Gender Empowerment

Why Scotland Values The Female Factor In Business Leadership

Imagine if you were given a blank sheet of paper and told to create your “dream team”, who would you recruit?

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Would you want people from the same cultural background as you or from a place of difference? Think hard and be honest. Do you want your own viewpoint always played back to you or do you want one that is likely to be male, female, older, younger, MBE, LGBT? If your dream team is a mirror image of yourself and made up of personalities who won’t challenge the status quo, that’s fine, it’s absolutely your call. However, if your dream team is a panorama of talent, experience, cultural viewpoint, market perception, and diverse personalities, you will be recruiting with diversity at the very heart of your business.

RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) is doing something similar to the “dream team” exercise. They have taken the very commendable decision to have more than 30% of women in its top 600 roles by 2020 and to extend this to 50% at all levels by 2030. They have a way to go to reach the 40% that the government of Iceland demand of employers but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. If they stick to their commitment to 50/50 RBS will outstrip Iceland’s ratio.

Why is it so important that companies the size of RBS take this step towards gender balance in their businesses?

The answer should have nothing to do with ticking a box that shows a company has a gender diversity policy on paper. The real opportunity for companies who embody the spirit and not just the word is that it makes great business sense and here’s why.

First, the difference of men and women’s perspectives, ideas, and market insights produce better problem solving leading to far better performance. 

In my experience if a group of people are represented by men and women in pretty much equal measure, they deliver ideas, concepts, approaches and solutions that are holistic in approach, better thought through and generally way more creative.

And this outcome was also found in research undertaken by Gallup in 2014.

Secondly, a gender diverse workforce provides easier access to resources, such as various sources of credit, multiple sources of information, and wider industry knowledge. Next, a workforce or team that is diverse connects and anticipates more effectively with the increasingly diverse and globally connected customer base. And guess what? 

Gender diversity also helps companies to attract and retain talented women, especially relevant today as more are joining the labour force either through choice or economic necessity.

Why would a company ignore all this positive evidence? Why would they ignore the potentiality of 51% of the population if they want to stay competitive and relevant? It makes no business sense whatso-ever.

Let’s also consider that despite the UK having more female graduates than male (and the number is increasing year-on-year) and educating them as well if not better than its men, their talent and brain power is not used to the same extent. We have to do better in addressing this shortfall and we can do this by encouraging women to be entrepreneurs, or if embarking on the corporate career ladder to aim high. However, it mustn’t stop there. Continuing support through the stages of career building so that they are able to move through the “pipeline” is imperative, especially during what’s often viewed by certain sectors as the “problem years” of motherhood. Policy makers and corporate movers and shakers should remember who mainly raises the boys who’ll be business leaders and innovators of the future. Women!

To their credit RBS is tackling this issue. They have publicly stated that if women ran as many businesses in Scotland as do men, then the Scottish economy would be boosted by nearly £8 billion. That’s a huge stimulus to their local and regional economies and almost for sure to the bottom line of Scot-land’s largest bank. Canny or what? To harness this potential the bank held in April this year a flagship event, RBS Women in Business, in partnership with amongst others Women’s Enterprise Scotland; the first of its kind aimed at customers, stakeholders and RBS staff.

Yet, RBS are not resting on their laurels. They are tackling gender bias by engaging in the hard conversation that Women’s Enterprise Scotland Ambassador, Dr Suzanne Doyle-Morris, author of two books on women in male-dominated sectors, and advisor on diversity for Unilever, Barclays and BAE System, says is “necessary for any twenty-first century thinker”. Suffice to say they already have in place a net-work of 300 specialist “Women in Business” relationship advisors, a figure that RBS aims to increase to 500 by the end of 2016. Last year this network held weekly events that reached 1,670 women, and with 18,000 women-led businesses banking at RBS they are rolling out a further series of events. They are also set to double the number of accredited “Women in Business” Ambassadors.

This push to focus on female advisors is spot on and undoubtedly moving in the right direction.

Who better to help a business woman who is growing their own business than a successful business woman?

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I have encouraged exactly this ethos of female solidity at the Venus Awards because it creates a wonderful sense of belonging to a community and fires up business synergy.

But they are not stopping there! Oh no. They will host yet more conferences this year – the “Association of Scottish Businesswomen”, “Scottish Women in Sport” and “Women in Agriculture”, bringing together what Yvonne Greeves, a Royal Bank of Scotland Enterprise Manager, describes as “key players in the Scottish economy to inspire and educate”.

Has the pressing issue of gender diversity gained greater traction in Scotland now that their three main political leaders are women? It’s hard to argue otherwise as they are not slacking in promoting the benefits of gender balance if other initiatives are anything to go by such as “Investing Women”, “Women 5050”, the Scottish Institute for Enterprise, the Association of Scottish Businesswomen and as already mentioned Women’s Enterprise Scotland.

What can you do to make your business more gender diverse? Here are some practical steps you might want to take.

Why not begin by taking a good look at your recruitment practices – are you for instance always pulling from the same talent pool?

Are you engaging with schools, colleges and universities?

Are you making it known in your recruitment advertising that you have a diversity policy?

Do some research on how other companies have identified diverse talent. What steps did they take to support it through the career pipeline? What about                         work/life balance – are there ways that you can adjust your working practices to             allow for greater flexibility? Try Identifying role model and mentoring opportunities         for your employees because this will keep them loyal, engaged and empowered.

Society, thank heavens is changing. Some of us would wish it to change sooner than later. Here’s a thought to ponder on: 

let’s stop thinking of ourselves as business women or business men but as business people instead.

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What are your experiences of gender diversity in the work place? Are they positive or negative? Do you run a business that is gender diverse? Please let me know by leaving your comments.

About the author

Tara Howard

Tara has never been shy of a challenge – from trekking to Everest base camp to twice finishing in the London to Brighton Cycle Ride, or to qualify as a commercial pilot and flight instructor at the age of 22.
She now spearheads her greatest challenge, the Venus Awards.

With a background in running a hotel business in Bournemouth, she has turned her abundant energy and business expertise to ensuring that the Venus Awards becomes the UK's premier community for recognising and rewarding working women in the UK.

She is fast becoming a figurehead and influencer for women in business, combining all of this with being a mother of four children.

Check out Tara's vlog - her War on Ageing

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