17th September 2020 – Congratulations to Jane Fraser, who was appointed CEO of Citibank earlier this week. No one knows the bank better; she’s worked there for almost 20 years. But seeing her appointment make the news in 2020 is worrying; how is it still such an event when a woman is appointed to a high-profile leadership position?
I remember having similar feelings last year when technologist and entrepreneur Dame Steve Shirley was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year UK final. I read that Dame Steve, whose real name is Stephanie, had to adopt a man’s name to get ahead in the world of IT. Her business was worth £1.2bn at its height.
These two women got me thinking about whether I am doing enough to further the cause of women in business. Am I doing all I can to help women rise and succeed?
At BigChange, we are committed to training tomorrow’s female leaders, and we have processes in place that help support women into management positions. I’m proud to say that we have exceptional female leaders on the team, including: Jo Godsmark, our COO; Sonal Sidpara, People Director; Aurelie Rodriguez, who manages BigChange France; Nicola Carter-Barnes, our Onboarding Director; Tansy Sheehy, our Customer Service Director; and last but not least my incredible wife Amanda Port, who leads the Marketing team. We would not be where we are today without their innovation, entrepreneurial vision and hard work.
There are some great organisations that are trying to move the needle on this issue. The 30% Club was founded by Helena Morrissey and aims to achieve at least 30% representation of women on all boards globally. The Club is now chaired by Ann Cairns, vice chair of Mastercard. I spent a week with Ann on the UK Israel trade mission in Israel, so I know she will be a driving force for change.
I am proud to say we have reached 30% representation of women on the leadership team here at BigChange. I am also using our Motivational Monday series as a platform to showcase brilliant women. The team here has heard from the likes of Maggie Philbin OBE, the TV presenter and journalist, now a great advocate for women in technology, as well as actress and musician Toyah Willcox, and the super-successful entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den star Kelly Hoppen MBE.
I know there are no easy answers. This topic is fraught with complexity. If I say I want more women in my organisation, does that make me sexist? If I say that, in my experience, women tend to be more dynamic than men: they don’t waffle, they just get the job done. Does that make me prejudiced? How can I be more proactive without wandering into dangerous territory?
It’s easy to forget that women only entered the workplace on equal footing with men in the seventies. Before the Equal Pay Act, they were only given menial or administrative jobs, paid a pittance, and often treated badly. 50 years isn’t a long time, and it may take a little while longer to change entrenched ideas within society. But if leaders like you and me do our bit and take action to further the cause of women in business, I know we can achieve true and lasting gender equality.