Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Boards need Women more than Women need Boards: If you want us, you need to woo us

Boards need women more than women need Boards
courtesy ManMen Facebook
Most recent writing on women and Boards - including my own - has focussed on the problems of getting women admitted to the Boardroom.  We have examined the inequalities - on why women are kept disproportionately out of the boardroom and how this situation can be levelled.  But I think we're about to see the tables turning.  Last week Glencore, the last remaining FTSE company with no women directors, announced that they have appointed  Patrice Merrin.  This was declared 'historic' by Business Secretary Vince Cable and ushers in a new period when I predict women will be in the driving seat. We are finally moving into a real economy for Boards - where public companies must woo the highest performing people whether male of female. Ironically women may be much harder to persuade than the establishment thinks.

Many women do want a seat on a FTSE Board and I'm delighted that solid progress has been made since the Davies report was issued in 2011.  But shareholders should be wary of assuming that this progress will lead inexorably to a flood of high quality women candidates.

Source: GEMUK Adult Population Survey 2002-2011
Plc Boards do not offer the appeal they once did.  Years of tightening transparency rules bringing with them a round of grinding process and the relentless demands of capital markets have sent people running to more attractive options.  Many of these involve entrepreneurship of varying types from kitchen table businesses to high level private equity. In fact women are leading the charge - between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for an unprecedented 80% of the new self employed in the UK.

 This inevitably leaves the pool of candidates for non-execs for plcs shallower.

My personal experience reflects this dilemma. In the two plus years since I left the corporate world and started my own business many opportunities have come my way.  But by far the easiest to turn down was the approach to become a non-exec for a FTSE 250 company.  It required a heavy workload, combined with the inflexibility of having to be at meetings in person, in a fixed location booked a year in advance. In an age when entrepreneurs can run billion dollar businesses from a laptop from anywhere in the world, it felt like a lock in with far more disadvantages than benefits. This kind of inflexibility is putting off candidates.  The alternatives - opportunities that allow us to embrace the freedom brought by the digital world are far more attractive. Disruptive technology suits us - we can provide top quality support and insight whilst managing families. Why should we give this up to pander to people who just want to protect the status quo?

Getting women on to boards of plcs is rightly seen as a priority.  There is now a lot of research showing that women on Boards generally add substantial shareholder value.  I greatly admire Heather McGregor in her various incarnations, and as a very successful head hunter she must be focussed the difficulty of persuading female executives to do these roles.  But her recent Times article instructed women to make sacrifices to build networks that will get you recommended for Boards, saying that Patrice Merrin wouldn't have been appointed if she'd been 'under a hedge'.  Clearly visibility is important.  But the implication that women should sacrifice family life to build networks in the hope of hooking a Board seat feels outdated to me.

If plcs choose not to hire good women it is their shareholders who will lose out. As in much of recent history, there would seem to be a clear divergence of interests between the directors and owners of plcs. There is no incentive for incompetent men to hire capable women. The only way change will be effected is either by the introduction of quotas which I firmly disagree with or by shareholders being active in the same way that they have done recently on issues such as as executive pay.  This I would like to see.

Come and find us.  We're here, we're not difficult to find, but do offer us the kinds of roles that suit the way we work and deliver value.  Don't make us become ersatz men.  Let us bring our skills and abilities but on our terms.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fallen Idols - Kirstie gives feminism a kick in the teeth

Kirstie, Paxman and Holly Paxter, founder of feminist blog, Vagenda - Daily Express

Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirstie*.  How could you let me down this way? First Nigella** - the queen of 'having it all' fell to earth. Now you are found wanting.  You - the woman who could buy the most unpromising property for a song whilst learning how to make a stained glass table decoration - and all before putting the kids to bed. 

Truly it hurts me to say this, but I found myself shouting at the TV watching you on Newsnight being interviewed by Paxman of all people,  seriously defending the idea that women should prioritize having babies over going to university. As I have said myself elsewhere in this blog, I am all for having children reasonably young.  But even I have never suggested you should breed before going to university.   

Further education is the place to widen your horizons and make yourself employable.  We live in a global knowledge economy and if you don't acquire skills to make you employable you could find yourself have to rely on your husband or partner to survive.  That might be fine if you have family money behind you (step forward Kirstie's Daddy - Baronet Hindlip).. But how many of us start in life with an aristocrat up our sleeve in case of emergencies? A UK Government research study last year showed that not only do graduates earn significantly more over their lifetimes - women do so far more than men - over a quarter of a million pounds for women versus 170,000 for men.  And given that the average UK house price has now broken through  the 250,000 pound barrier those extra lifetime earnings could make a lot of difference.

