As well as founding the Women's Business Forum, Heather Jackson runs An Inspirational Journey - a set of four initiatives that seek to increase the number of women at senior level in corporate UK. Here Jackson, whose organisation currently works with over 25 globally recognised companies and over 4,000 women, gives her take on getting more gender-balanced boardrooms in the UK.
BQ: Why don't you believe quotas are the answer?
HJ: There are underlying problems which result in the under representation of women on boards. They lie so much deeper within organisations than merely the board. Concentrating on just adding more women on to board numbers is merely just papering over a crack. The Pearls programme – which is the foundation of An Inspirational Journey – works with companies to identify, develop and grow female talent pools at all levels of their business. That way, more of the female talent reaches senior and executive positions. It is at this level that women can really make a difference. Quotas for women on boards won’t achieve this.
What’s the view from businesses themselves?
What we’ve learnt by working with organisations such as RBS, whose headquarters are based in Edinburgh, is that tackling the issue of the underrepresentation of women in senior positions is something that women and companies want.
The advantages mean that this isn’t purely an equality issue – it’s a business issue.
What is the main advantage to gender balanced boards?
Simple; better corporate performance. Much research hasproven that companies with gender balanced boards achieve 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity. Gender balance in the boardroomand at senior and executive management level too, will make companies and businesses perform better. I don’t know a company in Scotland, the UK, or indeed the world, that wouldn’t want to see those results!
What is the Scottish landscape like in terms of this issue?
Scottish companies, just like companies in the rest of the UK, will no doubt be feeling the pressure from the government to increase the number of women on their boards. We are working with many organisations that have a presence in Scotland. RBS for example, are a huge supporter of An Inspirational Journey and CEO of Corporate Banking Chris Sullivan has been promoting the fact that companies perform better if they take gender diversity seriously for years. RBS is a company that is definitely leading the way on this issue – their story is one that I would love to share with Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, before she makes the decision on whether or not to introduce legislative quotas. I have recently requested a meeting with Ms Reding to introduce her to An Inspirational Journey and some of the CEOs we are working with.
What would be your message to Ms Reding – just in case she is reading this?
I would ask her to take a proper look at the UK and see the advances its businesses have made over the last year. I would ask her to consider our sustainable, effective, and business-led solution to the business issue of the under representation of women at the top of corporate companies.
I would like to showcase the positive work that is being delivered by UK organisations working alongside our initiatives to mend the pipeline, and support their women in realising their potential, enabling leaders to change the status quo and accelerate the natural evolution of skilled and talented women into the hierarchies of organisations. I would like to ensure that the threat of legislation does not disrupt the programmes we already have in place.
Only by bringing leaders together, from all sectors of the UK, can we truly begin to ensure that the UK has a sustainable approach that allows the most effective, talented and skilled leaders of the future to lead, regardless of gender – ensuring that the UK can lead the world in being the first truly gender balanced corporate culture in the world.
I am confident that I could not only demonstrate how our model is working in the UK, but how it could work across the whole of Europe.