A thought for March

Wind and storms. March coming in like a lion. However, there are also gorgeous snowdrops, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus in the gardens and on the verges. Some trees have already decided to parade their blossom and lots of plants, trees and shrubs are in bud. They are taking huge risks and we all feel better.

March is also the month of International Women’s Day (8 March this year).

This event started back in 1911 when over one million people engaged with it in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. In the UK suffragettes and suffragists were working to win equality. Now it is a worldwide event and there are many events staged to celebrate it and encourage women to fulfil their potential.

As you read this (I hope you will read this!) I shall be part of a round table – Women in Industry: Building Inclusive Teams for Success

This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter which sets out:

  • A balanced world is a better world.
  • Rise of women is not about the fall of men.
  • Everyone can play a role in forging gender parity.
  • Gender balance is not a women’s issue – it’s an economic issue.
  • Advocacy, inclusive mindsets and tangible action is needed by all.
  • International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender balance.

In preparation our host sent us a dozen questions to mull over and maybe comment on in the discussion. I thought it might be useful to pick out four of them and share some of my ideas.

What do you think the real barriers to women’s progression in the work place are?
I think that there are not enough role models to help women believe that anything is possible. However, this is complicated by the first generation of women who have been a success – not all good role models. Some have done it by being surrogate men, some by using their feminity and some by doing down other employees. None of these are enviable behaviours.

Some women even keep other women in their place by not giving them opportunities or promotions because they do not want the competition. I once worked for a woman like this; it is ten times worse than working for a misogynist – they are nothing short of bullies. You can convert a misogynist by convincing them with stunning work…”I do not hold with women in transport, Liz, but you can work for me anytime”.

The other problem is that women need people to believe in them. Their support teams are hugely important: partners, children, mums and dads, friends. People who say “you can do this…”; often.

What do you think of some of the potential solutions – so from gender quotas from MPs shortlists to the number of women who should be in the board room?
I am not keen on all women shortlists as I think women who get jobs will then never believe they were good enough to do it on their own merits.

However, I do believe in choices. Let’s make selection lists for potential MPs or for job vacancies as diverse as possible. The research tells us that the more diverse the board the more likely the business is to be successful. This means women and men, young and old, specialists and generalists, all creeds, all colours, all cultures, “normal” and high functioning autistic people, able bodied and disabled etc.etc. The more diverse the group the more creativity will be generated from their experience. We all know if we only associate with people like ourselves how stultifying it can be. We need challenge.

What are the interventions that really make a difference? On this list could be mentoring schemes, recruitment practices, talent pipelines, leadership courses, lean-in circles.
I am a mentor so of course I believe in all these interventions. Let’s get women into the right places, do all we can to give them training, as wide an experience as possible and the chance to analyse what they do so they can improve constantly. The confidence will bring success, and both will be contagious, not just to women but to men – to anyone who is not full of self-belief.

And finally, if you gave one piece of advice to your younger self what would you say?
Last month I invited you to pass on your favourite piece of business advice? No one did. So here is my advice for this month (and I wonder if I will be sharing it with the panel this morning?). Make a career plan to gain the experience to take you where you want to be; accept there will be jobs along the way that might not be fascinating but will put stuff on to your CV that you need, however, if you find yourself in an organisation that does not share your ethics or value take to the hills and fast!

They say that you only regret the things you never did. I agree. One of my regrets is that in 1986, when I was invited to become an Equal Opportunities Commissioner I turned down the opportunity. I had good reasons but wish I had ignored them and taken on the challenge then. Never mind, I try to do my bit now. Think of me this morning!

So what can you do? Not just today but all year? Please encourage women to believe in themselves. Say to your daughter, sister, mother, niece, friend “You can do this”, keep saying it and affirm their commitment and successs.

What do you think about all this? Please let me know.

If this Thought has been interesting, please share it.

Working with a mentor is one of the major ways of getting advice that will improve your business, management and personal skills. It is a great way to work through any business issue that is preventing you achieving what you want to, as fast as you want to. Why not chat with me about how it might work for you.

Life is good; let’s live it to the full, enjoy it and be the best we can be.

Elizabeth Toogood – Insightful Business Mentor. Email: [email protected] Website: www.elizabethtoogood.com