What are the benefits to businesses of a strong female presence in boardrooms?
According to Deloitte, gender diversity in UK board rooms is lagging behind European counterparts with only 1 in 5 board room seats held by women. I sat on the board at Jola for over eight years and was the only female board member. Being a female on the board sends a positive message to other females in the organisation that there is not a glass ceiling and it is possible to progress to more senior positions within the organisation. If you can see someone similar to yourself doing the job you want in the future, it makes the goal seem more achievable and you can often gain a mentor to help you learn the skills to be able to get there. I like to think that I brought a new dimension to the team and some complementary skills. Board discussions were always inclusive and a female marketing perspective from a detail-orientated person was often useful in decision-making. The Jola Board has learned that it’s not enough to have female representation you have to make sure decisions are not made without everyone’s input.
How are you taking a lead on the issue of increasing female representation at the top in your business?
At Jola, we focus on hiring and developing the skills we need to satisfy the demands of our partners. We use our own technologies in-house to facilitate flexible working and run training and development programmes, which has helped us to recruit more women into management positions within the organisation.
I have championed a few different initiatives to remove the barriers some women face working in the channel such as work-from-anywhere and part-time hours. This has facilitated Mums working from home, doing school drop-off and pick-ups, attending parents' evenings, school productions, sports days and taking kids to after-school clubs. It has also allowed Mums to be at home to look after ill children and relatives globally, whilst being completely focussed on the needs of Jola, our sales team and our partners’ requirements during working hours.
We have introduced fantastic EMI schemes and employee benefits to compete with much larger organisations offering the same flexible working and gender-diverse culture locally.
We changed the way we recruited to remove the barriers of very specific qualifications and experience and focussed on finding smart people who share the same values as the Jola team and who are looking to grow and develop with us.
We are supported by entrepreneurs who have given us a voice at every level of the organisation and a career path to progress. We introduced work experience schemes, apprenticeship schemes, sandwich year placement schemes, graduate training schemes, and we advertised roles internally so women could progress inter-departmentally. We encourage and pay for our staff to gain qualifications to progress within Jola.
We have official training and development programmes as well as unofficial mentoring programmes. We encourage networking and personal development sessions with organisations such as Reframe, Women in Tech.
What initiatives and developments do you participate in to help increase the presence of women on boards in the wider industry?
I actively contribute to industry magazines and attend events speaking on panels discussing diversity and inclusion.
What are the objectives of these efforts and how are the initiatives being progressed?
My objective is to raise awareness, inspire and to demonstrate how small changes can make such a big difference to the quality of female candidates being recruited and the success of organisations in the channel.
What more action needs to be taken to boost the number of women on boards?
I don’t think there is a quick fix. We need to increase the number of experienced candidates to recruit from. The more we can influence young people to reach their potential, the better the recruitment pool will be for us when they are ready to start work. We could go into schools and talk about the careers we can offer in IT and Telecoms and get them excited about learning new skills. We can offer work experience programmes, apprenticeship schemes, mentoring schemes, re-training schemes, back-to-work schemes and graduate schemes to grow our own talent internally and offer career development and share schemes. If you are on the board you often own a stake in the company and to do this you need to be able to invest. This is a barrier in itself. I was lucky enough to be part of a start-up with seed money, of which my share was a percentage I was able to invest.
What barriers have you identified to having more women on boards and how is Jola addressing these challenges?
To recruit the best talent into the industry we need to look at barriers. Do our daughters want to become board members in IT and Telecoms? My daughter did want to be a YouTuber or an actress but has recently said she may start her own business and aims to be CEO. She is more aware of what we do as she spent so much time sharing my home office being home-schooled.
Jola addresses some of these challenges because we need to grow our own talent internally. We are not specifically focused on hiring more women, in fact, we are against positive discrimination. If board positions are recruited for, the pool we recruit from needs to be more diverse and to do this we need more experienced women with great track records in previous board positions, who can add something extra to the existing board.
What cultural considerations need to be taken into account and why?
If you have children, someone needs to look after them. If I look at the school gates 97% of the parents doing the pickup and drop-offs are women. If you don’t have children it may be more of a level playing field. Do we then need to look at job descriptions for potential board members to see what they are looking for and work backwards? Do we have the connections and network to be recommended for openings? Do we have the track record and experience required? If not, we need to build that and work with brilliant entrepreneurs who can help us achieve our goals.