Back in May I was invited as a member of LFIG to a non-political reception for professional women hosted by Ernst and Young.
The company, named one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women 2013, has been recognised for its commitment to developing its talent pipeline, as well as mentoring and career-watch schemes, and its employee networks.
Mervyn Davies, a Labour peer with a brief from the government to drive the increase of women onto boards, spoke of the progress made, with women now accounting for 20.7% of board positions in the FTSE100, up from 12.5% in 2011 and 17.3% in April 2013, against a target set in 2011 of achieving 25% in 2015, and there are now only 2 companies in the FTSE100 without a woman on the board.
Lord Davies called for the women present, many in very senior positions, to both challenge failures in the companies they work for and to mentor a talented younger woman in that industry. No one can doubt huge strides have been made.
Cut to a few days later when a successful woman in the media industry told me she was resigning at a crucial time in her career, when she could be, should be, stepping up; ground down by inflexibility by the business and the huge costs of childcare that made the short term return for working not worth it she has left work and will never achieve her professional potential, a loss to herself, her family and the broader economy.
While we have a glittering array of successful women at the top there is still much to do along that leaky pipe-line if we want to harness the potential of the women of the UK to drive our economic success.
I spoke to Paula Stannett of Heathrow Airports, a company in an industry that is very male dominated. I noticed at events they are relatively gender balanced so I asked Paula, the HR Director, about their approach. Paula told me it was about good leadership and a focus on diversity. Firstly they consciously chose to have women on their Board. That impacts the culture along with the perceptions and the aspirations of their existing colleagues. They actively consider their diversity challenge in their Talent Management strategy. This impacts both internally and externally. From a external perspective Paula insists their agencies provide a gender balanced list, clearly the right person will get the job but this provides the business with a richer pool. This applies internally too and managers are encouraged to think about diversity when spotting and developing future talent.
Change is coming and the business benefits for those companies who lead in this are immense. We can as Lord Davies says challenge businesses and mentor women and, as LFIG members, if you want to contribute to the debate please let me know.
LFIG are working closely with other groups within the Party. Coming up on 21st October – NG: Next Generation Entrepreneurs’ Network Event celebrating women and entrepreneurship with Stella Creasey and Gloria d Piero. To register interest in the event or if you know of any female entrepreneurs who would be interested in attending, please email business(at)labour.org.uk.
Finally, as we prepare for the elections next June supporting our candidates in marginals is key. Labour Women are having a dinner to support our women PPCs in key seats on October 15th. For more information come and see us at the LFIG stand at the Labour Annual Conference or contact me here.
Karen Landles is an LFIG executive member and a behavioural change adviser