Women on Boards – if not now, when?

I was recently reading, with some pride, about one of our student run societies and the high profile speakers they are attracting onto campus. A bit of background for those of you who don’t know me (yet) I’m the Business Manager for Surrey Business School, part of the University of Surrey.

Wanting to find out more about their events I clicked through to their web page, and there was a picture of the organising committee. Nine bright enthusiastic young people from all over the world, dressed to impress in suits, genuine smiles on their faces. Already enjoying some success, every one of them with the potential to be a future leader. Eight young men and, yes you’ve guessed it, one young woman.

I’d just been reading Claire’s eye opening blog post on the Davies Report on women on boards and as I looked at that photo my heart sank, just a little. Okay, so it’s one pic of one student society, at one university and our future women board members are going to come, I hope, from all walks of life, but it made me think.

When will we have a big enough pool of talented experienced women ready to join boards? When will the men on boards, the chief executives, chairmen and shareholders be ready to accept a more balanced percentage of women into the top of their organisations? If that photo is any kind of evidence then we might be waiting for a while yet.

So, is anyone tapping young women on the shoulder and asking them if they want to consider aiming for a board position? Is anyone encouraging them to be just as ambitious and self-confident as their male peers, helping them to build the skills and experience that they will need? Is anyone pointing out, to those male peers, the talents and credibility of their female colleagues?

And then I had a eureka moment, I realised I’m actually in a position to do something about this. I’m sitting here in a top ranked UK business school where I can work with my colleagues to make sure every single student can graduate knowing their full potential and the benefits of a balanced workplace.

But there is something even simpler that I can do, that every one of us can do. We can support and encourage the young, and the not so young, women around us, our employees, colleagues, friends, family members, customers and suppliers. Point out their capabilities to themselves and others, raise their expectations, help them to build the self-confidence to put themselves forward.

Here’s another thought to add into the mix. A colleague of mine, Dr Ilke Inceoglu, specialises in work place psychology. She recently wrote an article, based on her research and her own experiences in the workplace, that I think the corporate head hunters should be reading.  As Ilke puts it, “From the evidence in research literature and my experience of developing psychometric instruments, I’ve found that the differences between the genders are generally quite small. What matters most is the match between requirements of a specific job and the competencies and potential of an individual.

Not everyone is going to make it to the board of a FTSE 100 company, not everyone will want to for that matter, the air as they say can be pretty thin at the top. But everyone deserves the opportunity to fulfil their potential. We can all help to build the pool of future and current talent so that we can be sure that there will be a day when every part of the corporate ladder, including the board room, is balanced.

Voting for ‘Rising Stars’ – Young Business Women in Surrey 2016 opens 1 February. Take a first step to supporting our current and future talent and vote now.

Abi Bradbeer is the Business Manager for Surrey Business School, University of Surrey. You can find her on LinkedIn and follow her on twitter @AbiBradbeer

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