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A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom: the Roadmap

Thursday, June 5, 2008

At the publication of “A Women’s Place is in the Boardroom: the Roadmap” Meg gave the following remarks. For details of the book visit: http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?PID=281017



Three years ago at this same lectern! I spoke about the publication of “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom” and I’m delighted to be here today to mark the publication of the sequel: “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom: The Roadmap”.  


The first book made a cogent, and urgent, case for increasing the number of women in non-Executive, and Executive, directorships in the UK. In the three years between volumes one and two there has been some progress. But it’s not been by much!


For example, in 2005 ninety nine women held FTSE directorships - and in 2007 there were 100. An increase of one is not much cause for celebration. 14.5% of all non-Executive directorships in the FTSE100 were held by women in 2007, which is exactly no change from 2005. As for Executive directorships, just 3.6% of these are women, a measly 0.2% increase over 2005. By any measure progress is glacially slow. 


So Peninah, Jacey and Tom picked up their pens again to write this sequel. In writing it, they have drawn heavily upon their four years of experience in directing the FTSE100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme. I imagine many of you will be familiar with the programme; a unique UK initiative designed in 2003 by Peninah, Jacey and three other insightful women. It provides women from what Laura Tyson called “the marzipan layer” the layer in the organisational hierarchy just below the Board with mentoring from the Chairman, or Chief Executive, of a FTSE100 company. 


The programme operates business-to-business, without regulation but with strong government support. I’m delighted to have been a supporter of it for the last few years, as is my colleague Patricia Hewitt MP. Patricia gave her commitment and support to the programme when it was taking shape, and has continued to support it as it has developed and grown. 


Tracked what works

Directing the programme over the last four years, Peninah and Jacey have tracked what works and what doesn’t in terms of helping talented women move into positions of strategic and operational significance in UK organisations both in the public and the private sector. It’s that experience that they have drawn on in writing “The Roadmap”.  More than 38 FTSE100 Chairmen and Chief Executives have mentored on the Programme since it began, and 40 women mentees have benefited. 


The learning from both mentors and mentees on the FTSE100 Programme informs the book. It really does provide a road map a kind of SATNAV for change.  It’s a powerful blend of scholarship, policy, and wholly pragmatic suggestions about what women need to do to position themselves to be credible candidates for Executive and non-Executive board positions. It also suggests what needs to be done in organisations that are serious about wanting their women to progress and to thrive. 


It isn’t just companies in the private sector that can learn from all this.  Earlier this year my own Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, invited Peninah and Jacey to come and talk to our Senior Leadership Conference when we gather together our most senior ambassadors and officials. Like every other government department, the Foreign Office has targets for getting its senior women into top leadership posts, our target has a “25% discount” which takes into account the difficulties associated with combining extensive overseas postings with family responsibilities. But even allowing for that discount, as the Permanent Secretary, Sir Peter Ricketts, acknowledged at the International Colloquium on the FTSE100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme at the London Stock Exchange last month we are very far from meeting those targets.


The talk that Peninah and Jacey gave at Lancaster House stimulated a spirited debate among our most senior staff that has led, directly, to us setting up a “Culture Audit” in the Foreign Office. We want to identify and understand any barriers that hold our women back, and are determined to dismantle them. As evidence of our intention, I’m delighted that Sir Peter Ricketts has decided to join the FTSE100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme as a Mentor, and will be beginning work with his first mentee later this month. 


What we are learning from the FTSE100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme represents original thinking. The programme is delivering tangible and beneficial results. It has a clear value in taking the debate on a stage from analysis and statistics to a pragmatic, experiential framework of actions that have demonstrable, beneficial impact. This book brings those actions and approaches to us.


I shall look forward to watching the continued impact of the Cross-Company Mentoring Programme, and The Roadmap, in helping to bring about change. My hope is that if I’m invited to a reception in three years’ time we will be celebrating the tremendous steps taken by talented women in being appointed to positions of authority and influence in UK organisations!


Britain needs the experience, brains and talent that many women have at the top of their organisations, not just at the bottom. I commend the authors of this book for their hard work, for their insight, and thank them on all our behalf.


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