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‘Leadership is Queen’

Louise Harrison

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the FTSE Women Leaders Review sponsored by KPMG and Lloyds Banking Group, led by Denise Wilson and her fabulous team who have achieved such remarkable success over the last decade in pioneering the FTSE Women Leaders Review (formally Hampton-Alexander & Davies Review).

Warren Partners are delighted to have been accredited for another year and be one of only three firms recognised in the review, each year since its inception. We are extremely proud of the work we have accomplished, and our purpose continues to be focused on building diverse boards and leadership teams to deliver positive and sustainable change.

It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago, women represented only 9% of boards in the FTSE 350. Whilst we must celebrate how far British business has come, we must also acknowledge that such progress is in decline for the first time since 2019. The decrease is most prominent in key succession roles, CEOs and Finance Directors, which sparks concern for the future of diverse leadership in female FTSE 350 CEOs and Chairs.

So first – why is achieving gender balance important? Whilst I’m sure many will feel at the heart of the movement is the sheer fact that it is simply ‘the right thing to do’, the conversation last Tuesday highlighted how it also comes with huge benefits and added value to boardroom discussions; diversity in perspective, more enriching and engaging conversation and greater enjoyment or ‘fun’ achieved in working with a mixed group.

When looking to build for diverse boards of the future, we must also consider how the gender balance at board level sets a precedent for company culture for those in entry and mid-management roles. Data has proven that Gen Z are increasingly looking at annual company reports and asking themselves whether they are and could be in the right place to thrive, which is crucial to employee retention and attraction. In fact, they are analysing cross company values around sustainability, climate change and employee wellbeing, fundamentally questioning – do I trust this organisation and its leaders with the responsibility for nurturing my career? When we have truly solved gender balance in CEOs and NEDs, it will be self-sustaining and we will see it everywhere within the organisation. So now, we must set the pathway, we must focus in ensuring females are given the opportunities to succeed in FD and commercial P&L leadership roles.

Many believe that it is the ‘men who get it’, that will make all the difference and they must be our allies for change. During the discussion, the panel explored how the most powerful tactic is to include everyone and support our male leaders through their evolving roles in fatherhood. Key initiatives that remain critical for change include ‘flexible working’ and ‘shared parental leave’ which are gaining positive momentum, with FTSE leaders such as Natwest, M&S, Aviva, Burberry and Vodafone leading the way. Whilst outdated society pressures and toxic masculinity reject such movement, we are seeing more male leaders encouraging equality when it comes to parenthood, allowing our rightfully deserving female leaders to also hold a thriving career.

To conclude, it seems the desire for equality in female leadership is still burning bright and in the face of adversity, we must not lose faith. Our expectations in the workplace are exploding, in line with life. We have been through a global pandemic and back again. The world has changed. CEOs and boards are responsible for shaping the values and the culture of the business, that role no longer solely sits with the Chief People Officer, whilst they are still typically closer to the coal face of company culture. The CEO is responsible for ensuring the organisation doesn’t go back on its promises with regards to gender balance in the workplace and must not let environmental and economical influences create setback. Role models start at the top, amplifying female voices across the business is key, in line with investing in ‘male leaders of the future’, to be the allies that we need. They are responsible for driving change and delivering a message that creates a sense of belonging and equality up and down the organisation. Words matter.

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