International Women's Day 2022 - sponsored by Peroni Nastro Azzurro

What does the sector need to do to enable women to reach senior level?

By Jackie Moody-McNamara

- Last updated on GMT

Comment piece: Jackie Moody-McNamara tackles the question of how can the industry enable women to reach senior levels
Comment piece: Jackie Moody-McNamara tackles the question of how can the industry enable women to reach senior levels

Related tags: Training, International women's day

When asked by The Morning Advertiser to write an opinion piece about “what does the sector need to do to enable women to reach senior level?” for International Women’s Day my initial response was deflation, are we still chasing the answer to this old chestnut every #IWD? Well obviously yes we are, because until we reach a parity of equality and fairness for women, we need to keep asking this question I guess.

But there’s another reason to keep asking this question, commercial advantage. Organisations with greater gender diversity outperform those who don’t anywhere from 4 to 19% uplift in profit.  With the backdrop of a pandemic, challenging economy and war in Ukraine, why wouldn’t we continue to ask this question?

Don’t take my word for it, in 2011 the Davies Review​ was commissioned in response to the 2008 global recession. The review acknowledged “Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender-diverse boards have a positive impact on performance. It is clear that boards make better decisions where a range of voices, drawing on different life experiences, can be heard. That mix of voices must include women.”

The Davies Review​ targeted a 25% gender balance of women and this ambition continued to grow with its successor the Hampton Alexander Review which shifted the target to 30%. Their last report in 2021 stated that on average the FTSE 100, 250 and 350 were achieving on average over 33% representation of women.

However, underneath the key headlines, the story’s not so sweet for women. Only 14% of executive directorships were women, they held less than 30% of senior leadership positions, patterns still of ‘one (female) and done’ on Boards still exists and women are holding down more of the usual ‘people’ roles, rather than financial and operationally focused roles.

Cut me in half and I’m a commercial operator, which must be, as a male CEO once told me: "The problem with women Jackie is they are just not commercial." As I glared open mouthed he added: "But you're different!". This one conversation opened my eyes and ears to the challenges women face, the bias lens women are viewed by and that’s not just by men, women are equally as bias.

I’m frequently astounded, at a time when every penny counts and every margin % is imperative, why, boards are not expecting more from themselves and their executive teams, why they’re not putting more investment, rigour and accountability into achieving a more gender diverse workforce, from the ‘bar to the boardroom’ to coin a Stonegate phrase.

Wish I’d invested in organisations who saw fit to prioritise gender diversity 10 years ago. A series of reports from KPMG, Deloittes, McKinsey to name a few, have all evidenced the more gender diverse your organisation and board, the more profit you make.

Organisations have openly published how a diverse workforce has grown their profits, Sodexho confirmed their focus on diversity resulted in 8% margin growth and improved employee retention by 14%. Where are hospitalities stories and research?

Getting back to the question at hand, “what does the sector need to do to enable women to reach senior level?”

Well there’s no golden bullets. I’ve drawn on a 20 year executive career and the hours of research, coaching, facilitation, listening, insights, learning, joining the dots and practical application, here’s my thoughts.

Two keys things are happening:

1) The talent pool of women is not big enough from the bar to the boardroom which doesn’t provide access to enough women to accelerate the pace of change.

Co-ordinated sector approach - ​The sector, sector bodies and influences need to help themselves by developing a co-ordinated strategic approach. Start a campaign to attract women from outside the sector to provide the pipeline we need.

Are there demands for gender diversity, yes. I work with recruitment agencies and organisations who want to recruit more women and are asking for a 50/50 candidate pool. Recruiters are pulling their hair out to achieve this. Clients have identified women they fear are a flight risk and want to retain them, it’s a dog eat dog recruitment environment out there and the successful organisations will be those who are most attractive to female candidates.

No nonsense conversations and non-negotiable behaviours​ - The sector is inconsistent, heroes and villains, those who are achieving change by walking the talk and those who are maintaining the status quo by continuing to do what they’ve always done, look through a bias lens, recruiting safely with people who look and act like them. 

Another great start would be to STOP having all male panels and speakers at events, it is just not acceptable and everyone needs to take account for this, organisers, speakers and attendees and voice your opinion, vote with your feet!

2) The talented women we do have are getting stuck in jobs, sitting under the radar and not progressing a career because the playing field is not level and full of bias,  a lens that is not equitable.

