Dawn Cranswick on the Women Leaders Roundtable at the House of Lords

Dawn Cranswick Sayeed Warsi House of Lords

I was fortunate to be invited to the Women in Business Roundtables session at the House of Lords yesterday, an inspiring event which focused on:

  • exploring the challenges that women face in their development as leaders
  • hearing about ways to harness the growth of technology to support a blended work-life balance
  • identifying strategies to increase diversity within business

The event was hosted by Rt. Honourable Baroness Warsi PC, with panel members Clare Barclay of Microsoft UK, Griselda Tobogo of Forward Ladies, James Cliffe of HSBC, Margaret Totten of IA Cubed, and James Maunder of the Institute of Directors.

Panel members focused on sharing personal challenges from their experience, and how their own organisations had made changes to create a more level playing field.

There were lots of points raised worthy of reflection, and insights into the challenges women in business face; the highlights for me.

From Baroness Warsi some very good advice: women tend to have strong emotional intelligence – so bring it to work, but don’t bring your emotions to work.

One example shared, showing the subtle ways in which women in government are challenging gender equality, was the practice that in Cabinet Meetings when one female Minister raised a point or made a suggestion, another female Minister would immediately comment on it, and specifically note the first Minster as the ‘owner’ – to ensure the same point couldn’t be later repeated by a man and claimed as his own.

James Maunder shared his experience of being told at an early stage of his career by a female boss to ‘bring all of himself’ to work – at the time he was wearing a suit and a tie to work, and behaving how he thought a manager should behave. The message was clear, be yourself, be authentic. James also talked about the importance of managers walking the walk – if you want your team to have a better work-life balance and feel able to work from home occasionally, the manager should do the same to show its okay not to be present all the time. Focusing on work as outcomes, rather than activity means everyone is judged on productivity rather than presentism.

Margaret Totten remembered being told by a careers teacher that because she spoke very nicely for the area of Glasgow she was brought up in, perhaps she ‘could be a Secretary’. Later, she recalled her grandmother, who used to complain that as Margaret’s husband worked hard he was entitled to his tea on the table when he arrived home, now proudly tells everyone Margaret runs her own business – albeit gran thinks the business she owns is Microsoft (IA Cubed are a Microsoft Partner).

James Cliffe spoke about the value of a sponsor, explaining how his wife who is also in banking applied for a promotion when seven and half months pregnant and, much to James’ surprise, got the job because she had a sponsor in the bank who could see her potential.

Griselda Tobogo shared her experiences of running her own business with a new baby, and the challenges of fitting things in whilst making time for her baby, recalling how a member of staff jokingly suggested she should ask for some time off.

Clare Barclay encouraged the room that tech companies, such as Microsoft, have many jobs which are not ‘nerdy’, and how women can only add value to tech businesses.

There were numerous more valuable roundtable contributions. We heard about the challenges for small businesses in coping both operationally and financially with parental leave; the question of gender pay and publishing salaries as a transparency measure; the value for women’s development of having a high-level sponsor in an organisation; and most importantly the need to challenge anyone who attempts to limit your ambitions.

The Women in Business Roundtable was a really interesting and inspiring event. I’m looking forward to seeing the report which will be published and the next chapter for in business for women leaders.