Women urged to ‘lean in’ in bid to get to top

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg
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THE debate over the under-representation of women at a senior corporate level intensified last week as Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg published her new book encouraging women to “lean in” to increase their chances of making it to the top.

Ms Sandberg, whose comments were drawn from her newly published book, entitled Lean In, said: “Women do not have to lower our expectations of what we can achieve in the workplace. In so many situations, instead of pulling back, we should be leaning in.”

The publication has been praised as an ambitious reboot of feminism and criticised as a manifesto directed to women from a privileged background.

But whether you like her or loathe her, the important thing is that there are more women at a senior level, as she is, for others to aspire to, said Anne McPherson, managing director, diversity in business, at Royal Bank of Scotland, whose board has four women out of a total of 13 members.

“In general terms my view would be that we need more female role models and some of them will work for some people and some of them will work for other people. As long as you’ve got enough people there to aspire to then that’s got to be a positive thing.”

But why does this gender imbalance at the top of corporate Britain exist in the first place? “[According to] the research that we do with our people and also with other organisations, it’s around things like caring responsibilities, work-life balance, confidence is another big one, lack of role models to aspire to and so what we want to do is help people overcome those barriers, provide them with inspirational role model and help them find sponsors and mentors to give them that nudge that people sometimes need to take the next step”, said Mrs McPherson.

Mrs McPherson, who looks at diversity externally across RBS’ SME customer base and internally across its employee-base, said: “There are moments when I’ve needed a nudge from a sponsor or a mentor or somebody who I’ve been working with to encourage me to take the next step.

“Is it a female attribute or is it an attribute? I don’t know. But that’s certainly how I’ve found it and therefore I think it’s helpful to have supportive people around you to give you that nudge to bite the bullet and bring out your own self-confidence really.”

RBS has a network of Women in Business specialist relationship managers to support its female-run businesses with partners such as Everywoman, a provider of training, resources and support services for women in business.

The bank also runs a scheme called Inspiring Enterprise, which offers grant funding for organisations that support women or young people into enterprise. In the last round of funding, one of the winners was Doncaster-based Identities, which provides personal development opportunities for women.

RBS also runs an internal gender diversity programme which helps its women at junior managerial roles in the business and looks at the barriers that might be preventing them moving up the ranks. RBS works with An Inspirational Journey, a Leeds-based organisation which seeks to tackle the under-representation of women in senior corporate Britain on this programme. An Inspirational Journey encompasses initiatives such as the high level women’s network The Two Percent Club and the Women’s Business Forum in Harrogate.

The next round of grant funding for RBS’ Inspiring Enterprise programme for women opens on June 3. Visit www.rbs.com/inspiringenterprise

Numbers at director level

According to the Profess-ional Boards Forum, women directors fill 17.3 per cent of director roles on FTSE 100 boards.

At FTSE 250 companies, the figure is 12 per cent. Fourteen per cent of the total 45,000 members of the Institute of Directors are women – a figure which the organisation suggests may reflect the broader situation, given there are more than 4.8 million private enterprises in the UK – 99 per cent are SMEs.