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Businesswomen make up a growing percentage of the global workforce but are still under-represented in the boardroom. With just 117 women among the 1,130 directors of the FTSE 100 companies, according to a recent survey by Cranfield University, it would need almost a fourfold increase in female representation to achieve gender equality.

To coincide with International Women’s Day on Thursday, March 8, a panel of experts including Carol Stephenson, dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, and Wendy Schmidt, principal at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and a key leader of the Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Women’s Initiative, answer your questions.

Is a lack of ambition preventing more women from reaching the top? Will the increasing visibility of more female leaders like Angela Merkel, Segolene Royal and Hilary Clinton project the role models that have been lacking in our society? Will more women dare to take the leading roles? In my view the problem most probably lies within us and not in society.
Jyoti Jeetun, London, UK

Wendy Schmidt: I don’t think women lack ambition. Studies have shown that women are just as ambitious as men, but women believe that society will make it more difficult for them to achieve their ambitions. One study of women at an elite college revealed that both men and women have the same career ambition, and that they value career and family to the same extent.

However, women believe that they will encounter greater barriers to balancing career and family. Further, studies have shown that women routinely underestimate their abilities, and do not do a good job at promoting themselves. I think the more female leaders/role models we have, the more likely women will follow their dreams.

Carol Stephenson: The more role models, whether it is in the political or business world, the better it is for women to see that success is possible. I do believe that there is no shortage of ambitious women, but we still need to address the barriers that are preventing more women from achieving their ambitions.

How have the members of the panel achieved the level of success that they have had? Have they decided not to have children? If they have had children, have the primary careers been nannies/aupairs/grandparents; have they stopped paid employment until the children have been old enough to go to school; have they had jobs where the hours and demands have been compatible with running a family? The view given in the media is that employers are generally hostile to women giving birth to the next generation of taxpayers and consumers (children!). If the panel agree that this is true, what is the rational explanation?
Melanie Archer, London, UK

Wendy Schmidt: I am very proud of the fact that I have three very accomplished children – Tom, age 23, is a graduate student at Cambridge University; Mike, age 21 is a junior at Yale University, and Ali, age 18, is a freshman at Amherst College.

While I took some time off after my third child was born, since then I have always worked on a part-time, and over the last several years, on a full-time basis. I have been fortunate to work at companies, and in particular Deloitte, that are very supportive of working moms and that provide support and programs to enable women to fit their lives into their work and their work into their lives.

However, I would not have been successful without a lot of support at home as well, both from my husband and from my live-in full time nanny. I think the key to “having it all” is that both the employer and employee have to be flexible. And, I think it is a great role model for children of both sexes to see that mothers can be as successful as fathers.

Why does maternity leave have to be any different, from a company view, than male extended hospital/sick leave or indeed paternity leave? Why should women be treated any different? Business should be business - rich in human relation-development but devoid of feelings of emotional inferiority.
Victoria McKinney, London, Canary Wharf

Wendy Schmidt: In some countries, men are granted paternity leave on the same grounds that women are granted maternity leave. Having said that, since this is not mandated by law throughout the world, companies have developed their own policies in this regard. I think it is important to remember that there are biological differences between men and women, and women give birth to children, not men.

It takes a certain amount of time for the body to recover from childbirth, and so women do need time for recovery and to breast feed if they choose.

Why do so relatively few women study for an MBA? Law and medicine appear to attract equal numbers of male and female students, but in business schools women students are heavily outnumbered. What can business schools do to counteract this?
Matthew Palmer, Luton, UK

Wendy Schmidt: It’s true that in comparison to law and other disciplines, fewer women are attending business school. Many business schools are addressing this issue by focusing on recruiting women.

Perhaps the reason why women are not seeking MBAs is because of the perceived lack of opportunity in the workforce once they have graduated from business school. However, I am personally optimistic that this trend will change, and that we will see more women applying for MBAs and succeeding in traditionally male dominated professions.

Carol Stephenson: The average age for starting an MBA is 25-29 years; whereas often people enter law and medicine at the undergraduate level and at an earlier age.

During the past year at Ivey, we have increased female enrolments by 10 percentage points. We attribute the increase to changing our program to 12 continuous months from the previous 16-month program. In addition, we have made a concerted effort in our recruiting methods. For example, we hold regular “Women in Management” recruiting events where we showcase recent female graduates, female faculty and, of course, a female dean.

Our intention is to convince women of the impact that they can make in business and provide role models for them to speak with.

Studies show that there is an increasing similarity between the management and leadership skills of the younger generations of men and women - yet we continue to track the differences. Do you believe that it is true that continuing to focus on difference could reinforce the lack of opportunities for women? Shouldn’t we focus on these emerging similarities?
Linda Brewer, UK

Wendy Schmidt: I think it is important to recognise the implicit bias against women in the workplace. Having said that, research on generation X and Y has shown that there are emerging similarities between the expectations and management styles of men and women. The next generation of workers, men and women, put a heavier emphasis on work/life navigation, and often have different priorities: because of their deep reliance on technology, they believe they should be able to work flexibly any time, any place, and that they should be evaluated on work product – not on how, when, and where they get it done.

