She is a former candidate on the hit TV show The Apprentice, Winner of The Weakest Link and is a regular media commentator.
She is a motivational speaker held in the highest regard and has a long list of clients in the public and private sector.
Birds of a feather
When I got all agitated about the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Partnership having not a single woman on it, it prompted some interesting comments on my twitter page. I had instantly gone into a flap, calling the LEP outdated, sexist and living in the dark ages. Of course I stand by that.
I proclaimed there was only one word for it, and it was not publishable on twitter. Some women responded to my tweets accusing the selection committee of misogyny, some said the LEP stood for the Ladies Exclusion Party, others just said it was reminded us that the glass ceiling wasn’t just glass but double glazed and reinforced.
The men said that the women just got beat.
The LEP standing for Local Enterprise Partnership appointed eight businessmen from the region to join chairman Andy Street on the board. These are David Kaye, managing director of National Express’ bus division, Blue Sky Corporate Finance founder Paul Haven, Alan Volkaerts operations director at Jaguar Land-Rover, Kraft Foods and Cadbury president Nick Bunker, Rob Brown managing director of construction company Roger Bullivant. Also on the board are Wade Lyn founder of leading Caribbean food manufacturer Cleone Food, Brian Francis group managing director of ThyssenKrupp Tallent. They are joined lastly by David Eastwood the vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham. The purpose of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is “to create and support a globally competitive knowledge economy, the natural home for Europe’s entrepreneurs and wealth creators.” But does this ethos together with an all-male board give the impression that Europe’s entrepreneurs and wealth creators are more likely to be men?
Of course if you are a man and have never been on the receiving end of discrimination you might struggle to understand why women get so agitated about being so blatantly under-represented in key positions of influence. Well, there are a couple of reasons. We have known for ages that recruitment and selection processes tend to follow informal routes commonly known as ‘jobs for the boys’. This discounts you if you are not already in ‘the gang’. So if vacancies are not published in the right arenas, the right people won’t notice them. It’s a bit like fishing in a pool that has salmon and trout but only using the bait that salmon prefer and then wondering why only salmon take the bait.
Recruitment process can also be skewed in what recruiters are looking for, especially in relation to ‘merits’. What traditionally used to be seen as merits are not ‘merits’ any more. Typically, also, women have different ‘merit’s that are not considered equally to men’s. Of course you will find examples to discredit my arguments but we are making generalisations about why women are still not in senior positions in equal numbers to men.
The other barrier that we need to jump over is that fact that people like to recruit in one’s own self image. It’s something called homophily. It’s defined by Wikipedia as “love of the same” or by the old adage “birds of a feather flock together”. It’s a key barrier to accepting someone who is little bit different to you.
Most women don’t want to get into senior positions though tokenism but as I always maintain, women should be included because we are women AND good at our jobs. It also makes the decision making better AND it reflects the diverse needs of what other women want AND AND AND, the list goes on with a myriad of other pluses.
At a commercial level, the LEP announced that it wanted to represent all sectors. Quite clearly it hasn’t. Most of the contingent are from manufacturing and ‘traditional’ industries. We see the same old faces time and time again. Is everyone else just not good enough???
The SME sector is one of the faster growing sectors and it widely acclaimed that it will be responsible for pulling the UK out of economic difficulties. Surely they should have some representation from this sector because the partnership is all about enterprise, is it not.
Within my close circle of contacts there are many women who are superbly driven, equally qualified and ‘off the scale’ entrepreneurial to boot. They would have made outstanding candidates.
The most worrying thing however is that when boards such as this are made up of group of people who are all very similar, we end with a situation called ‘Group Think’. This is a widely researched and understood concept that has been attributed to many world situations including Pearl Harbour and the shuttle disaster.
The problem with Group Think is that the consensus of the group becomes more important than the effective decision making, hence they miss things that are more than obvious to other people. Decisions are also more likely to be ‘nodded through’. It’s not a good way of operating.
The recently published Davies Report about why we need to improve the number of women on boards made a range of recommendations to redress the balance. It states that when women are included in key decisions, the outcomes are better for all. It concludes that having more women on boards is good for business, much better for clients and users of the services all round.
This is why I think that the obvious absence of women on this LEP is preposterous in this day and age. Didn’t anybody notice???
Davies also recommends that boards have at least 25% representation of women by 2015. Of course the recommendations don’t apply to the LEP but it does offer a very good guideline and we should be following the guidance nonetheless. One woman would have been a start in Birmingham. We should be taking the lead, not bringing up the rear.
The diversity debate is not just about women but is also about age, ability and class and seemingly none are represented on this board. The white men will be in the minority very soon in the Birmingham region, do you not think that this board is about being inclusive not divisive?
My recommendations to the board are that they should 1) publicly accept that they made a mistake 2) issue a plan to redress the balance 3) replace some of the men with women over the next two years.
This is not positive discrimination, its positive action. There is a difference. The former is illegal, the latter isn’t. In this day and age it’s also right, proper and makes great business sense to reflect the local demographic. Get with it, Birmingham LEP.