I have been asked as a woman did I feel at a disadvantage in my ambition to reach the top? Looking back on it now I don't think that it was so much about being female that caused me issues but more that I didn't fit the normal behavioural model that was prevalent in the group. I was lucky to be surrounded by women who reached senior positions within the organisation, so never questioned that it was attainable. However I recognised that most - but not all - of the women that made it to the top had more stereotypical male traits.

To be heard around the board table you need to be seen to be strong - the traditional definition of a strong leader is callousness, impulsivity and aggression - all traits more commonly associated with men. However the biggest traits that a male dominated board can lack are empathy and emotional intelligence. This is not about being compassionate but about understanding the personal interactions that are taking place and how this enables things to get done within the organisation. Unfortunately often when women are appointed to executive boards they are assigned the role as custodian of this emotional aspect of leadership and still struggle to be heard when discussing the commercial aspects of the business. Why is this the case when it has been shown that women are less likely to make decisions based on incomplete information ? Why is it that for women to be successful within a board environment they often adapt male traits such as implusivity , aggression and showing little emotion? As it stands women still make up less than a quarter of all UK boardrooms, meaning there is still a large pool of talent and experience out there that is untapped.

As we saw from the recent list of "pitiful excuses" that were uncovered by the Hampton-Alexander review , as to why there were so few women in the FTSE 350 boardrooms , it is still seen as the preserve of the white male. When they look to recruit they look for people from the same mould . I have been told throughout my career that my behaviour traits didn't match the general mould and that I needed to develop these traits - read into that Male traits - to fit in with the cultural norm of the organisation if I wanted to be successful. Even at the time I didn't understand why a group of people who all looked at a situation in the same way with the same experiences was a good option. Surely what you need to come up with the best plan of action with the best chance of success is for the group to be made up with a diverse set of perspectives and a culture of positive challenge and discussion. I have come to realise that this is far from the norm across most boards.

I spent 27 years building my experience and knowledge , starting at the bottom of the ladder and working my way to the top, I did this through hard work but also by not conforming to the traditional leadership model that I experienced on the way up . I ensured that I really listened to my team and allowed healthy challenging debate . This resulted in a highly engaged team with a shared vision that delivered positive KPI indicators - is this not what all businesses want ?

In my research for difficultwomen.org I have come across some very frightening qualitative data. Speaking to the many senior career women who are feeling the frustrations of not being able to break through the dreaded glass ceiling, despite overwhelming evidence to say that they are more than capable with their talents and skills. These challenges aside, every woman I have spoken to mentioned one or more senior female executives that have had or are currently battling a serious illness in the form of a cancer or auto immune disease. When my Mother was alive and as an ex family bread winner, she always claimed that women could "not have it all" and perhaps women's constitution was not strong enough to cope with what were traditionally male jobs. CEO's MD's Directors etc. as well as blue collar manual heavy lifting jobs. There is no scientific evidence to say that the female brain is any different to the male brain, so apart from the physical strength of lifting heavier weights in a manual job, I can see no other reason for women to no be equal on every level. However, this got me thinking that the result of all this illness is quite possibly connected to

the fact that the effort that women have to put into a role to be seen as equal, credible and capable is much more than that of her male peers. Throughout my time at Tesco this was very evident and as someone that did push through as a pioneer in the sector that I worked in in the organisation, I look back on my time there and realise how the organisation made me jump through hoops more than my male counterparts and when I "got there" I realised I was far more talented than many of the people around me. When I reflect, the effort, energy and passion was inordinate to the reward and recognition. When I decided to leave to do bigger and better things, I did feel like I had had everything sucked out of me....looking back that is exactly what had happened. I found out a while later that my immune system was depleted.

There is increasing scientific evidence to connect stress with serious illnesses and this is another reason for the western working life for both genders to be re-considered. Later generations are already doing this and I for one hope this changes.

So are we doing this to ourselves, are we allowing this to happen or is it the system that is doing it to us? probably all three.

We believe we are all aware and conscious of discrimination in all forms and if we choose to be discriminatory we are aware of our actions. Oh how wrong can we be. No more Boys and Girls was the best examples of this and the quite brilliant Dr Javid Abdelmoneim articulated and demonstrated brilliant the differences we sub-consciously exhibit everyday in everything we do. Passing this on from generation to generation. A Must watch if you get the chance to see.

As a doctor he knows that there basic biological differences between the sexes, but beyond that there is no evidence other than learned behaviour to explain the under achievement of females beyond education.

Then the great documentary the other week delivered by Anne Robinson The trouble with Women highlighted the same thing. Another good watch.

Sub-conscious bias + lacking in self belief and confidence + traditional ways of doing business = Too few women in senior positions.

One of our members relayed a story her brother tells of trying to get an equal amount of women in the orchestra he managed. They tried putting candidates behind a screen and getting them to play, but that did not work because sub-consciously the panel could guess the gait as the candidate walked in and sat down. The only way they managed to achieve true equality was to play un-named demo tapes from the candidates and low and behold the orchestra now has an equal number of men and women, not withstanding the added bonus of ethnic diversity that came out of the same exercise.

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