St Paul's Institute

Women in Leadership: What Needs to Change? (Q&A;)

by Amanda Phillips

Posted: 26 Aug 2014

[As part of our July 2014 event on Women in Leadership: What Needs to Change? we asked five key organisations for their thoughts on where the focus should be and the actions we can all take.]

Q&A responses from: Amanda Phillips, Director of External Relations CWN (City Women Network)

What needs to change?

Creating the change needed to 'move the dial' on the progress of women is about changing a deeply ingrained dominant culture. Diverse solutions are required with a sustained commitment by everyone, in order to future-proof organisations for survival and sustainability, and to ensure they reflect and better understand the needs of customers, clients and communities they are intended to serve. The dominant culture needs to become an inclusive one.

How can we begin to remove the institutional and cultural barriers preventing many women from reaching positions of leadership?

The starting point is culture - challenging unconscious bias and changing the way each of us behaves and thinks about diversity. The 'tone from the top' and strong leadership is crucial, so clarity on the organisation's purpose and values needs to come ahead of everything else.

We also need to be thinking about the whole talent pipeline not just the boardroom, considering what 'meritocracy' really means in our organisations, and how we create an inclusive culture where we respect and value the potential contribution of all stakeholders.

How effective are the practical steps that have been taken, and what areas are still being overlooked?

A key area to address at all levels in organisations continues to be the role of the line manager and the quality of the relationships they have with their direct reports. The impact (positive or negative) of the line manager /supervisor on people's perceptions of the organisation's culture and brand cannot be underestimated.

It remains essential to understand the career drivers of both men and women, and to consider more deeply the factors that inhibit or promote career progression. And to create environments where everyone can succeed in providing excellent service to (internal and external) customers and develop their individual careers whatever their background. Fostering clarity of expectation, embedding responsibility and accountability for diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation, and strong performance management will support this.

Pressure for short-term results is often at odds with the effort and resources required to invest in in long-term culture change.

What actions can we take to create lasting change?

Organisations cannot reach their full potential unless all employees are empowered to reach theirs. We need to ensure we have skilled and self-aware people managers leading teams. And help organisations transform through establishing a clear link between talent and business performance.

Research also demonstrates that successful innovation and greater business performance comes from diverse rather than homogenous teams. Better balance is quite simply better for business!

Organisations need to look at their policies, processes and systems for recruitment, promotion, succession planning etc., and review what actually happens in practice! All this with an increased focus on transparency and recognition that securing trust is a business imperative.

How is your organisation helping to bring about change?

CWN is a vibrant community for senior professional women to make connections, contribute and grow. We are committed to the economic and business value of gender diversity and support members in their personal and professional development, and provide a flagship conference gala dinner and other events to help build relationships and expand their professional networks. CWN also promotes, through participation in high profile programmes, initiatives and collaborations and through the media and other prominent channels, the contribution women make to the business community.

About this author

Amanda Phillips is Director of External Relations at CWN (City Women Network), including collaborations and strategic partnerships.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.