Are women’s career ambitions still held back?

Women are still squeezed out

Thirty-five years of equal opportunities have hardly made an impact on the
male domination of FTSE100 boards. There is some progress on the non-executive
front – almost 15% are now female. But women comprise only 3.4% of executive
directors. Clearly much female talent has gone unrecognised and underdeveloped.

While women make up a third of management, they are clustered in the lower
tiers. There are few visible female role models symbolising the possibility of
success for women.

Many companies endorse the ‘valuing diversity’ message – but the discourse is
easily promoted. Changing the attitudes and the culture of the corporation is
much more difficult, but is essential if talented young women coming into the
profession are to achieve their potential.

The message needs to come from the chief executive. CEOs should hold managers
at every level accountable for managing diverse talent. The goal should be to
make diversity management so normal that it is no longer required. Scottish
Power, top of the 2005 Female FTSE Index, has worked at this until ‘it is in the
bloodstream of the company’.

Talent management processes identify high achievers – both men and women –
through co-operation between HR and line managers. Mentoring and networking
schemes encourage and sustain progress, as well as spread awareness of diversity
across the divides of the organisation.

Women are playing their part by investing in good education, including
business qualifications such as accountancy, law and MBAs. They need to stretch
themselves to deliver what it takes, and acquire a portfolio of relevant
experiences (line, budget, staff, regional, international).

There are some shards of light – a few women have achieved chief financial
officer status in FTSE100 companies, with some later going onto non-executive
positions. But many of our male peers do not seem to understand the frustration
of women after so little change over 35 years.

Dr Val Singh is a senior research fellow at Cranfield School of
Management’s centre for developing women business leaders

Rubbish, there’s no glass ceiling

Women in the 21st century should be taught that the sky is the limit and that
they can achieve anything they put their minds to, instead of constantly being
told that reaching the top in the financial sector is a distant dream, simply
because of their sex.

Women have proved time and again that they can have it all – they can be
successful businesswomen while still having a family. In some cases, they may
have to work harder than their male counterparts to achieve a healthy balance.
Discrimination against them for the more senior positions purely because of
their sex is, however, more often than not a misconception.

We are seeing positive discrimination in the fact that when females are
presented for more senior roles they are being very positively received. Many
companies would welcome the opportunity to meet with females for more senior
roles. The reality is there are still too few to consider.

Any woman choosing to start a family must be aware of the impact this will
have upon her career. The responsibility of raising a child usually falls to the
mother. But we are seeing a discernable difference with employees, particularly
men taking leave to coincide with school holidays.

It is also becoming more common for men to take their full two-week paternity
allowance, which the government intends to extend to one month.

When recruiting a member of staff, the individual must recognise the
commercial impact it will have on the business, for example, it may be easier
for a larger company to accommodate 12 months’ maternity leave, where as this
could seriously jeopardise the future success of a smaller business.

The days where women can sit back and blame their failure on a patriarchal
society are long gone and those females who claim to have hit the glass ceiling
and decide that, on the basis of their sex, they cannot progress their career
any further, only have themselves to blame.

The opportunities most definitely are there for those women who are prepared
to fight and work hard for both their careers and their families, just as their
male colleagues have had to do for years.

Sally Toumi is managing director of Stark Brooks Associates

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