Surprisingly, they want long-term relationships with their employers, but on their own terms - studies show a decrease in career ambition for both men and women, in favour of more family time, less travel, and less personal pressure.

As business leaders, we should recognise that younger generations are coming into the workforce with networking, multiprocessing, and global-mindedness skills that older generations can learn from; they are technology natives that can mentor technology-challenged baby boomers; and finally, we can all learn something from the focus on working more flexibly with dual focus on work and family life.

Carol Stephenson: I think we should focus on the leadership/management skills required. Hopefully, both men and women can hone these skills.

If executives are evaluated by hours worked, how can women ever attain the same level of advancement as men and still have family involvement?
K Wu, Asia

Wendy Schmidt: While hours worked is certainly one measure that people are evaluated upon, there are many other factors which should be considered. And if a woman is on a reduced work arrangement, she should be evaluated based on the amount of time she is working, and not against a full time standard.

Performance management and evaluation procedures should reflect more than just hours worked. They should take into consideration set goals and performance against required competencies. That way women will be able to experience advancement and still maintain family involvement.

Carol Stephenson: I don’t believe executives are evaluated by hours worked. They are evaluated by results and leadership capability.

Margaret Mead documented the universal tendency among women to experience post menopausal zest (PMZ) a’la Margaret Thatcher, when family obligations had passed and, finally, there was time to devote to career. Does the apparently different time clock of women versus men enter the appraisal of their capacity to serve effectively as managers/board members? Should it?
Mary Goldschmid, New York, US

Wendy Schmidt: Certainly, the ”time clock” of women versus men can impact career progression, and can enter into the appraisal of their capacity to serve effectively in leadership positions.

At Deloitte we are experimenting with new career models which will take into account the pace, role, personal interests, and workload of each of our employees. The goal is to provide our people with more flexibility and choice in their careers at Deloitte.

Carol Stephenson: Corporate boards are looking for experienced female executives so the time clock should work well for women. It often takes this long to gain the necessary experience.

For progression inside the corporations, the issue is a bit different as stepping off the career track temporarily can delay progress. However, with an increasing demand for talented managers and executives, due to the retirement of the baby boomer generation, companies are paying more attention to this talented female pool.

Does boardroom data sufficiently represent the issue of gender inequality? Isn’t it more important to analyse how many women are actually willing to go the extra mile - in universities, in normal work places or in small industries? Such a study might help us find whether women are truly under-represented or not.
Arun Natesan, Japan

Carol Stephenson: I have seen data that expresses women’s aspirations and they are not necessarily different to men’s. Not everyone aspires to boards or executive positions (men or women), so it doesn’t appear to be a lack of desire.

The 2006 study from Catalyst - a leading North American research and advisory organisation that works with businesses and the professionals to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work - indicates that women currently hold 50.3 per cent of all management and professional positions. So women are well represented at that level. However, the issue arises at the top levels of corporations. Only 7.9 percent of Fortune 500 top earners and 1.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This data indicates an inconsistency that we need to better understand and address.

Can a woman rely solely on proven performance to advance? What role should employers adopt to overcome bias derived from gender stereotypes including taking maternity leave? Finally what can women do for themselves in closing any gender compensation differences?
Lindsey Scott, London, UK

Wendy Schmidt: In response to the first part of your question, I don’t think that a woman can rely solely on proven performance to advance. Studies have shown that women receive less recognition for their accomplishments than men do. Whether women are innately more modest than men, or fear recognition is a subject of much scholarly debate.

Further, research has shown that women are socialised not to be ambitious, so while they excel at ”mastery” which is one part of ambition, they shy away from ”recognition” which is the other part of ambition.

Women can focus on promoting themselves in order to be recognised for their accomplishments, including being more aggressive about asking for salary increases. In the answer to a previous question, I discuss gender stereotyping, and what companies can do to recognise the impact that implicit bias against women has upon women’s advancement into leadership positions.

Carol Stephenson: Women need to depend on more than hard work and performance. It is important to network, lead initiatives and try to take on the necessary assignments, in areas such as “line management.” Women should address any compensation gaps with their company and superior, however approach this issue from a fact base and be prepared.

As the president of the newly established club at my university, called Women in Society, and as a woman who is trying to do my best and compete with men, I would really like to ask you if I have a chance for a career in investment banking, because although I see that there are women who are far ahead compared to men, I think that this is still a pretty much a male-dominated profession. Could you please give me some advice on how to succeed in this field?
Elena, London

Carol Stephenson: I see many women who graduate from Ivey enter investment banking so it is absolutely a possibility for you. In fact, many investment banking firms now recognise the need for more women.

