Women make companies more successful. Here’s how to get them to work for yours


Karina Robinson Founding partner, Robinson Hambro, and former senior editor of The Banker

The focus on recruiting more non-executive women to boards has caused the spotlight to move inexorably towards the dearth of female executive directors. Take FTSE-100 companies: only 8.6% of board members are women.

Retaining and encouraging female talent within companies is crucial. It’s been proven that diverse boards make for more successful companies.

Dame Fiona Woolf, 686th Lord Mayor of the City of London, instituted the Power of Diversity programme in her 2013/14 term, a strategy followed by subsequent Lord Mayors. So what does she advise? I have outlined a few of her practical steps to supporting the rise of women in an organization.

1. Think of it as talent development

I ran a survey that found that quality of supervision and personal development were the top factors that would keep people in a job, but very few of us have been trained in on-the-job talent development. We should teach managers how to develop skills and create an environment in which everyone learns from on-the-job experience. Transparency about work  allocation will help deal with unconscious bias, such as the assumption that a woman with a family would not want to get involved in a big deal.

2. Motivate the keepers of the talent pipeline

Many of the keepers of the executive talent pipeline are mid-level managers, busy doing the work, generating income, looking for new business and trying to go home at night. They may not realize they are responsible for talent development and will benefit from it. They need to be motivated to value and invest time in talent development. It is crucial they understand the business costs of replacing someone

3. What gets measured gets done

I have only come across a few organizations that measure individual performance in talent development and reward it. Income generation and new business acquisition as performance indicators are easier to measure and reward. My company, Robinson Hambro, is working with business schools and firms to find ways to monitor and reward talent management and development looking at outcomes. One way is to measure the number of people who leave a manager each year and understand why, using exit interviews. Another is to count the number of promotions and lateral transfers.

4. Commitment to culture change

A survey for the Power of Diversity programme found that 84% of employees felt senior leaders were doing the right thing to create diversity and inclusion but only 27% felt under pressure to act on it at their level. Think of a diversity drive as a campaign: led from the top but full of excitement in the big middle.

5. Develop support for all rising talent

My motto is “get lucky and say ‘yes’!” Everyone wants women to succeed and we will be supported. We all need support when we take on something new, however senior we are, and we can be smarter at asking for it and giving it. It is not a sign of weakness.

6. Recruit and promote on transferable skills, not just experience

Some people recruit and promote square pegs to square holes based on the classic “previous experience” boxes. I have always hired on the basis of intellectual capacity, motivation and transferable skills. I was seldom able to find people with directly relevant experience and turn them into international electricity lawyers, so an excited engineer working in South Africa who spoke Russian was a good answer. Women can do this too; we should not worry about moving from a square hole to a round one.


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