One of the things that I get on “my soapbox” about is the disproportionate representation of women in the boardroom, and it was made even clearer to me this week just how deep-seated this problem is. My daughter put in her application to be formally considered for School or Vice-Captain. This was followed by two speeches of up to 90 seconds – first on a leader she admires and the second on why she would be a good school leader. She is 11 by the way!
What shocked and saddened me was, of her 35 classmates there were 7 boys and 11 girls vying for the positions. So it made me wonder – what happens to these incredible women when it comes to senior roles and Board positions in 20 or 30 years time? Why do we struggle and talk about quotas when, at 11 years old, 30% of the girls in the class aspired to be a leader? What are we doing wrong?
When I asked my daughter why she wanted to be school captain she said:
- Leaders are bigger than themselves.
- You need to be confident but also resilient – trying again after failure.
- You need to be dedicated and honest.
- You need to be inclusive – we have more similarities than differences.
- Lead by example.
I don’t know about you but I think some of our “leaders” today could learn from her and her classmates’ thinking. So why do we have such a problem and what are we doing to fix it? I think some of the issues are:
- Stewardship – we have a serious problem with stewardship, for a couple reasons. There are not enough women to start with to help nurture the next generation of leaders but, not only that, we have no idea how to even get on a Board career path.
- Belief – we don’t believe that we are good enough – you have heard the research that men will apply for a job if they are only a 60% fit whereas for a woman, that figure has to be 100%. What happened to those 11 girls that thought they were a fit for School Captain?
- Support – we lack support mechanisms to be able to do what the majority of men take for granted. I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive husband BUT, although we have made progress, we still are dealing with men who, when caring for their children, call it “daddy day-care” as if it’s not part of their responsibility as a parent. I have never heard a mother say she was on “mummy day-care” duties.
- Boy’s Club – it’s still a boy’s club – where women are, in many cases, not welcome or fully embraced. Yet we are really missing this opportunity – women account for almost half the workforce, yet are so unrepresented at the Board table. You see, if you assume that many newly appointed male Board members are at 60% and not 100%, there must be plenty of worthy female candidates.
- Risk-Averse – women tend to have a lower level of risk tolerance than men. As a company director you, and therefore your family, are exposed – with concern for their family very high on their priority list, women are less willing to take that risk
- The playbook is different – women are different to men and struggle to play by traditional men’s rules. This is not “men bashing” at all, we are different – this is where the missed opportunity sits to get a different perspective – and a different skill set – into the business.
There is another problem too – with more women than ever before choosing to strike out on their own to start their own business – to basically do it their way without the traditional constraints. But the corporate world hasn’t woken up to this yet – women are leaving in droves and corporates are going to have a massive skills gap.
So what is the answer – how can we help the aspiring female leadership teams of 2017?
- Aspire – we need to build on the early aspirations of our daughters and try and figure out what is stopping them going all the way.
- Flexibility – we need to get more creative and supportive – just because she has had children, it doesn’t mean her brain has stopped functioning.
- Opportunity – we need to develop mentoring sessions to show the way. We need to understand what goes on in a Boardroom – because for many women, they have never been exposed to it – it’s almost secret “men’s business”.
- De-risk – we need to ensure we are not putting blockers in the way. While running a business is incredibly important and Directors need to take their responsibilities very seriously, we need to remove the potential barrier to entry of “risk-exposure”.
- Education – wouldn’t it be great to set up some Company Director scholarships for women?
So to my daughter and your wonderful classmates, I will promise to try everything in my power to make it easier for you all to lead companies in 2046 – or even earlier.
What are you doing to get your daughters into the boardroom?