You need to be prepared for your interview though. Consult with your school’s career management service to ensure you understand the business; participate in a mock interview; and speak with others in investment banking, such as alumni. The key is to extensively prepare for your interview, keeping in mind that this is a very competitive industry.

It seems clear to me that much of the discrimination against senior women in business is derived from fear, and although it may seem trivial, the cumulative effect of such discrimination is measurable and real. The question that bothers me is whether men discriminate against other women on economic grounds, for fear that the company will end up paying for maternity leave, or because they fear the qualities that women bring to the workplace. If it is the latter, then women might well intimidate each other, and add to the burden. Should we be training women differently to avoid such workplace friction?
Anita Bradshaw, Oxford, UK

Wendy Schmidt: Studies have shown that gender stereotypes are a barrier to inclusion and advancement of women and, that gender stereotyping is an unreliable predictor of leadership competency. I don’t think that this discrimination derives from just fear or economics, but rather is a complex social issue.

We need to be training both our men and our women to recognise the impact that this has on women’s advancement by providing training which provides employees with awareness, tools, and ongoing support to see past stereotypic thinking when assessing leadership competencies. This training also needs to demonstrate what impacts performance and hampers an individual’s ability to use his/her skills and abilities.

Carol Stephenson: I think both these issues exist. Although, paternity leaves are becoming more common for men so this issue is becoming less gender specific. I am not so sure men fear the “qualities that women bring to the workplace” as they do the competition. I don’t think women should change their styles. It is important to be authentic.

At 37 with an MBA and a successful career, I have come to accept that there is glass ceiling and it is extremely difficult for women to climb the corporate ladder without a mentor and/or an ally. Women get the difficult and risky jobs vs. growth and potential. For example, I got a non-performing business unit to restructure with historical client problems, a job which had a high turnover, it was sink or swim, and I had little board-room support in reaching objectives as it was viewed as historical problem. To date, I am looking for a mentor or coach, do you have a recommendation on how/where I could pursue this?
Mariam Sultani, London, UK

Wendy Schmidt: Mentoring and/or coaching is a key component to a successful career. If you cannot find a mentor within your organisation, there are many professional women’s associations throughout the world which provide opportunities for networking and to find a mentor.

Some companies even sponsor mentoring programs whereby they provide senior women as mentors to younger women in the professional community. As you are in London, I recommend that you do some research to find out what opportunities exist locally.

The other route is to pay for a professional coach if your company is willing to endorse the idea. At Deloitte, I have had the opportunity to work with an external coach on my leadership style and skills, and this has benefited me tremendously.

Carol Stephenson: You have a great opportunity to be successful. Look for some people in similar situations outside your company. It is a tough challenge and you need to be supported.

After introducing quotas by law in Norway two years ago, the number of women in the boardroom have more than doubled, and numbers are still rising. The initial resistance from men has silenced, and the law is now fairly widely accepted. Before the law was introduced, numbers were at 7-8 per cent, now they are over 20 per cent. Do you think more countries will follow this example? And if not, do you see the numbers increasing by using other means?
Inger Lise Angelskar, Norway

Wendy Schmidt: Norway’s example is very promising, it’s hard to predict whether other countries will follow . My guess is that other countries will not be as aggressive as Norway has been. The United States may not be at the forefront of this, for example, but I think that, rather than it being legislated, private companies may do well introduce targets for women’s participation in leadership roles, on a voluntary basis.

Carol Stephenson: In Canada, I don’t think legislation will be passed to increase the number of women on boards. I see institutional investors and other shareholders applying pressure at the Annual General Meetings. This worked in terms of improving board governance. There are also many more tools available such as directories of qualified females who could serve on boards. Boards are also relying more on professional searches rather than nominating their “acquaintances.”

Our company (Praesta) sponsors the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme, in which 33 FTSE 100 Chairmen or Chief Executives mentor a woman from the marzipan layer, just below the board, from another company. The intention is to provide these women - nominated by their own chairman as having the potential to serve on a corporate board - with a focused development opportunity, including top-level counsel, to enable them to be credible candidates for board positions. The programme is proving to be successful (seven women, so far, appointed to executive or non-executive positions), but it is clear from our discussions with mentors that new leadership models and corporate structures need to be developed that are more in tune with the gender of the marketplace, and the needs and preferences of the female executives who companies need to attract and keep if they are to remain competitive. I would be very interested in any ideas the panellists could offer about how the necessary, new, leadership models and corporate structures can best be devised and promoted.
Peninah Thomson, London, UK

Carol Stephenson: I agree that there is a need for new models. In fact, the program you describe to have women mentored for corporate boards, we have just recently introduced in Canada.

We have six well-known companies and CEOs/Directors mentoring high-potential women from different companies. In addition, in Canada, we have established a directory of qualified women for board positions, called “Women in the Lead,” which provides nominating committees and executive recruiting firms with the names and profiles of board-ready women.


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