When I was 17 and filling in university application forms, my feminist headmistress was horrified when two girls in our year said they had no plans to go to university. "Never rely on a man" she uttered dramatically.  She wasn't advocating the single life, rather urging all of us to ensure we could look after ourselves if we wanted to.  
Emma getting her degree and thinking about house prices..

Apart from anything else, further education is a great place to meet a potential partner.  I did - and at the very least it will widen your social group.   To be fair, Kirstie wasn't saying never go to university, just that you should go later after having children. It is often said that university is wasted on the young but it is much easier to go at 18 than at 28 or 38.  I really admire mature students but watching both my children going through university reminds me that the system is set up to suit younger students. Taking time out later whilst possible is much harder and often involves much greater risk and sacrifice.
 * For my non UK readers, Kirstie Allsopp - the British queen of property buying and retro homemaking -  is a real aristocrat - her father is the 6th Baron Hindlipp so she is entitled to use the title The Honourable Kirstie Alsopp.  And in a bizarre twist, she is also related to interior design aristocracy - her cousin is Cath Kidston. 
** And even my non UK readers are probably familiar with "Nigella" Lawson - in another coincidence also the daughter of a Baron - in this case Baron Lawson of Blaby - and so also entitled to call herself The Honourable.  In his case - this is a life peerage not an inherited title unlike Baron Hindlipp - although the title was only created in 1886 which is positively brand new - the oldest ones go back to the middle ages. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Boardroom Breakthrough at Last?

Women now make up over twenty per cent of the membership of Britain's Boards - almost doubling in the three years since the UK Government commissioned Andrew Davies' original report.  The report references the creation of a new industry - supporting senior women into senior roles and trying to develop a stronger pipeline of candidates - one of main reasons why so few women make it into the top jobs.  This is all to be celebrated, but we are still making slow progress on the international stage.

Another new  report out from Grant Thornton looks in detail at women's role in business worldwide and provides interesting insight.  It shows that some of the BRICS markets lead the world in their share of senior women - for example over 60 per cent of CFOs in China are women.  The authors state:

"Some progress has been made at the
EU-wide level since 2004 (17%), but
European businesses are amongst the most
likely globally to have no women at all in
their senior teams (38%), led by Denmark
(71%), Germany (67%) and Switzerland
(64%). This drops to 29% across North
America, but both Canada (22%) and
the United States (23%) have seen no
significant increase in the number of
women holding top jobs over the
past decade".

Progress such as this is to be celebrated certainly. But in some areas progress is stubbornly slow. We can be our own worst enemies - our desires to conform to some ideal shape and look are alive and kicking.  Magazine pictures are still routinely airbrushed and my Facebook feed has daily offers of foods I should avoid to lose weight instantly - providing I buy diet pills or rare berries. And the extraordinary popularity of the Daily Mail  "Sidebar of Shame"  - all evidence of our obsession with perfectly presented bodies.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BmUmu_5CUAAZ8Pf.pngBut even this deeply wired habit has new energy to defeat it. Writers, bloggers and celebrities are fighting back. I first noticed this in 2011 when Caitlin Moran published "How to be a Woman" in which she asked: "What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be". I loved this item  in feminist blog Vagenda whose Twitter followers suggested alternative headlines.  And in the US last week a bill was introduced to curb overzealous photoshopping and teenage singer Lorde found pictures of herself at a gig photoshopped to remove her acne. She tweeted it along with the orginal and a reminder to her fans that 'flaws are OK'.

View image on Twitter
She might only be 17 - but we should all take her advice.  And if we do, we can probably use some of that wasted emotional energy to carry a few more of us into top jobs.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Conquering cosmetic Everest- no hold luggage required

Copyright http://www.chiefhomeofficer.com/

 If like me you recoil in horror at the idea of checking luggage, your personal Everest is getting the cosmetic products you need for any business trip longer than a few days into a cabin bag.

But I can report that it is possible.  Long after I'd cracked the clothing conundrum, and way after I worked out that cashmere is the key to smart, comfortable travelling, I have finally just about cracked the cosmetics.

 Unless you look like a supermodel or are under 25, in which case I very much doubt you're reading this blog, then you're not going to want to spend a week in meetings 'au naturel'.  Jet lag needs concealing, late nights and red eyes will plague you even if you avoid dinners, drinks and the mini bar. It takes travel planning to a whole new level, but the satisfaction you will gain from pulling it off is worth the effort.  And once you've cracked it you never need to worry about it again.

