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A Seat at the Table

The issue of gender equality in business has been making news again recently. Notably, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline announced the appointment of Emma Walmsley as their new Chief Executive Officer. Incredibly, she is the first woman to manage one of the world’s top 25 pharmaceutical companies. However, this news was somewhat tarnished when it was discovered that Ms Walmsley was to be paid less than her male predecessor, apparently to reflect her lack of experience.

This story raises two important questions: the first is the issue of equal pay and the second is whether we are finally seeing sufficient female representation at the very top of business.

The first point can be addressed swiftly – it is immensely frustrating that we are still having to discuss issues of equal pay in 2017, some 47 years after it was enshrined in law by the Equal Pay Act 1970. No one is suggesting that GlaxoSmithKline have broken any laws – restructuring executive pay or paying people differently if they are genuinely less experienced or doing a fundamentally different job is fair enough. But the story would have been more easily dismissed if it were not clearly still a problem for so many women.

Meanwhile, when it comes to women’s representation at the top of business, change has been painfully slow. Policies implemented so far appear to have improved women’s representation on boards; one in four FTSE 100 board members are now women. However, advancement in executive roles has been slower. As of September 2016, just seven of FTSE 100 CEOs were women, and just 26 of the 749 companies listed on Aim, London’s junior market, are led by a woman.

For women entrepreneurs, improvements are also needed. Studies show that women are less likely to publicly list their company – something which is reflected in the Aim statistics above. Access to financial capital for women entrepreneurs is still not yet on a par with their male counterparts.

Joanne Smith is the Chief Executive and Creative Officer of The Consulting Consortium, a specialist regulatory provider challenging the big four. With over twenty years’ experience in the financial services sector, she has a unique insight into the challenges facing the industry. As an E2Exchange Ambassador, Joanne recently highlighted some of these challenges:
“In the sector in which my business operates, financial services, women make up just 23 per cent of all leadership hires and although we have seen improvements, change has been slow. Despite studies repeatedly showing that having women in leadership positions is economically beneficial for business, sexist attitudes unfortunately do still exist. Changing the culture is vital – old-school cliques, unrealistic and differing expectations, or judging women on their appearance, should not be tolerated. Everyone needs to step-up and make the changes that are needed.”

Change, therefore, starts with a greater understanding by people at the top, still mostly men, that having women at executive level is proven to be advantageous to business. A common misconception is that women’s representation comes down to good ‘aesthetics’ but it goes much further than that. Greater diversity at all levels means a wider range of skills and experience, studies also show that companies with more female management tend to be more profitable.


E2Exchange Ambassador and CEO of The Curve group, Lyndsey Simpson, is a passionate advocate for women in business and recently told us:
“A pound invested in developing women’s enterprise provides a greater return on investment than a pound invested in developing male owned enterprise. All of the research confirms that greater board diversity increases a firm’s competitive advantage relative to those with less diversity so the more we can do to encourage gender diversity at the top of UK PLC helps the economy and everyone prosper.”

If that doesn’t appeal to business leaders and investors, what will?

Mentoring can also play a vital role in promoting female talent, and for entrepreneurs schemes like E2Exchange can be highly beneficial. Mentoring can help build self-confidence and aspiration, particularly for younger women starting out in their careers. Having other women as mentors clearly has merit, but as this is not always possible, men should actively seek to encourage and promote women in their organisations. Companies who advocate mentoring can reap the rewards of retaining talented women and the benefits of promoting them to senior positions.


Kanya King MBE is the founder of the MOBO awards and a founding board member of E2Exchange. She has broken new ground in the male-dominated music industry for the past twenty years and is an advocate for an inclusive approach to solving the gender gap. Speaking about this issue recently, Kanya said:
“It is vitally important that men and women tackle the challenges and great opportunities of equality together. Our society will only benefit from a better balance if we each take personal responsibility for solving the problems, working together and making diversity and equality priorities in our lives. It’s down to each individual - but together, we can amplify the impact that change will have by inspiring, educating and mentoring each other as well as future generations to become innately inclusive, fulfil all potentials, increase productivity and deliver benefits to the economy.”

In addition to the above there are an array of policies and initiatives, such as target setting, outreach, unconscious bias training, shared parental leave, flexible working, and many more that could all help women make it to the top. However, the starting point must be the recognition that businesses need women at the top, not because it’s the nice thing to do but because it’s the smart thing to do.