To mark International Women’s Day, Savannah’s Talent Intelligence team analysed C-Suite leadership in the largest organisations in asset management, private equity, oil & gas, construction & engineering, industrial manufacturing, consumer goods and technology. We looked at the average gender diversity and the range from ‘best’ to ‘worst’ of the companies in our sample.   We also examined a sample of 222 CEO appointments across listed and private businesses in the EU and US with over 1bn revenue. In part 1 we shared the data.  Here in part 2 Savannah CEO Katrina Cheverton sits down with Senior Advisor and Former FTSE CHRO Clancy Murphy to delve into the solutions for ensuring sustainable diversity.

Clancy: What do sustainably diverse companies do differently? Do you see differences in the actions typically taken in different sectors?

Katrina: Sustainable diversity is only possible if there is a drive to create diverse pipelines of talent across the organisation and at different seniorities. The old adage that “you can’t be what you cannot see” certainly fits in this context. Sustainably diverse companies focus on developing diversity at junior levels upwards. Organisations that truly listen to colleagues tend to do better in the diversity stakes. They will also typically think hard about flexibility in where and when you work and in career progression. This is to ensure that they are not consciously or unconsciously cutting off colleagues from being able to do their best work.  This is different in different sectors but arguably there is more flexibility in smaller organisations than in larger ones, regardless of sector.  Much has been made of being a female ally. I would argue that what really helps is having a sponsor – someone who will open doors for you and hold them open as well as being vocal in their support.  Diverse organisations do this well. Finally I would point to a flexible hiring approach and an openness to consider different backgrounds, experiences and demographics compared to the existing workforce and a willingness to think broadly about the ideal candidate profile – this is where having the right external talent partner can make a big difference.

Clancy: What needs to happen so that when we get to IWD 2030, we are seeing more equal male/female representation?

Katrina: We need to keep this discussion going.  Whilst it would be great to be in a world without the need for IWD we are certainly not there yet. Board Chairs need to make gender equality non-negotiable and CEOs need to be held accountable for hiring diverse senior teams either internally or through external hiring.  Making this a specific objective, with financial implications around reward certainly reinforces the importance and ensures that CEOs and their teams are focused on growing their own diverse talent through internal development programmes, and female sponsorship.

Clancy: What’s the best training ground for CEOs? Does this create any disadvantages for women and what can be done to level the playing field

Katrina: I am not sure there is one “training ground”.  I think that we need to be really clear on what makes a great leader and then focus on helping colleagues develop this. There are some differences in how women lead compared to men, and insisting that everyone does it in the same way will continue to ensure more men are successful as their traits will be the most common so the most recognisable.  So the best training ground is where there is a real focus on leadership skills, exposure to being a leader in action, the opportunity to really understand the key elements of the business from the operations, to finance and of course people, and then to enable the best leaders to come to the top.

Clancy: What can search firms do, and what is Savannah doing, to contribute to gender diversity progress?

Katrina: Search firms need to ‘walk the walk’.  Just as we advise clients that diversity of thought is necessary for innovation, better problem solving and optimal commercial success, the same is true for ourselves.  A range of perspectives is key – we need to diversify our teams to best support our clients. 

Search is a tough environment and you need resilience and persistence.  But there are many ways you can develop this – and there are many typically female traits which contribute to success.  In business environments where the team is predominantly male, it is often assumed that the ‘male way of doing things’ is the way it gets done – it is a very short step from there to assuming it is the only way.  So Search firms need to consciously look at what is required in their businesses – the outcomes – and then support women to achieve these in their own way.

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