DISCUSSION Launch of Tomorrow’s Company Global Leaders Report

by Luke Robinson _______29th April 2014
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by Sylvana Caloni, President, WIBF, SC Executive Coaching

As part of our objective to raise the profile and mission of WIBF more broadly we engage with and promote the work of external networks. Our collaboration with Tomorrow’s Company on this ground-breaking report was a natural fit. It furthers our mission to advance the prospects for women and to consider more deeply what is impeding progress. The report goes beyond the ‘apparent’ to get to the ‘real’ issues. In asking provocative questions and providing critical success factors it does not demonise men, nor lay the blame on women.

It provides new perspectives on corporate practices, the unconscious bias of dominant cultures, the use of language and entrenched expectations. Pat Cleverly’s comprehensive analysis of the journey to the top from the perspectives of the individual, family, team, organisation, customers, clients and society provides significant contributions to the debate and a call for action to change at multiple levels.

Also, as a leadership consultant and coach I value the case studies, the observations of social commentators and the personal reflections of successful leaders as ways to stimulate change rather than doing more of the same.

The report was launched on the 20th March with a panel of influential speakers. It was a stimulating and valuable discussion and I’ve captured some of their salient points and advice.

Vanessa Havard-Williams Partner, Linklaters hosted the event. In her opening remarks she emphasised that getting women to the top is a business issue. It is imperative to attracting and retaining talent, allowing managers to be the best they can be and it is also important for their clients.

Tony Manwaring CEO Tomorrow’s Company argued that the stories and narratives of hindrance to women’s advancement were “unfit for purpose in a modern world”. He commended the report for creating opportunity and new conversations.

The Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE, spoke of linking business, government and civil society to work together on issues that will be “game changers”. Fiona’s view is that collaborative effort is part of the “new normal”. She stressed that raising the participation of women at the executive director level from the current 7.2% is “more than a win-win we simply can’t afford to lose.”

Pat Cleverly, the author of the report explained that it was designed to be intellectually rigorous and provocative. The arguments for getting women to senior levels now go well beyond the business case. She highlighted that the advice women are often given to play the rules of the game is actually a zero sum game since those rules are determined by the dominant culture; in many organisations the dominant culture is determined by and favours white males. Further she urged us to value output not simply input and to test the assumption of meritocracy, which in many organisations provides a “fig leaf of respectability” in denying women access to power and influence. Steve Varley, UK & Ireland Managing Partner, EY spoke of his firm’s analysis of 22,000 client briefs which demonstrated that both client satisfaction and profit margins were higher when teams were diverse. He shared his personal decision 5 years ago to stop mentoring people who look like him and to focus on supporting and endorsing people with different experiences and perspectives. He recognised the learning he gained from listening to and reflecting on these differences and believed it made him a better leader.

The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP Minister for Women and Equalities described “the dominant culture as the elephant in the room”. Further, she stated that “corporate culture is not set by a machine or a set of buildings, it is determined by people” and consequently can be changed.

Lady Rice CBE, Managing Director, Lloyds Banking Group Scotland and a past winner of a WIBF award implored us not to be “entranced or entrenched by our gender” and so not to use the “glass ceiling” to stop us from getting ahead – either go around it or go elsewhere. She also provided pertinent advice not to shy away from power. Instead she implored us to “seek it, embrace it and use it well.” Alison Maitland, co-author of Future Work and Why Women Mean Business described how dominant cultures resist and assimilate outsiders rather than adapting and changing. She turned the usual response of soft skills are fluffy and optional on its head. These skills should be considered the “new hard” and a requirement for leadership.

Following the launch I participated in the Forum. Chatham House rules prevent me from sharing the perspectives and anecdotes. Suffice it to say that I am encouraged that the Forum will provide ongoing engagement, collaboration and practical toolkits to tackle the issues raised at multiple levels.

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