WOW 2015: How You Can Make It To The Top

With only five female bosses of FTSE 100 companies, four brilliant women Tessa Jowell MP, president of International Markets Ann Cairns, Chairman and Chief Executive of The Random House Group Baroness Gail Rebuck, and founder of onlyfingersandtoes.co.uk India Gary-Martin, got together at the WOW Festival’s ‘Bloomberg Presents: Women in Business’ event, to discuss where we’re going wrong – and what we can do to change it.

These four women may be leading the way in business, but they’re also no strangers to gender inequality. That was the topic of today’s discussion – and it certainly raised a lot of questions.

‘The gender gap is getting worse and what’s happening is that women are coming into the workforce on parity with men, but the pay gap widens to it’s greatest when they reach their early 40s. It’s the motherhood penalty. Why are women stuck at that middle level? It’s a tragedy’, said Gail.

‘I found out after I had my daughter that I was actually a much better manager because I had more empathy. I was a better time manager too because I had other things to think about and I had to make sure my time was used appropriately. I think that’s often the case when women return to work and women shouldn’t be falling behind in this way’, said Ann.

But how exactly can we change the number of the women making it on business? Tessa pointed to quota systems. ‘It’s been proved in parliamentary representation to be the only way to accelerate the selection of women. They’re a necessary transitional strategy’, she said. ‘It forces people to look at you where they wouldn’t have looked at you before’, said India in agreement.

But opinion varied. ‘I personally would hate to feel I was on a board because of a quota. I’d like to feel I was on a board because I was the best person to be on that board.’

What we all wanted to know was what advice could they give us on making it to the top?

‘Never take no for an answer if it’s not the answer to the question you’ve asked – and find someone to help you. We never achieve anything on our own’, said Tessa.

While Ann added, ‘Don’t wait for a job to be posted. If you see a department you want to work in and you’ve got a passion for it, ring up the person who is running it, present yourself and tell them you’d love to work with them.’

More wise words came from Gail: ‘Follow your instincts and be heard. Be authentic and always say what you think. Push those doors open before they open for you.’

And from India? ‘Don’t be afraid to be who you are. You are wonderful as you are right now and people who appreciate those qualities are the people you’ll want to work with’. See you at the top.

For more information, visit southbankcentre.co.uk

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