HERoes: champions of women in business
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The HERoes lists celebrate company leaders who support women in business.
The following individuals were identified as champions of women: all were nominated by peers and colleagues, and the nominations then reviewed by a panel of judges (see end of article).
‘I don’t have time for this damn cancer’
Brenda TrenowdenHead of financial institutions, Europe, ANZ
Brenda Trenowden came late to the fight for gender equality. “I can’t believe it took me so long,” she says. She began her career working in finance and became used to being one of a few women on the trading floor. “The financial institutions business was very white male dominated,” she says.
It was not until she joined Lloyds Banking Group in a senior role in 2006, that she noticed how younger women were coming to her for advice. “They would say: ‘How do you do this? You have kids, how do you manage it?’ I realised there was a real opportunity to be a role model but also to build a network to help these women.”
A friend introduced her to the City Women Network and encouraged her to join, and “that was it”.
Ms Trenowden, as well as running the financial institutions business in Europe for ANZ and serving as a member of its UK management board, now leads the banking group’s gender diversity initiatives. “I realised I had only had a few [women role models] in my career, and wouldn’t it have been nice to have had more women that I could speak to or work with?” she says.
Ms Trenowden is a leader of the UK chapter of the 30% Club, set up in 2010 to campaign for a minimum of 30 per cent women on the boards of listed companies. They have seen progress: the figure is now 28.9 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent when it began.
Her ideas about what is required to achieve greater gender equality have evolved. “I initially thought that women supporting each other was what was really needed,” she says. “I’ve realised it’s important but not enough. It is also really important to engage with men, and have CEOs and leaders of organisations be really bought into [equality] for it to happen.”
Ms Trenowden spends time publicising the research and business case for increased gender diversity. “The more I work with organisations, the more I see that if the CEO gets it, if they see diversity and inclusion as important for the success of the organisation, then it really works,” she says. “If they don’t, nothing changes.”
Mentoring women on all rungs of the finance career ladder reminds her of how much work there is to do in shifting the mentality around working women and flexible arrangements. Someone’s success, she says, should not be measured on their time in the office but on productivity and output.
So Ms Trenowden makes a point of leading by example by taking advantage of her company’s flexible work policies and working from home on Fridays. “Unless you see senior people doing it, [other] people won’t do it,” she says.
Ms Trenowden has also been battling a rare form of cancer. “I don’t have time for cancer,” she says. Having so much that she still wants to achieve has helped deal with it, however. “I’m convinced that by having this great, purpose-led work, it’s really helped my resilience and recovery.”
She is thoughtful about her illness. “On top of my day job and my family, I want to make an impact and I’m just hoping that this damn cancer doesn’t get in the way.”
‘We are using size and scale to galvanise change’
Paul PolmanChief executive, Unilever
Paul Polman does not speak of an epiphany or a defining moment — equality for women, he says, has always been his priority.
“I’m not a person who says: ‘I have a granddaughter and now I am suddenly interested.’ You won’t hear that from me,” says the 62-year-old Unilever chief executive. “It was there in the way I was brought up, the way I was educated.”
His relentless focus on promoting women’s rights inside and outside the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group bears him out. Over a decade of leadership, he has promoted women to a string of senior roles, led a company-wide commitment to banish “unhelpful” stereotypes from branding and advertising and was a founding member of the UN Women Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council, among many other initiatives.
Nine of the Unilever’s 23 board members are women and just over half of the group’s managers are female. His reputation as an activist chief executive is firmly established. Now, says Mr Polman, the time is right for him to focus on a wider struggle.
“For us [at Unilever], gender is not a challenge any more. We are looking at the total value chain to empower women, [using] size and scale to galvanise change.”
He is talking about the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which includes an ambitious target to improve the lives of 5m women across the company’s global supply chain through measures such as gender targets and financial inclusion programmes. Another example of this approach is a global policy offering three weeks of paid paternity leave, which will be fully implemented from next year.
Despite his activism, Mr Polman is opposed to compulsory quotas for gender representation, although such legislation has been in place in some countries for up to a decade. Mr Polman argues instead for “disincentives” for businesses that fail to achieve it. “Why not lower tax rates for those companies that do achieve it?” he asks. “I believe that if you don’t do it, you should bear the consequences.”
