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Women in Leadership Conference

Women in leadership conference - at Herts chamber of commerce. One main speaker and a panel.

Opinion piece by Emma Curtis – Exemplas

Emma’s key takeaways from Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Leadership Conference

Emma Curtis, Senior Marketing Executive, attended the fourth annual Women in Leadership Conference with Wendy Gibbs, Account Manager at Hertfordshire Growth Hub. Emma shares her thoughts and key takeaways from the day.

With over 100 female leaders in attendance at Sopwell House, St Albans, Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce set off the day with an inspirational welcome from their newly appointed Managing Director, Donna Schultz. Donna started imploring the women leaders in the room to change the narrative on how women are perceived in the workplace.

Women are often told they are ‘bossy’, ‘abrasive’ or ‘difficult’, but this narrative doesn’t serve the value women bring to the businesses they work for and lead. The messaging around women in the workplace can put us at a disadvantage, but by changing the way we perceive them, we can see our positions elevated. Women have often in times gone by seen their value through the achievements of those around them, but we are allowed to see our value through our own achievements.

A key message she conveyed was to stop saying “I’m sorry, but…” at the beginning of a sentence in a group discussion, following with an important sentiment “what you have to say is of value”.

Annie Brewster, Mayor of St Albans District Council and ex-Chairman of Herts CC, shared her story; having been elected to the parish council having never previously considering a political career, through adversity she rose to a leadership position within the county council.

With passion fired by those who had elected her, she overcame the bullies who tried as hard as they could to have her thrown out of her position and continued to rise through the ranks to positions of leadership throughout the political landscape. A landscape that often does not easily accept those who are empathetic.

Annie shared her key to success in her long history of leading in political positions:

“To move back and forth between big picture and detail is the key to success.”

Notwithstanding the robustness of message of her speech, Annie conveyed how her not-so-thick skin has allowed her the empathy to provide a perspective on the council that has true value. With strength, her honesty and empathy was surely felt by every delegate in attendance.

After a break, every delegate headed into their optioned breakout workshops, the first workshop attended, was:

‘Three secrets every woman needs to know about being promoted, and three mistakes employers make when trying to attract female employees’ – Jo Phillips, The Woman Behind The Women

Jo led an incredible session, leaning on her years of experience coaching women in multi-disciplinary positions. She engaged every person in the audience in an interactive poll, asking “How comfortable are you talking about your achievements?”, to which the average response was 5.2 out of 10 in comfortability. She implored the women in the room to think about their value proposition, instead of ascertaining their worth by simply what they do. With 10% of career success based on performance and the remaining based on exposure and image, we have to ask ourselves… why are we focussing on how hard we are working, and not the entire aggregate value of what we bring to the businesses we work for or lead?

When women have voices at board-level, they often see increases in revenue. Boards should be seeing promoting diverse leadership as an investment, of which they can see tangible return; At an average increase in revenue of 53%*, there is a clear Return on Equity (ROE) on the practice of hearing diverse voices.

Closing the gender pay gap

Although nowadays businesses working towards promoting equal pay is a prerequisite, at the current trajectory, the gender pay gap will be closed in 136 years**. But Jo posed the question, “if we are able to 3D print on the moon, how can we not close the gender pay gap?” Jo poses that the answer is as simple as our lack of will to do so. There are contributing factors, including the perpetuation of sharing your salary at the interview stage – and how since the female employee will likely have been underpaid in her prior role it perpetuates the continuation of underpay. Employers can reduce the risk of unconscious bias around this area by adopting recruitment practices that avoid the question around salary to ensure they are paying candidates the best wage they can based on their skillset.

The second workshop attended, was:

‘Creating a culture and structure for sustainable success’ – Liz Redway, Redway HR      

Liz dived into the different structures of workplaces, talking through how different hierarchies can provide different levels of creative outputs. There’s a lot that can be done within setting a culture and structure within an organisation to cultivate creativity, and an often-seen ‘silo’ structure can be to the detriment of creativity seeing it suffer. In a world where innovation can be the difference between success and failure in a business, ensuring every person in a business feels like they can voice their opinions and share their ideas or concerns can be vital.

Integrate innovation into your DNA

HR practices are a key to ensuring innovation is felt throughout an organisation. Even at the recruitment stage, we should ensure the language used to hire senior positions moves away from masculine language and closer to neutral, to ensure that at the very least at the foundation level, diverse applicants can feel welcome.

The famous quote from management consultant and writer Peter Drucker is: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Meaning, no matter the strength of a strategic plan, or the focus on strategy at board-level, the ability to see expected results will be held back if a strong culture isn’t in place. And what stronger culture is one that is a conduit of equality, diversity and inclusion.

Emma’s key takeaways:

  • A diverse boardroom is a profitable boardroom, with an average increase in revenue of 53%*,
  • If you don’t have women applying for senior roles, then you may not be advertising the right roles – make the roles more attractive to a diverse audience,
  • Understand that everyone has a different experience that is valuable, we should all listen to the quietest voices, and we may learn something,
  • If you see a situation that perpetuates inequality, say something,
  • Men’s voices can have more weight with other men. If a man is wondering what he can do, speaking up with allyship for women is a good start,
  • Let women speak: It’s everyone’s responsibility to set the floor for the width of diverse voices to be heard, and it’s for everyone’s benefit.

*McKinsey & Company:

**The World Economic Forum: