Powerful Men & Powerful Women

We should be intentional about creating opportunities for women to occupy positions of influence at every level.

In this post I want to talk about power based on gender – my thesis being that whatever our business strategy says the reality is that the way we do business results in men being more powerful than women. Men are more powerful primarily because they occupy most of the powerful positions.

In his 2011 report Women on Boards Lord Davies indicated that just 12.5% of FTSE 100 directors were female, while only 7.8% of board members in the FTSE 250 were women. Davies suggested a voluntary target for FTSE 100 companies which set the bar at 25% of directors to be female by 2015.

In his article of the 6th January 2013 Women inch towards equality in the boardroom Simon Goodley of the Guardian says:

Despite the lack of compulsion, progress has been made, and most observers predict that target will be hit, even if the statistics still appear cringeworthy. Now 17.7% of FTSE 100 directors are women, according to the Professional Boards Forum’s BoardWatch, with another 80 hires required to hit the 25% target. In the FTSE 250, 12.4% of board members are female and if Davies sets a 25% target on the mid-cap index, as he has suggested he will, then another 254 women need to be appointed.

Progress but not exactly breathtaking.

Reflecting on my career in management my experience is that boards have very few women and the ones they do have are usually HR professionals. That’s not to underestimate the value of women in that role but it says something about the influence expectation has on outcome and arguably says as much about our view of HR as it does our view of women.

In terms of the teams that I’ve led I realise that these have had a high proportion of women in them. Talented managers and leaders who have contributed significantly to the success I have enjoyed in my career. Yes, most of them were/are married and yes, most did have babies. Some returned to the work place full time, some part time, some not at all, but their talent and experience was invaluable on a full time or part time basis. As a husband and the father of three adult daughters I’ve come to realise that I’m very comfortable working as part of a team of powerful women.

What’s interesting is, despite targets and quotas, there are still so few women in leadership positions in business. There are a number of possible answers to this.

Richard Branson’s article Why we need more women in the boardroom is an interesting read. As is Jill Treanor’s article Women in the boardroom: Vince Cable urges top firms to diversify boards from the Guardian 30th November 2012.

When criticised for the lack of women on their board most companies defence is that they recruit based on ability to do the job not gender and the right person for the job is most often a man. My take on this is firstly, they have to say that because to discriminate based on gender is illegal. Secondly, they may well be right, in which case the real question should be why are so few women deemed up to the job? Some will dare to say because their personal development is interrupted by pregnancy! 

In his article, Simon Goodley quotes a Virgin Trains manager who says, “Clearly, to have people of that level of seniority it depends to some extent on the [sector’s] recruitment policy of 15 years ago, when very few women were promoted to management positions.”

In my mind this comment touches on the real heart of the matter which is that cultural transformation takes time and that in this case requires women to have equal opportunity at every level as well as mentoring and coaching along the way in the absence of which the sink or swim approach to progression will always favour the men.

There is so much more to say on this subject but let me close this post with what I believe is the call to action.

If we are going to address the imbalance of positional power between men and women we should be intentional about creating opportunities for woman to occupy positions of influence at every level, not just the boardroom, and be intentional about coaching and mentoring them along every stage of their journey. We should also ensure that our daughters grow up preoccupied with the question, “Who do I want to be?” not’ “What am I allowed to do?”

The reality is whilst ever men occupy most of the positions of power they will remain the most powerful, and business will be impoverished as a result. 

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