Last night I was a member of a panel discussing opportunities for young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) based industries.
The event was part of a fabulous range of events for both students and parents organized by Blackburn college to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship week.
The event was designed to inspire, inform and educate, with the panel members including myself, talking about our career journeys and answering questions.
It was a diverse audience of mainly University students, male and female, white and ethnic and they were an attentive and inquisitive crowd.
My fellow panel members and I had all taken different routes to success, one via a degree, one via Masters and a Doctorate, one straight into work at age 16 and myself setting up a business straight from college. We all came from very different backgrounds but we all had one thing in common; we had all started a Saturday job at age 13 and worked throughout our education after school and at weekends. In other words we all had work experience before we left education.
The other things we all had in common were that we recognized that even at a young age, we had been good communicators and that we had learned relatively early in our careers to ask for help.
These common traits had supported us through interesting careers, enabled all of us to combine family and work and ultimately resulted in us working at sufficiently senior levels for us to be seen as influencers and role models.
What key messages did we deliver to our audience of young people about the opportunities available in STEM?
Firstly that Science is not just for geeks, Technology is not just computer programming, Engineering is not greasy overalls and Maths is not dry and boring.
We explained how these industries underpin every item that is designed, every communication ever sent, every thing that is ever manufactured and every problem that ever needs solving, from the latest mobile gadget to feeding the world’s growing population. We explained that these industries are creative, exciting, help you travel the world, let you meet fascinating people and pay well. We explained that there are massive skills gaps looming in the UK in STEM industries and that we are placed bottom out of 28 European countries for the number of women in engineering.
Yesterday, as I walked 10 miles in the unseasonably warm weather, I was considering global warning and thinking “yes, it really could be happening”.
Another topic which I often ponder when walking the hills and moors, has been in the news this week, that of Women Leaders and more specifically ‘Women on Boards’. On this topic, I would love to say I was thinking, ”yes, it really could be happening” but in reality I was thinking, “things are changing, but it’s not quite as good as they would have us believe”.
Let’s consider the facts presented in Lord Davies five-year summary following his 2011 report ‘Women on Boards’.
The number of women on the boards of the FTSE 100 has increased from 12.5% to 26.1%.
There are now no all male boards in the FTSE 100 company list.
Impressive, one would argue. Certainly few would dispute the fact that the Lord Davies 2011 report has re energized discussion and action re gender equality and that can only be a good thing.
But here are some additional facts:
The 26.1% figure is the average of the number of Female Non Exec directors (31.4%) and Female Executive Directors (9.6%)
Executive directors have usually climbed the internal ladder of a company through finance, management or operations; they are responsible for the day to day running and direction of the company. Non Executive Director’s (NEDs) are appointed from outside the company, their role is to provide a creative contribution and objective criticism (IOD factsheet re the role of the Non Exec Director).
The number of Women CEOs in the FTSE 100 remains unchanged since 2010 at 5. Yes that’s right – 5. There are more male CEOs in the FTSE 100 called John, than there are women CEOs.
The number of Female Executive Directors in the FTSE 100 has increased by only 5%, to 26, that’s 26 out of 244. This is the number we should be concentrating on.
So, whilst it is great news that we have many more female NEDs on FTSE boards, at the current rate of increase in Executive Directors, it will be 40 years before we have 50% Female Executive Directors on FTSE 100 boards.
And it’s not only business figures that need challenging:
Only 15% of elected crime and police commissioners are women
Only 24% of local authority Chief Executives are women
Only 5% of editors of Daily or Sunday Newspapers are women
Only 14% of the UK’s University Vice Chancellors are women
(Counting Women In report 2014 Joseph Roundtree foundation)
When Nora Senior (President, British Chambers of Commerce) was asked to comment on the Lord Davies review last week, she quite rightly said and I quote “we should not lose sight of the fact that business still needs to step up to the task of nurturing the pipeline of women at middle management level onto executive teams. More work remains to be done on internal appointments as well as external to ensure that female talent can rise to the very top.”
In every organisation, in every sector, in every field, we must address the issues that are still making it difficult for women to rise through the ranks to the most senior positions. 69% of junior managers are female, yet only 23% of senior managers are. Senior management is the pool from which we promote to Executive level. All to often we hear the recruiters bemoaning the fact that there just isn’t the senior female talent out there to promote.
So where is the missing middle?
The UK is losing thousands of capable and talented women every year because of one reason and one reason alone. Women have the babies, there is nothing we can do about it, it will be so forever more. As long as senior positions come with the price tag of 12 hour days with no switch off at weekends or holidays, we will continue to see women leave the talent pool in their thirties and forties, at mid-management level.
However, it may just be our youngest entrants to the workforce who finally break this out-dated working model. Our millennials have a new set of priorities, they want work-life balance, they want agile working, they want to work for companies with ethics. Organisations who want to attract and keep the best of our millennials will have to change their culture and fast.
So, hopefully, when I am walking the moors in another 5 years time, our newest generation of workers will have been the catalyst and the resultant working from home, compressed hours, job-shares and four hour manufacturing shifts will have enabled hundreds of thousands of women to combine both family and career and continue their journey up the glass ladder right to the very top.
So, thank you Lord Davies for keeping Women on Boards firmly in the spotlight but let’s hope that in the very near future, we won’t need any more reports focusing on gender equality or the lack of it.
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353