As the Dean of the Westminster Business School what do you think it is necessary to prepare and grow the pipeline of women managers and executives for the board?

Research over many years has indicated that there are insufficient numbers of women in management and leadership positions in both public and private sector organisations. Given that the original equal opportunities legislation in the UK was in 1974, this is extremely disappointing. Clearly, there is still much work to do and there seems to be a continuous stream of publicity highlighting this issue in the UK and also globally. There needs to be a massive effort to make changes happen with respect to women and the board. I think business schools are well placed to help tackle this issue.

Business schools play a crucial role in equipping young women for a career in business and helping them to reach the top. They are helping women to prepare for professional careers through seminars, training programmes and providing networking opportunities.

What are some of the exciting plans that Westminster Business School has for the near future?

At Westminster Business School, our undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes tend to have a good balance of women and men on them and this means that we are educating and developing people to work in diverse teams and groups, and to value the benefits of diversity. Our executive programmes e.g. MBA, help to develop both women and men for leadership and executive positions, and as part of their programmes they will meet many role models. More recently, we have developed a new programme, Women for the Board, and this is aimed at helping and supporting women into executive positions. We also carryout research in this area e.g. my own research is on women and leadership and I am currently working with a colleague to write up a comparative study on women in leadership positions in the UK and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – interestingly women in both these countries meet similar challenges in terms of moving into leadership positions. We found a complex picture emerging and one in which traditional intervention tools such as mentoring and networking had varied results.

Westminster Business School Dean Barbara Allan

What can the Business School do to help increase gender parity in the boardroom?

I think we can work in a number of different ways e.g. through our taught degree courses, research and also our external business activities. In addition, those of us in leadership positions need to offer ourselves as role models to women who are developing their careers and considering executive positions. As a business school that is located in the heart of London, we are superbly placed for professional and networking events and we frequently host events that support women into leadership positions.

An exciting initiative within the Westminster Business School is the development of a new and innovative executive education programme for women targeting a board role or aiming for board level in a few career moves. The Women for the Board  programme runs for 6-days from January 2014 to June 2014 and it aims to fast forward the career of women targeting a board role. Each day consists of a number of sessions covering selected themes around organisational and personal skills which are key for women aiming for the boardroom.

The Women for The Board  themes include:

– Opportunities and challenges of being a board member
– Governance and finance at board level
– Creativity, risk and commercial decision making
– Networking and emotional intelligence
– Resilience, effective management of board meetings
– Board level recruitment
Led by Dr Ruth Sacks, the programme will feature contributions from a range of highly-successful CEOs, coaches, facilitators and academics with senior experience across public, private and charitable sectors. The programme ends with a networking event where current boards will have the opportunity to network with participants with a view to recruiting them on their boards.

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Why do you think the corporations need gender-balanced boards?

There is now substantial evidence that suggests the business case for women on the board is based on four dimension: Improving performance; Accessing the widest talent pool; Being more responsive to the market; and Achieving better corporate governance. So for me there is a strong business case as well as a very strong ethical case.

See the 2011 UK government report on this issue.

There are definitely growing number of qualified “Board Ready Women” to lead European and Global corporations. What do you think are holding them back?

This is an interesting question and the answer is complex and it relates to: women’s own perception of themselves and what they may achieve in their careers; women’s readiness to move into the board room in terms of their own knowledge, skills and networks; the ways in which boards operate and recruit new members; the networks that exist around boards and women moving into the boardroom. Our new women for the Board programme will help women be prepared for moving into the boardroom.

What do you think are the main reasons that it is now high time to break the glass ceiling on company boards?

It is nearly 40 years since the first equal opportunities act in the UK, I don’t want to see the 50 year anniversary pass without seeing diverse membership of boards. At the moment, we are struggling as a nation with our economy and many businesses as well as public sector organisations are going through tough times. Increasing the numbers of women on the board will help them improve their business performance. It is a win-win scenario and I find it hard to understand why more boards are not actively seeking women members.

What advice would you give to Female Business Students whose ambitions are to reach the board level ?

I think they need to gain a good quality degree, a professional qualification and then as much experience as possible so that they are ready to move into management and then leadership positions. I think it is well worth considering working overseas for a time. In addition, voluntary work is a useful way of gaining additional experience. My first experience as a women on a board was through working with a voluntary group and this experience gave me the confidence and skills required for the boardroom. At Westminster Business School, we provide students with a diverse range of experiences both within their courses and also as extra-curriculum activities e.g. mentoring support, internships, study abroad, volunteering, business competitions. In addition, membership of professional bodies e.g. CMI and IoD provides opportunities for networking and mentoring both for students and then throughout our careers.

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