens.

More women sit on the boards of FTSE 100 companies than ever before and Mervyn Davies - the man charged by the Government to bring equality to the boardroom - is confident we’ll meet the target of having women in a quarter of board positions by 2015.

But dig a bit deeper and the story has less of a fairy-tale ending. The vast majority of the women on those FTSE 100 boards are non-executive directors, rather than power-wielding CEOs or financial directors. Not one of them has equal numbers of men and women on the board. And in FTSE 250 companies, one in five boards do not have a single woman on them.

A Political Stance

Prime minister David Cameron made sure it was the women who got the flashbulbs popping in his recent reshuffle - but in fact, out of 33 people attending cabinet meetings, there are still only six females.

So why did he go to such lengths to be seen as female-friendly and why are those agenda-setting FTSE 100 companies so keen to boost the careers of their senior women?

Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management, said: ‘This has moved away from being politically correct, this is a move to being regarded as good business sense.’

Research published recently in the Harvard Business Review backed up her viewpoint.

Paul Block of US sweetener manufacturer Merisant said: ‘People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you're not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.’

Breakthrough in Business

RWE npower is one of the businesses taking female leadership seriously and has put in place a number of initiatives to encourage women to reach the top. These include a mentoring scheme and a ‘Senior Women’s Network’ with a direct line to the chief executive of RWE Group to let him know about any barriers his managers might experience.

Anita Longley, RWE power’s director of corporate responsibility, recently said setting critical behaviours had also helped to change the culture of the organisation.

She added, ‘I am really seeing evidence of change in how people behave since they were introduced two years ago. They are linked to performance management so it supports these behaviours into your everyday role. They help to engender a more inclusive culture and it is an inclusive culture here at RWE npower - I have never felt discriminated against and I can definitely see women moving through into more senior roles internally.’


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