Women in Leadership and Diversity

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Showcasing diversity at its best, women from various ethnic minorities and professional backgrounds gathered at a conference in London recently. 

The Women in Leadership Events saw women come together from across the UK along with members of the ethnic minorities, who often achieve better academic performance than their peers and are increasingly sought after by leading employers in commerce and industry, banking and finance, the public sector and other industries. So with this continuing influx of talent at entry levels, why are there still so few representatives of these groups in the boardroom or around the partnership table?

In July 2006, the international career development company, QS, challenged the status quo by bringing ambitious young graduates and undergraduates together with top career coaches and representatives of some of the country's most enlightened employers to highlight what can be achieved with the right approach and attitude.

Key company support

The events on 7th and 8th July were part of a major programme, which had already covered France, Germany and the Netherlands in 2005 and which followed on from successful conferences held in London over the past two years. The events were supported by key companies such as Accenture, Asda, Atos Origin, Booz Allen Hamilton, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, GE, IBM, McKinsey & Co, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Rolls-Royce and Shell, by public sector bodies such as the BBC, the Police and the Royal Navy and by professional associations such as ACCA.

Networking opportunities

The two days of the events set out to target and motivate some of the country's most able young female professionals and show them just what could be achieved in their careers with the right commitment and employer support. Over 3,000 applications from were received after an extensive marketing and advertising campaign both on and off-campus and the carefully screened invitees had the opportunity to take part in a wide range of panel debates, networking opportunities, information sessions, case studies performed by professional actors, motivational speakers and one-to-one interviews.

Soft skills are becoming a "core competency"

Globalisation and the growing knowledge economy are speeding up change and the soft skills that women so often excel in are becoming a "core competency" for any leader, according to Abbas Jaffer, Morgan Stanley's European head of diversity, who spoke at both events. "We have undertaken studies which show that men and women have similar leadership behaviours. However, women are typically better at coaching, mentoring and managing. Also, women inspire trust much more quickly than men do which is important in relationship-based businesses." Many major global companies consequently now have diversity programmes that actively seek women as leaders.

"This is a commercial imperative," says Jaffer. "With the war for talent, we want to hire the best that exists." He says companies also have to respond to demographics: "If you look at the UK, we have a much larger percentage of ethnic students than ever before, and women are getting better qualifications than men. The business world is no longer "white and male". Merrill Lynch, another participant in the Leadership programme from the financial services sector takes a similar view. According to Chantal Hegy of the firm's Women's Steering Committee,

"Talented people are talented people whatever their gender, race or culture. Our aim is to avoid a culture that's bland and homgenous, because without true diversity of individual and consequently of opinion, the business decision-making process will always be incomplete." The same applies at GE, a genuinely global business employing more than 300,000 people in 100 countries. As Charles Watkin, organisation and staffing manager at GE Commercial Finance puts it, "GE is a meritocracy, but it seeks diversity in its leadership, which is why we maintain a strong women's network with hubs around the world. This network fosters and supports the advancement of women into leadership positions and it works. You only have to look at the fact that the CEO of part of my own division is a woman to see this in action."

A truly level playing field

"The events are all about inspiring the next generation of business leaders amongst women and the ethnic minorities to fulfil their true potential," says Carole Brennan, director of the Leadership Forum programme. "The panel debates allow them to hear how companies are building the kind of environment that provides a truly level playing field, while the seminars and information sessions provide them with role models who have already reached senior positions with some of the most high profile players in consulting, banking and industry."

Forums that are Spaning the globe

Building on the success of the July events and their counterparts across Europe in the spring, QS has now announced a follow-up programme stretching into 2006, which will take in new venues in Frankfurt, Moscow and New York. "Diversity in senior management shouldn't just be a European goal," says Carole Brennan, the director of the Leadership forums programme. "It's our aim to work with these international companies to make sure that it becomes one that literally spans the globe." For more information on up-coming Leadership events, visit www.qsforums.com

Written by QS Blogger

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