We have talked before about a shift in the zeitgeist this year which has put women high on corporate agendas. It will be interesting to watch what actually happens. It is our belief that change will only really happen when espoused from the top of the organisation. So I was delighted to be invited to hear the Chairman of RBS, Sir Philip Hampton, speak the other night at a Focussed Women’s Network. It was a good evening. Initially Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive of Corporate Banking – a known champion of women within the Bank was asking the questions before wider questioning began.
Sir Philip claimed that he noticed the difference between the genders on the first day of school – the boys were running around and fighting while the girls were talking and building relationships. Chris – who has I believe six children with an age range of 2- 23 describes how he saw gender differences at work as his first daughter, aged 6 managed to organise and influence both the 23 year old and the 2 year old with equal aplomb. When Sir Philip joined the board of Sainsbury’s he was astonished to find that all the board members were not only men, but the kind of men who had never set foot inside a supermarket! (at this point Chris waved his Nectar card around to demonstrate just how enlightened he truly was) Sir Philip argued the need for greater diversity at all levels in order to reflect the customer base more accurately and expressed a desire to appoint non – executive women to the board as soon as possible. When challenged about the banking crisis, he agreed that the picture would probably have looked very different had there been a significant level of senior women in place. He was very clear that the only reason he and senior executives wanted to foster more women into leadership was that it made good business sense. He also challenged women to behave more like men in certain respects- networking being a critical behaviour that women often neglect. As Heather Melville, Chair of the Focused Women’s Network, pointed out ‘Networking is not Notworking’. Men often ask for help through their networks while women soldier on trying to do it themselves. Much of the discussion chimed with what we have established through our own research into women in organisations. What is fascinating is that we are beginning to see senior men openly supporting women’s advancement. You could see this as just a PR exercise, flavour of the month. What is critical now is that both the organisation and women themselves step up to the challenge and see some results.