The Bag
This is a key item.  You need something that will get through security checks (Heathrow is one of the toughest so a good place to start) but won't collapse every second trip. After a lot of experimentation and failures I discovered Muji's range of bags.  I use the larger one and have so far been fine (maybe twenty trips).

Bath and Shower
No need to take anything.  Even budget hotels these days provide reasonable bubbles and OK moisturiser to slap on all over to cope with all that dehydration.

Shampoo and Conditioner
This used to be where I gave in a took a hold bag.  One day I realised that the way to deal with this is to go to the the pharmacy air-side and buy a small shampoo, mousse and conditioner.  I take a tiny pot of serum (John Frieda is good but most brands make them now) in the bag with me as it lasts for ages. They don't cost much and I use them and leave them at the hotel.

Make up

There are so many great multi-purpose products on the market now.  I take Garnier BB cream and an under eye roller as I find it less chalky that Touche Eclat and a fraction of the price. Then a bronzer (I recommend Guerlain Bronzer - very subtle and you can buy small travel ones in duty free which last for ever and come with a tiny brush.  Powder blusher (again no need to put in the liquid bag) Bobby Brown eyeliner gel (in a pot, no one seems to think its a liquid) with its own applicator brush.  Mascara.  Any eyeshadow compact (the Bobby Brown travel one is excellent), one lipstick for day, one gloss for evening and some applicator brushes. Done.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream.  Am astonishing product and good for everything - lip salve, emergency high density hand cream for flights, cuticle cream, eyebrow smoother.  And it helps insect bites.  A travel-sized Dr Hauschka Rose Cream.  It is very concentrated - one tiny tube lasts me two weeks. A No 7 serum if like me travelling makes your skin visibly age.

Buy the atomisers from the in flight travel catalogues.  I travel with two - usually Chanel No 5 (dinners) and Tom Ford Violet Blonde (daytime).

If I've obeyed all my own rules I will have room for a pot of colour and one topcoat. Essie's are great. But I have recently discovered Essie do a whitener pen which goes on like a felt tip and looks like intense buffing.  Take a glass nail file and a buffer and you'll look very groomed.

Two travel sized toothpastes should last a week brushing twice a day. Superdrug does the best range. 

You'll probably be inside in meetings all the time but for that rare breakfast meeting in the sunshine take a tiny tube of the highest factor you can buy.  I have found a good Neutrogena one in a tiny tube  (in the US admittedly) which is Factor 70. Ultrasun do small high factor ones as well.

Once you've done a long business trip without hold luggage you'll never look back. 

The Woman in Seat 64K

Many senior women need to travel as business becomes increasingly global. We need to travel as comfortably as possible arriving safely at our destination ready to work looking smart and groomed and well prepared for the meetings ahead.  If you gaze enviously around the cabin at the smug guys dressed in their matching blue shirts, chinos, suit jacket slinging only a largish briefcase with clean pants and shirts into the overhead locker do not despair.  I have discovered through hard won experience that you can do this too.  Well one cabin bag, a laptop bag and a handbag anyway for a week's trip. 

Women travelling on business have some particular challenges.  If you're  travelling alone as I usually do then you need lightweight luggage that is easy to maneouvre around airports and train stations. I try to avoid checking luggage if at all possible.  This stems from a very bad experience ten years ago when the airline lost my bag contaning all my clothes for a week's conference in a remote part of upstate New York.  I arrived in the clothes I had travelled in and the bag was never found.  So I have learned to become the queen of the capsule wardrobe and finally have conquered the last bastion - getting two week's cosmetics in a carry on liquids bag.

I hope you find some of these tips useful.

And here's the first one -  Seat 64K.  If you're lucky enough to travel Business Class British Airways on a 747-400 (the Jumbo Jet) which they use of many of their long haul flights this is the best seat on the plane.  The upper deck is quieter, this seat has storage space under the window and you don't have to climb over anyone's legs when they're asleep if you need the bathroom.  Oh and you're closest to the steps when it comes to disembark.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why are we so hard on ourselves?

It is well documented that women frequently pursue perfection in all areas of their lives.  This can partly be attributed to society and media role models, but women famously make their lives harder by being far more perfectionist than men. 

The journalist Eleanor Mills calls this the 'alpha imperative'.  We want to be perfect - as mothers, as colleagues, as wives, as friends - and will exhaust ourselves and those around us to achieve this.

