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Financial Times Women at the Top: How to achieve gender balance and redefine leadership

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Claire Foster, Deputy Head of News, Direct Line Group

This time last week, I was lucky enough to be sitting in a beautiful room at the Renaissance Hotel, St Pancras, full of inspirational female leaders. The event, #FTWomen, discussed the barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential. Business leaders were encouraged to bring along ‘a rising star’ as part of their ticket, so I was taken by our head of financial communications at Direct Line Group, Jennifer Thomas.

The speakers were entertaining, well informed, and I was delighted to bump into my former PR Week Women in PR mentor Gay Collins, who was also attending the event https://womeninpr.org.uk/pr-week-mentor-scheme-launch-my-experience/

One of my favourite speakers was Alison Brittain, CEO of Whitbread. She is championing a pipeline of female talent so that more women join her as one of the female FTSE 100 CEOs. I liked Helen Morrisey, CBE, who quite simply explained that men and women are equal, but different. And the best decisions are made by a diverse group. We were told how the military encourage leaders to build their team by choosing people that are better than them at something. A secure leader, can then step back and let them lead on that task.

Andrew Halls, headmaster of KCS Wimbledon claimed that women were the more talented gender. Unsurprisingly, there was no opposition from his panel, or the audience. The hard part comes when women make the transition from education to the workplace. We need to get noticed and take opportunities like men do.

Tips from the FT speakers

  • Be authentic
  • Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses
  • Broaden your skills and join a board
  • Try different sectors
  • Listen to 20 somethings – they can inform you of the latest trends
  • Seek counsel
  • Mentoring is for development, sponsorship aids advancement – you need both
  • Be visible
  • Shout about your achievements and success

There was a similar session to our https://womeninpr.org.uk/closing-the-gender-pay-gap-event/ which covered a lot of the same advice. Knowing your worth is key. If you can, get your employer to pay for the qualifications and training you need. Mrs Moneypenny aka Heather McGregor recommends a sturdy handbag if you want to be taken seriously. And the ultimate accessory – a copy of the FT!

Brenda Trenowden, the global chair of the 30% club explained that her role was actually her early morning and weekend job, she has a day job too. It reminded me of all our roles here on the Women in PR committee that we all do in addition to our busy day jobs.

Interestingly, the topic of gender bias was also covered from the male point of view. Josh levs, a CNN reporter was tired of doofas dads being portrayed in the media. He was a good, competent dad, who wanted paternity leave when his third child was born. It gave a fascinating perspective on global stigmas. I admit, I’ve been so busy trying to change perceptions of women, that I forgot that men, professions, different disciplines and geographic differences can experience negative bias too. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/11984553/Meet-Josh-Levs-the-male-feminist-who-sued-his-boss-for-paternity-leave.html

There were drinks and networking after the event, with social activist, Monica Lewinsky. Monica is campaigning about the phrase ‘but that’s different’, a statement that is often used to explain why a woman is at fault, or why a man should be treated differently. No matter what your views are on the former political aide, she certainly was a thought provoking speaker.

My first action as a result of attending is to find a sponsor. I’m also going to channel some of the determination shown by Kate Richardson-Walsh, captain of the Olympic Gold GB hockey team. I’m going to listen to my ‘inner chimp’ a theory from Professor Steve Peters, but not let it rule my head. I’m going to focus on outputs, stay mindful and in the moment, and try to eliminate my unconscious biais, even toward men.

For more information on the event, please take a look at https://live.ft.com/Events/2016/FT-Women-At-The-Top