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Running it like a girl – Lisa Lavender on female leadership

9th May 2018
Wayne Lee Sing 627887 Unsplash Lr4

How female leadership can benefit your business

In my last blog post, on International Women’s Day, I talked about how women’s roles have changed over the course of the 30 years I’ve worked in advertising and marketing. It attracted a lot of interest and attention, so here are my follow up thoughts. Blog number 2! At Adstream, we press for gender equality throughout our organisation and I want to talk about how businesses that adopt a female-led approach are re-writing the rules.

I joined Adstream when they bought my business, Traffic Bureau in 2006. They acquired an all-girl team. I didn’t plan it that way. It’s just that the TV admin side of the ad business is very female and – as I discovered over the following years – breeds really accountable, hard-working and committed employees. Traffic Bureau’s secret, if you want to call it that, was that we simply embraced the female skill set. I know these are not exclusively female attributes but the ability to multi-task, a keen eye for detail and a collaborative, not competitive, approach added up to a winning formula.

I built a business that fitted the lives of my team members, with part-time and flexible working hours and the ability to work from home. In my case, the female-led approach brought me success. So why is it that female-led businesses or female representation in senior roles still lags so far behind the men?

Subconscious stereotyping

I think that subconscious bias happens to play a big part. The Always #runlikeagirl campaign showed how gender stereotypes can dominate our thinking. In this case it questions why it seems that to do something ‘like a girl’ was to not do it well enough. It demonstrates that ideas like this are carried around in our heads without question. It was a hugely successful and really struck a chord with a vast audience, look it up on You Tube, it’s worth watching.

Creating social media content to raise awareness is one thing but how can we address the issue and bring positive change to our businesses, our workplaces and our teams? How do we foster an environment to challenge this subconscious bias?

Well, there are the structural things we can do and there are legislative instruments available. It is in our power to seek to close the gender pay gap – a topic which has been very high on the agenda this year. We can introduce flexible working options which might suit the demands of women’s lives more effectively. We can make sure we’re using the relevant legislation, regulations and Equality Commission guidelines as the spine of our HR and employment practices. All these are the more formal tools we’ve got at our disposal. The stick rather than the carrot, if you like. But as a businesswoman, I think it helps to focus on the benefits to the business of getting this balance right. In short, how does embracing the female skill-set help the bottom line?

There’s a lot of evidence out there suggesting that women-led businesses are actually more successful. A UK report from 2015 called ‘When Women Lead, Businesses do Better’ showed that just under half (45%) of all SMEs were majority or equally-led by women.

Looking at big business, a Credit Suisse report found that having a woman on the board was associated with better performance, and having more female top managers was associated with higher returns.

Research from Scandinavia’s biggest bank, Nordea, showed in an analysis of 11,000 companies, that those with a woman in the chief executive or chairman role performed significantly better than a major global index over the eight years the study was carried out.

Are we there yet?

The message seems to be that having women in senior roles pays off. However, successful large and small businesses being run by women are still in the minority. The actress Emma Watson grilled the CEOs of some big multinationals about equality and diversity at Davos a couple of years back and they were completely candid in admitting that things were some way off where they’d like them to be.

McKinsey & Co explained that while 41% of their employees are women, the percentage of senior staff and leaders who are female is significantly smaller. Similarly, PWC said that they have equal numbers of men and women joining the business at entry level, but then female representation at leadership level drops to only 20%.

Plenty of room for improvement but what’s important is that attitudes have changed to the degree that we’ve got CEOs of two of the world’s biggest multinationals admitting – on camera, no less – that they simply must do more, and faster, to create a level playing field between men and women.

Yes, there’s still a way to go, and there might be days when the scale of the task seems huge but I believe the way to achieve it is by remembering that striving for equality and particularly embracing and including a female-led approach is not just the ‘right thing to do’, it’s also the right thing to do for your business.

 

 

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