A survey by the Girl Guides (surely a last bastion of wholesomeness?) revealed that despite an endless procession of gruesome TV documentaries showing the consequences of botched operations, more than half of girls surveyed would consider plastic surgery.  Botox and fillers are a normal unquestioned part of life for many women.  There seems to be an unspoken but firmly held view that it is ok to look 35 but no more. 

Every woman had a different view on the ageing process - how if affects them and how they deal with it emotionally and practically.  So far I have resisted the surgeon's knife and non -surgical treatments.  Until recently I didn't even consider it, and anyway I am terrified of needles and hospitals so I can't imagine myself willingly submitting to surgery unless it was purely on health grounds. But I am not sure quite how I am going to reconcile myself with this as I see time starting to impose lumps and dips in the wrong places. 

I have no such qualms about grey hair.  My hairdresser is a patient and objective advisor and apart from one of our early attempts at concealing grey which left me a nasty shade of orange - an event which still makes him shudder, we have a good routine. I do exactly what he says and turn up every two months.  

Men sometimes say they envy women's ability to use make-up to show the world their best face. This is something in most women's comfort zone and I think is a secret weapon to boost confidence in business.  I used to spend a fortune on designer 'natural' products, believing that only the designer houses would make the investments necessary to create that breakthrough - the product that makes you look a better version of yourself.  I've seen the light - trips to Space NK are now strictly for special occasions turning instead to products such as the  very affordable BB range  that I think work as well as products that cost two or three times as much. I am British to the core in this - its important not to look like you're not trying too hard.   Of course as the 'real' you deteriorates these products need to do more and more...

Generally my advice is to do whatever you feel you need to make yourself feel confident and in control - to reach the point where you don't have to worry about how you look.  Men don't - a smart shirt suit and tie are for most a soothing uniform and they put it on and forget all about it. We can do the same.  I always take extra care on difficult days - when I have something particularly tough to do. Anything that makes you feel more confident has to be a good idea. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Stepford Husbands?
As more men take care of families, we need to hear their voices too

The volume of the global debate about “having it all” continues to grow. Many women (including me) have joined the discussion searching for solutions - if we can’t have it all, how can we at least find an acceptable balance without facing divorce, insanity or both?

But what do the men think? We have heard very little from them. There is an unspoken assumption that if women can’t have it all, their sacrifices are being made on the altar of old fashioned male dominance.  That men are still having it all and the ultimate measure of this is the glacial speed of a movement towards more gender equality in the world’s boardrooms and top jobs.

Post it notes from a stay at home dad
Receiving far less publicity but exerting a powerful influence within individual families are statistics showing that more men are taking on the majority of childcare activity.  Surveys by BT and Aviva show that numbers of stay at home dads have increased ten fold in the past decade. But many believe that employer's policies aren't keeping up with parental demand, with two thirds of respondents to the BT survey saying they don't believe their employers have sufficiently family friendly policies.

But there are signs that the 'taboo' of men acting as the primary child carer is slowing reducing and that society is increasingly supportive of the idea that women need not be the primary child carer. A Pew Research study published in the US last year found that most people reject the idea that it is bad for a marriage if a wife out-earns her husband.
--> When asked if they agree or disagree that it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife, some 28% of survey respondents say they agree and 63% disagree. When a similar question was asked in 1997, 40% said they agreed

This is explored in a thoughtful recent article in Atlantic  Monthly by Stephen Marche.  He argues it is no longer an ideological issue,  rather about pragmatic family choices driven largely by financial priorities.  He lobbies for society and the state to view this debate not as it is currently - framed by a small number of 'superacheiver' women but rather in the context of how to create happier families by helping to men to feel they can step up to a different role without being seen as weak. 

He points to the irony that  "masculinity grows less and less powerful while remaining iconic of power. And therefore men are silent. After all, there is nothing less manly than talking about waning manliness."

Many commentators believe that much of the recent increase in men taking over childcare is short term - driven mainly by the recession.  The combination of a tight job market and high childcare costs means it often doesn't make sense for the lower earner to keep working.  But perhaps the recent introduction of shared parental leave will change choices for the long term. Nick Clegg announced the changes at the end of last year. In 2015 parents will be able to choose how they share parental leave for the first year of their child's life.

I hope such changes give men the confidence to start taking their seat more actively at the equality table.  It seems like many of them want to - perhaps they just need encouragement to step forward.