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Boards - The Diversity Challenge
A snapshot on gender diversity at board-level. Gillian Wilmot founder and CEO of Board Mentoring answers five key questions.
What do you think is the biggest challenge to achieving gender diversity?
It is more an issue of diversity itself. We all find it easier to deal with people like us and this is often reflected in our circle of friends. At work, we have to learn to leave that behind. There is a great deal of unconscious bias from both men and women alike. There is real value in dissenting opinions. All too often we see leadership asking self-affirming questions.
Women do not big themselves up and self-promote as much as men and when they are sitting in front of a forthright man at interview, this can be a problem. Women have a tendency to understate, not overstate and often a candidate can be selected because they ‘talk the same language’ and appear very confident.
If a woman is turned down for a job, she will often do a lot of soul searching whereas a man will tend to assume the organisation was not the right fit for him or made a poor decision and move onto the next opportunity quickly.
As a newly appointed board member, how can women prepare for being in the minority in that environment?
Being a minority should not be a problem in itself, cultural fit is much more important. There will be a set of belief systems in any company, a values system and it is important to feel comfortable operating in this environment to be effective. You only have to look at remuneration committees. There will always be a divergence of opinion and the role of the committee is to reach a satisfactory position for all stakeholders but much of what you are doing is balancing a set of value judgements from the different stakeholders. Women are proving highly effective as remcom and company chairs as they are good at balancing competing views and holding the executive to account and moderating executive pay.
What are your thoughts on quotas?
Until recently I would have been very opposed however in the last 25 years we have seen very little change. I think the term itself is incorrect, businesses are used to setting targets and measuring and reporting against them. Setting targets would drive the most change. We need to address the issue as it is affecting the UK’s competitiveness.
How do you drive the value out of the diversity once you have achieved it?
The chairman and the CEO are responsible for driving value out of the company and the board and the quality of the chairman is critical. We need more female chairmen and CEOs as it is much more difficult to change attitudes and drive change from the other board seats
What led you to founding your current organisation, Board Mentoring?
A very successful well-known organisation wanted me to mentor for them and it developed from there. The aim was to build a company providing mentors combining boardroom expertise with industry expertise backed by real leadership experience. The mentoring does not solely look at personal career issues but also their strategic and organisation issues. Our clients are mainly FTSE 100, and all mentors have active portfolios so they truly understand the issues of governance, succession planning, brand and reputation, strategic planning. Their experiences are still current. We also ensure there is a personal chemistry fit between the mentor and the executive in addition to the business and functional fit. For example, we matched a mentor with experience of taking a company through a flotation with an executive who had had no previous experience but was about to embark on a flotation. There was a real synergy there and the organisation went onto successfully float on the FTSE 100.
To discuss gender diversity in your organisation, please get in touch with Georgina Crompton.
T: +44 161 833 5064
M: +44 7769 646075