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The Ladies Executive Club roundtable

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  • 19/12/2013
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The Ladies Executive Club roundtable
Where better to solve the problem of helping women up the career ladder than the top of a Canary Wharf tower? This was the venue for a recent meeting of the Ladies Executive Club.

 

List of attendees

 

Guest speaker: Chuck Stephens, global diversity and inclusion associate director, Barclays Bank

Alison Beech, managing director, Valunation

Martese Carton, senior corporate account manager, NatWest Intermediary Solutions

Sharon Chapman, policy adviser, Building Societies Association

Esther Dijkstra, Lloyds Banking Group

Sarah Green, head of national accounts, Barclays Bank

Gemma Harle, managing director, Tenet Lime

Victoria Hartley, editor, Mortgage Solutions and contributing editor, Your Mortgage

Paula John, editor-in-chief, mortgage division (Mortgage Solutions, Your Money, Your Mortgage)

Diane Kennedy, corporate relationship manager, Coventry Building Society

Payal Raina, marketing consultant, Barclays Bank

Debbie Staveley, director, bClear Communications                                                                     

 

The women gathered on Barclays’ executive floor came from firms ranging in size from hundreds of thousands of workers to less than ten.

But they came with the same questions. How do you encourage talented women in the workplace? How do you make recruitment processes more transparent? And how do you attract talent to financial services, full stop?

For Barclays, the host of this event, strategy is essential. The 139,000-strong organisation actively tries to identify women who might be suitable to sit on boards, and provides them with coaching to help them achieve that goal.

According to Barclays global diversity and inclusion associate director Chuck Stephens, getting three women on a board can be particularly good for momentum: “There is something about three where all of a sudden it becomes ‘we,’” he says.

(One Club member puts it somewhat differently. “We had a directors meeting with three women there,” she says. “The first thing one of the board members said was, ‘God, I feel surrounded.’”)

Stephens argues female-friendly initiatives can be even more effective if applied more widely. Take flexible working. As he points out, working mums aren’t the only ones who struggle with uncompromising work hours. So why not offer it to others? “It can be you wanting to paint, it can be about pursuing education or it can be being a parent,” he says.

A diplomatic approach is no doubt necessary when working for an organisation the size of a small city. But, as Club members testify, many so-called ‘women’s issues’ do reflect wider problems.

Sexual harassment may be a bugbear for women, but this does not mean men do not have to fend off overly flirty colleagues. Equally, the low proportion of female board members does not just reflect discrimination against women, but the incestuous nature of high-level recruitment. “How many times have we read someone has been appointed to something, and thought, ‘I didn’t even know that was vacant,’” one Club member comments.

As well as more transparent recruitment processes, personality tests and feedback surveys can help staff identify and build on their strengths. So long as they are used correctly, that is. One Club member recalls how, during her time at a large bank, the chief operating officer volunteered himself for anonymous feedback. “They got rid of him two months later,” she says.

Asking high achievers to share their experiences can be inspiring for more junior staff. But it can also backfire. In one case recounted to the Club, a senior banker’s explanation that she managed her life thanks to a nanny and a holiday home failed to impress, for example.

Stories of rising to the challenge in tough times also don’t always meet their mark. “It came across that you have to appear to be over confident,” one Club member says of a session she attended. “You could see all the females in the audience go ‘I can’t identify with this. It is not me.’ And you could see all the males in the audience go, ‘Oh yes’.”

Encouraging talent has not been made any easier by the financial crisis. In the mortgage industry, several years of business drought has made it hard for firms to justify large-scale recruitment programmes.

A tendency to look inwards also means firms often pick from a smaller than necessary talent pool. “How many of us have actually looked outside our own industry and thought ‘where can we make a partnership?’” demands one Club member.

But, as business picks up, the industry will have to start filling its ranks again. And, in the spirit of more open recruiting, it might be time to look not just outside the mortgage industry, but search for the talented women who could one day preside over a board.

Five ways to grow diverse talent in the workplace

1. Identify staff strengths through personality tests and surveys

2. Offer employees flexible working plans

3. Embed lessons from training in workplace practices

4. Ask high achievers to share their experiences of good and bad times

5. Be proactive in identifying future leaders

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