Be ambitious, provide context and be commercial​. When I ask why clients are being proactive and what does good look like, the why is not always clear or commercially grounded. I’m as keen as anyone to promote women, but I do it knowing there is a commercial advantage for everyone. Organisations need to understand their why, be purposeful, make it clear and tangible. 

Discover, educate and understand lived experiences- ​I’m not talking Unconscious Bias training either. I’m working with organisations who have invested, put together what on the surface look like proactive mentoring and development schemes, with the best of intentions. However, they have not provided context or educated both the mentees and mentors to the barriers women encounter and connecting the dots.

You don’t know what you don’t know! Until leaders and organisations really understand the nuances of the lived experiences professional women have encountered and can articulate them when asked, they will find it hard to provide the right environment and support. Take the time, sit, ask about their experiences, listen, hear beyond the words, learn and understand the challenges.

It’s not enough to convince a women to apply for a job, she needs to articulate her worth at interview to secure the job. She needs to move from a job to a career, to continually claim her work and advocate for herself in a manner that does not alienate others. These are the nuances women have to deal with.

I’ve heard such amazing stories of resilience, courage and achievement – If only these stories we heard and understood, you’d realise just how powerful and successful many women are, including those who sit under the radar.

By the way, we women are as guilty of developing our own barriers too, this is not one way.

Personalised development and nurturing talent - ​ We need to retain and progress the talented women in the sector through personalised development and nurturing talent. This is progress internally and attract women from outside the sector to grow our pipeline and meet the demands.

This is beyond leadership development; this is about articulating the behaviours that hold women back and really homing in on them. Create collaborative and safe learning environments that empower women, with spending time with people like them, that they can identify with and feel there not on their own. I receive more feedback from women on my programmes and the benefits of having access to other women who share similar experiences and can offer support and ideas.

Celebrate women’s differences and value their worth, stop trying to fix them​. We are not broken and it’s the differences that the Davies Review recognised our Boards need to make long term sustainable organisational decisions.

Too often I hear of mentors telling women to dress differently, wear less jewellery, change your approach totally and not be you. I accept we all need to the ability to adapt our styles to get the best from everyone, but not change who we are.

Acknowledge women overachieve. There’s evidence just how competent women are, even when underrepresented, they frequently overachieve. Clients have evidenced when they review performance, women consistency over achieve. I researched the UKH Ops Manager of the year finalists, over an 8 year period, women represented 20% of the finalists and won 50% of the awards. Post the awards, 60% of the men progressed in their organisations and none of the women, they all moved to new organisations to gain progression.

Leaders need to look in the mirror more, too often I’m asked to work with a women and get them to change and I ask the leader to start with themselves, what changes do they need to make first if you want a different outcome!

Relatable role models - being a leader needs to be attractive. ​This is a tricky one, too often the behaviours women observe in the boardroom put them off progressing, macho behaviour, internal competing and grand standing. This is not just men, I receive a lot of feedback from women who want to progress who say, the females in their business at Board level are not relatable to them, they don’t want to be a “man with tits” not my words but that of a women I spoke to in my research and a recurring theme.

In short the sector needs to incorporate these behaviours and actions into our DNA, we don’t need a series of activities, we need a series of behavioural and mindset changes to achieve cultural change.

And as for questions, one I have for our sector, why wouldn’t we prioritise being more ambitious, more strategic and more collaborative to accelerate the development, retention and attraction of women, it’s a commercial no brainer! 

The Morning Advertiser’s International Women’s Day coverage is sponsored by Peroni Nastro Azzurro, which is an Asahi UK brand. Asahi UK is home to an exceptional portfolio of premium beer, ale and cider brands, including category leaders in the UK.

The range includes international brands Peroni Nastro Azzurro, the No.1 Super Premium lager in the UK with every drop brewed in Italy; Japan’s No.1 beer, Asahi Super Dry, and firm favourite for the UK, Grolsch.

A portfolio to be envied which also includes local heroes: Fuller’s London Pride, Meantime, Dark Star and Cornish Orchards. Asahi UK’s focus is on enriching experiences for our customers and consumers through innovation, unrivalled service and offering brands with undeniable quality and provenance. 

Asahi UK believes that every business has a responsibility to understand and act upon its environmental impact and we continuously work towards sharing more information with our suppliers, customers and consumers about both the footprint of our beers, and how we are working to reduce it.

Our place in the local community is highly valued and we strive to ensure that we are always making a positive contribution to the communities in and around our UK Breweries. For more information on Asahi UK and parent organisation, Asahi Europe International visit​.

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