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Why more women in FTSE companies?

Women have much to celebrate. A recent article in the Evening Standard stated that more women executives are breaking through the glass ceiling and on to the boards of leading FTSE companies than ever before.

The Government's target of women making up at least a quarter of their board has been achieved three years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Figures revealed that women now make 16.7 percent of the FTSE 100, and 10.9 per cent of the FTSE 250 boards. This is up from 12.5 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively in 2010. Recent months have seen 44% of all new board-level appointments going to women.

According to a report released by Credit Suisse Research Institute, companies with at least one woman on the board have outperformed in terms of share price performance compared with those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years. The study analysed the performance of close to 2,400 companies with and without women board members from 2005 onward. It found that companies with at least one woman on the board also exhibit higher return on equity, lower leverage and higher valuations.

On the face of it this is fantastic news, and I support Vince Cable’s view that ‘Diverse boards are better boards: benefitting from fresh perspectives, talent, new ideas and broader experience which enables business to better reflect and respond to the needs of customers.’There is evidence that a women joining the Board, results in:

The Board Stepping Up

Typically it has been found that the Board will improve it’s own performance when a woman joins. This is often because they don’t want to look bad in front of a stranger. In addition women are often more socially sensitive than men, their addition to the Board enhances its’ awareness and performance. Of course this only succeeds if women are fully included and have an equal voice as Board member.

Full access to the widest talent pool

Women now account for a greater proportion of graduates and this trend looks set to continue. The company that taps into the greater gender diversity will have access to the largest talent pool.

Improved corporate governance

There is consensus that Board’s with a greater number of women perform much better in terms of Governance. A Harvard study (2010) showed that women were much more likely to focus on clear communication to employees, prioritorise customer satisfaction and consider diversity and corporate social responsibility.

Less dangerous risk taking

Typically women are more risk-averse, leading to more cautious and calculated decision-making. A report compiled by Professor Nick Wilson showed that having at least one female director on the Board appears to reduce a company’s likelihood of becoming bankrupt by 20%.

A better reflection of the customer

It never ceases to amaze me when I go in to work with Boards how unaware they are that their diversity should at least reflect that of their customers. If a percentage of your customers are women, shouldn’t your Board be?

So the arguments are generally for women joining Boards. If we now consider that about a fifth of married or co- habiting women in the UK are the breadwinners in their home, earning more than their partners and an increasing number of unmarried women are the sole earner, estimated at 50%. Women make up half the work force but only 16.7% of FTSE 100 boards, why is that?

The answer is what I call ‘Superwoman Syndrome’.

I see women falling foul of Superwoman Syndrome on a daily basis, dropping like flies as they leave the train station: ‘I might as well do it myself as no one can do it as well as me,’ ‘I have a handle on it all, ‘If I have to stay up until midnight catching up on my work so that I can attend musical theatre practice or visit my Dad, it’s worth it,’ are their familiar mantras.

European women spend twice as much time doing housework as men, they are bypassed for promotion when they are at childbearing age and often take time off work to look after the children or elderly relatives. There are then fewer opportunities for them when they rejoin the workplace.

Women often don’t get the support they need because surprisingly being the main earner is still a taboo subject. Often torn between children, career, elderly relatives, and their partner; shame, guilt and resentment on both sides means that women don’t share their struggles or celebrate their triumphs as breadwinner. Long held traditional views on the roles of men and women in society don’t help either.

5 Everyday Challenges of women in boardrooms

  1. Flex, Change and Adapt
You will need to change, and so will your male colleagues. Your addition to the Board will change the dynamic try to fit in while still being you and recognise that others will be feeling their way also. Introduce your perspective while still valuing theirs.

  2. Isolation
We all know that it’s lonely at the top, but even lonelier when you are the only woman. Develop a network of women outside of your organization seek out a coach and mentor.

  3. Being heard
One of the biggest challenges women Board members bring to executive coaching is a feeling that they are not being heard. Don’t repeat the same thing over again in the same in the same way; observe how others get their message to land and experiment with different approaches. Although women are usually great at empathising, don’t overplay this; taking some of the emotion out of those difficult messages can be useful too.

  4. Standing your groundFor women, work is not always the center of their life, juggling the need for flexibility while demonstrating commitment takes strength and courage. Make it clear when you are going the extra mile and show how your organisations’ flexibility results in you being more productive. e.g. working from home, may result in the report being produced ahead of schedule and you being able to attend to some family duties more easily.

  5. Acting the part
If you start by acting as the trainee, you will be treated as such, demonstrate that you’ve earned your place on the Board. Know what your role is and don’t hesitate to act as Director from the start. Act confidently even if you’re not feeling it, it will come.

Women Board members need to trust their intuition, be more willing to take calculated risks and most importantly believe in themselves. Organisations’ need to recognise what women bring to Boards and how diversity can benefit them.

It takes strong positive role models to change things, I recommend never just recruiting one woman to the Board, I think you will always need two to ensure the feminine voice is being heard and also so that women Board members have support.

As a woman Board member, you can share your successes and challenges in mentoring relationships with women coming through the ranks, making it easier for future women Board members.

If we keep doing what we’ve always been doing, we’ll get what we’ve all got. When the world is changing around us we can’t afford to be this complacent, so lets change things for the better, women, men, Boards and organisations need to work together to survive and thrive.

Jenny Garrett is a sought after executive coach, founder of Reflexion Associates leadership consultancy, Mentor for the Cherie Blair foundation and author of ‘Rocking Your Role’, the how to guide to success for female breadwinners.

About the author

Jenny Garrett
Women & Leadership Coach

Women's Coach of the Year, Female breadwinners and leadership expert, Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor. Jenny helps you Make Things Happen. Author of ‘Rocking Your Role’, featured - Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ , BBC's The Apprentice

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