Today’s twitter feed has been notable for two stories in particular. Firstly, a letter in the Financial Times from members of the Investor Group of the 30% Club expressing disappointment that progress towards the target of one-third of FTSE 350 board positions by 2020 has slowed, according to the Female FTSE Board Report 2016.
This, from the foreword to the report, sums it up: “If we are to see sustained gender diversity at the top of business we must do more to ensure women progress through the executive pipeline. The reality is that progress in women’s representation remains too slow. Analysis in this report also gives us an insight into women’s representation at Executive Committee level in the FTSE 100, showing that they hold only 19.4% of Executive Committee roles. In 2016 it is unacceptable that women continue to be an exception when it comes to the most senior leadership positions in business.”
The second story, all over the mainstream media as well as online, is that of Kevin Roberts, currently taking a leave of absence from his role as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, who claimed in an interview that the debate about gender diversity is over, and that he doesn’t think the lack of women in leadership roles is a problem, commenting, “their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.” Senior leaders at Publicis Groupe, owners of Saatchi and many of the world’s best known communications companies, have roundly condemned his comments and rightly so, as have many other leaders within the communications industry.
In this sector as in so many others, speaking out in support of women’s career development and finding ways to help people flex around their personal lives is driving real change, but it takes time. One of the most positive things to come from Kevin Roberts’ comments was the way in which so many leaders responded, re-emphasising the importance of women in the workforce, and it was refreshing to see Publicis’ walking the talk by taking such swift action.
There is still a long way to go, and the Female FTSE Board Report suggests that instead of having an individual focus on women, organisations take a more holistic approach to ensuring that women are able to bring their full potential to work – which means looking differently at the way businesses are designed, the processes and behaviours that can ensure people from diverse backgrounds are best set for success.
In a month when the UK Conservative party appointed its second female prime minister and the US Democratic Party selected its first female presidential nominee, appearances can be deceiving. It’s all very well standing up and saying that their appointments show our daughters that anything is possible, but the fact remains that for many women, achieving their ambition feels a long way out of reach. As a leader and a manager, ask yourself what you can do to help the women you work with achieve their potential.