Jo Cameron

Jo founded her High Performance Academy because she is passionate about helping people and organisations achieve.

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 I had instantly gone into a flap, calling the LEP outdated, sexist and living in the dark ages.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.

7 Comments on Jo Cameron

  1. Jo
    I was ranting along with you as I read this having the same view of Chambers. I went to the Greater Manchester Chamber Dinner a few weeks ago and it was like stepping back in time. Not a single woman on the platform or the 80 page programme – absolute disgrace. Yet of the women in the audinece I seemed to be one of the few that was even bothered about this? Probably all corporate wives that do as their told eh Jo – something that does NOT apply to us!

  2. karen birch // May 3, 2011 at 8:35 am // Reply

    I agree with you both. I was at an IOD event where the male speaker was commenting about the proliferation of womens networks and why don’t women just join IOD. He appeared genuinely surprised and a bit flustered when I suggested that the IOD just doesn’t talk our language and that they really ought to have a fairer representation in order to attract more women members.

  3. Interesting. One of my little mantra’s – “turkey’s dont vote for Christmas” applies here and in other ways. Most groups/teams tend to favour people of the same ilk as themselves; they are unlikely to vote for change that de-stabalises their own fundemental position and views. It is not just a “women” issue but clearly there is lots of work to do in this area. As Jo says, diversity is not restricted to gender. New brooms needed all round !! I hope that we can all fight the good fight on all of these undemocratic, unfair and unethical fronts.

  4. Well done Jo for bringing homophily into the open. Regrettably this is probably the single largest barrier to the progression of women into senior positions.

    I suspect that there are few senior women who have not experienced this at least once in their career, myself included. Also, there are not many of us who haven’t sat through interminably long business dinners and seminars and asked the same questions that Jane and Karen have.

    In direct response to this last year I created a high calibre business event exclusively for women – the North West Women’s Enterprise Day. This was a day that showcased exceptional enterprising women from across the North West providing practical support as well as inspiration to overcome barriers and take your business to a higher level. The day sold out quickly demonstrating the appetite for this. As a result of the day a number of new businesses started and for others it provided a springboard for growth. The event was recognised through the Enterprise UK Outstanding Impact Award. This year the event will be held on Friday 28th October so do put the date into your diaries.

    I’m not a believer in quotas – to me it demeans the achievements of the individual appointed. Instead I would offer the extensive research that demonstrates that organisations with women in senior positions tend to do better in terms of every success measure than those without. Indeed recent research demonstrates that in times of trouble large organisations are more willing to recruit senior women to steer them through troubled waters. Therefore there are clear economic and social impact benefits to doing so.

    So the big question remains, how do we change homophilic attitudes? Without a cultural shift it is unlikely that Lord Davies’ recommendations will be delivered or sustainable.

  5. Anne Casey // May 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm // Reply

    Well put Jo. So frustrating. It feels that we have still a long way to go before the cultural change required is effected, to stop this happening. Will the Davies Report help with this change? I hope so but I am not optimistic.

  6. Well said Jo. Sad that we are still fighting these battles and I agree with your comments about ‘birds of a feather’. One other point I would pick up on made by Melanie she says “recent research demonstrates that in times of trouble large organisations are more willing to recruit senior women to steer them through troubled waters.” The downside to this is that many women are inheriting a “poisoned chalice” where an organisation is in trouble under a male leader and a woman is being thrown in the deep end to sink without support. There is an interesting post here about this.

  7. I agree with you Jo and Melanie. Homophily seems to be a massive barrier and as much as I like to help female clients dress for corporate work and interviews there are some issues that I can’t address…

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