He prefers the nudge-style approach of the 30% Club, which lobbies for greater female representation in FTSE 100 companies, and of which he is a member — though he describes its target as “timid”.
“I personally do not agree with 30 per cent [as a target for women on boards], but it’s the minimum. If you can’t achieve that then you aren’t giving it enough attention.” But more ambitious targets could be off-putting for business: “So you start at 30, then move it higher.”
Unilever has women in senior roles: including a female global chief information officer, chief legal officer and head of human resources. After all his progress, will the next chief executive of one of the world’s biggest companies — his successor — be a woman?
“It would be great to have a woman, but the intention is to hire the best person to do the job,” he says. He pauses to consider the Unilever pipeline, and adds: “We are at the point where we don’t need to have these conversations — and that is a great place to be.”
‘Everyone must make the culture inclusive’
Susan RobsonPrincipal consultant, National Grid
“I always question the word ‘passionate’,” replies Susan Robson, principal consultant at National Grid, the FTSE 100 utility group, when asked why she became involved in promoting gender equality in her workplace. “What motivates me to do this is a sense of injustice and a sense of unfairness.”
Ms Robson began her career in management consulting, later moving to the energy sector with National Grid. She did not feel that she experienced much gender bias. It was not until later, she says, that: “I would go to events and there would be one woman in the photo, or no women in the photo, or I’d be the only one. And, I thought, this can’t be everyone’s best people.”
Ms Robson now chairs the company’s women’s employee resource group, which she joined in 2015, and works to bring the ERG’s mission in line with the business initiatives of National Grid. She also leads a programme at the company to encourage men to become more active in the diversity debate.
At National Grid, collecting data has become the first and most important step to identifying diversity problems and tracking progress. “You really have to start with the data, and it’s not rocket science,” Ms Robson says.
National Grid relies on data to first figure out where it is as a company, and then where it wants to go. The team drafts ideas to establish different approaches or experiments to get there. Ms Robson says: “People used to be satisfied running initiatives that they thought were the right thing to do, but looking at the data you can identify specific pain points.”
What helps, she says, is an evolving understanding of the responsibilities of employees, men and women, outside the office. “Employers are much more aware of thinking of people in teams,” Ms Robson says. “People are part of a home team as well as a work team.”
That thinking has helped balance the approach to important life events. For instance, more men now take leave around the birth of a child. Now “it’s parenthood, instead of motherhood”, Ms Robson says.
One problem for diversity initiatives across the energy sector is the lack of women in the Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) pipeline. “It’s heightened in terms of a skills shortage because we have fewer women in engineering,” Ms Robson says. “Energy, in particular, is transforming radically, and if we don’t learn to think differently about how to generate and move energy around, then we are going to be caught out.”
Ms Robson is keenly aware that inclusion challenges extend beyond gender to, for instance, social mobility. She mentors two sixth-form students, a boy and a girl, to help them pursue their ambitions to go into higher education.
Ultimately, Ms Robson hopes to make National Grid a leader in gender diversity best practice. One way to achieve this, she says, is for each department at National Grid to take responsibility for its own inclusion and diversity. “If you’ve centralised responsibility for inclusion and diversity,” she says of companies that rely on HR, “it’s easy to not get involved, or to think it’s someone else’s job.
“It’s everyone’s business to make the culture more inclusive.”
Methodology: how the champions were assessed
Each person was scored on the seniority and influence of their role, their internal and external work to champion women, their recent and significant business achievements, and the testimonial that was provided with their nomination.
Across all three lists, the role models were required to be visible and vocal champions, working to create an environment in which women can succeed.
For scoring purposes, the Champions’ efforts needed to sit outside the remit of their day job in order to be considered.
The judging panel comprised: Mellody Hobson, president, Ariel Investments; Mark Wilson, chief executive, Aviva; Gigi Chao, executive vice-chairman, Cheuk Nang Holdings; Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing, Legal & General Investment Management; Suki Sandhu, founder and chief executive, INvolve; and Harriet Arnold, FT Special Reports assistant editor.