I have been asked as a woman did I feel at a disadvantage in my ambition to reach the top? Looking back on it now I don't think that it was so much about being female that caused me issues but more that I didn't fit the normal behavioural model that was prevalent in the group. I was lucky to be surrounded by women who reached senior positions within the organisation, so never questioned that it was attainable. However I recognised that most - but not all - of the women that made it to the top had more stereotypical male traits.
To be heard around the board table you need to be seen to be strong - the traditional definition of a strong leader is callousness, impulsivity and aggression - all traits more commonly associated with men. However the biggest traits that a male dominated board can lack are empathy and emotional intelligence. This is not about being compassionate but about understanding the personal interactions that are taking place and how this enables things to get done within the organisation. Unfortunately often when women are appointed to executive boards they are assigned the role as custodian of this emotional aspect of leadership and still struggle to be heard when discussing the commercial aspects of the business. Why is this the case when it has been shown that women are less likely to make decisions based on incomplete information ? Why is it that for women to be successful within a board environment they often adapt male traits such as implusivity , aggression and showing little emotion? As it stands women still make up less than a quarter of all UK boardrooms, meaning there is still a large pool of talent and experience out there that is untapped.
As we saw from the recent list of "pitiful excuses" that were uncovered by the Hampton-Alexander review , as to why there were so few women in the FTSE 350 boardrooms , it is still seen as the preserve of the white male. When they look to recruit they look for people from the same mould . I have been told throughout my career that my behaviour traits didn't match the general mould and that I needed to develop these traits - read into that Male traits - to fit in with the cultural norm of the organisation if I wanted to be successful. Even at the time I didn't understand why a group of people who all looked at a situation in the same way with the same experiences was a good option. Surely what you need to come up with the best plan of action with the best chance of success is for the group to be made up with a diverse set of perspectives and a culture of positive challenge and discussion. I have come to realise that this is far from the norm across most boards.
I spent 27 years building my experience and knowledge , starting at the bottom of the ladder and working my way to the top, I did this through hard work but also by not conforming to the traditional leadership model that I experienced on the way up . I ensured that I really listened to my team and allowed healthy challenging debate . This resulted in a highly engaged team with a shared vision that delivered positive KPI indicators - is this not what all businesses want ?