“It’s Time… to Make a Difference” was the theme of the truly awesome ‘The Women’s Business Forum’ I attended at the fabulous Rudding Park Hotel in Harrogate this week, as a guest of RBS. I’m not normally a lover of conferences but this one proved the exception with world-class speakers from corporates around the globe. CEOs and Chairmen shared their take on why gender diversity was critical at all levels in business, not just at lower, middle and senior management but also critically at Board / Exec and Non-Exec levels.
Chris Sullivan, CEO Corporate Banking Division, RBS always delivers a quietly passionate case, that there’s real commercial advantage in addressing the barriers to advancement for female talent in the bank. All companies need to ensure that they are able to identify and retain the best talent and most companies are clearly underperforming on this issue.
He reckons that utilising female talent is one of the key commercial levers that just aren’t being pulled right now. He says that it’s not because it’s “a good thing to do”… it just doesn’t make sense that there’s gender parity at entry/graduate recruitment level but that the funnel of female advancement greatly narrows higher up the organisation. The commercial bottom line is the key motivator. Chris believes that positive action (not positive discrimination) is the key, as are initiatives to support female role models, women’s development networks, and importantly… committed and accountable CEOs.
One of the highlights from the previous evening’s incredible Gala Dinner was getting to meet Tim Solso, Chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc, over here from the US. Apart from Cummins’ former Chairman, J Irwin Miller was a supporter of Black Civil Rights and Dr Martin Luther King at a time when it was rare for a white business leader to do so, and Tim Solso serves on President Obama’s management advisory committee. Sounds very corny but I just had to shake the hand of the man who shook President Obama’s!
At the Forum conference Tim talked very elegantly about Cummins’ significant growth through overseas markets, all fuelled by rapidly rising middle classes in the emerging economies with money to spend. The company now has 87 manufacturing plants worldwide, 55k employees and profits up 65% up from 40% due to international business expansion. Cummins’ international investments have provided rapid growth and access to talented diverse workforces, in turn re-fuelling a commitment to equality of opportunity in the workplace. He made a strong commercial case for recruiting and developing the brightest local talent in their business units, for more gender balance at Board level to support quality of decision-making, and also for positive action initiatives to recruit many more women engineers.
Cummins Inc’s commitment to improving gender equality comes from the top of the corporation including improving their Board processes. Tim admits that there’s still a way to go but that traction on gender equality is gaining at all levels. He also cited US Federal research demonstrating that women’s progression suffers from:
- A lack of mentoring
- Inadequate access to management training,
- Lack of developmental assignments, and
- Poor informal networks of improvement.
Tim (who by the way, received enthusiastic applause whenever he took to the platform) said “women are less inclined to self-promote… they fail to seek help, and they do less networking… these are skills used by males for many years”.
Another great speaker (and there were many) was Mark Palmer-Edgecombe, Head of Diversity & Inclusion for EMEA, Google. In his slot “It’s Time to … Think Differently”, he shared what he considered to be part of Google’s competitive advantage, something he called ‘Googliness’. This is a new and refreshing attitude to spotting and retaining the brightest people regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.
Google like Cummins Inc are doing great things in emerging markets to increase the number of female engineers, including the buddying-up of interns across Europe and Africa to help them better understand how to navigate through Google’s recruitment and career process.
Mark says Google is committed to retaining the entrepreneurial characteristics of a start-up despite its huge growth. ‘Googliness’ is about remaining fast thinking, flexible and responsive to employee needs to ensure that their talented workforce have any barriers to progression removed, eg practical support through, for instance, pregnancy, parenting and childcare.
‘Googliness’ was a also perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous Indian summer’s day.
What could be your ‘Googliness-Moment’ this coming week?
Hint: try turning ‘the so-called impossible’ on its head!!
 This left me thinking that without an export-led recovery, the UK stands little chance of sustainable growth over the next few years with flat-lining consumer spending in the US and Europe.