Bailey Fisher Executive Search was pleased to welcome 75 business leaders to its latest Women 4 Technology event on International Women’s Day for the launch of a unique research project looking at how women become successful business leaders, followed by lively discussion on the impact of diverse teams on business success.
There are plenty of studies which show that more gender balanced teams perform better and deliver higher financial gains than more homogenous ones. But the rate of progress in increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles is frustratingly slow. Bailey Fisher has partnered with Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge, with the aim of putting some science behind the headlines. The research will look at cognitive and environmental factors influencing female founders and CEOs in pursuing their roles. The longer term aim is to suggest ways to help women develop into leadership roles. Professor Sahakian launched the research at the event, inviting female founders and business leaders to get involved.
Next to speak was Simon Thorpe, Managing Director of Delta 2020 and UK Business Angel Association Business Angel of the Year 2016/2017. Simon, who has invested in 11 female founders to date, spoke about the benefits of a diverse team. “Companies with diverse boards are going to think about their customers much more broadly.” Simon shared statistics affecting women raising finance for their companies. “Only 2.7% of VCs are female.” Presenting to an all-male panel can be intimidating, and this needs to change. Recognising some of the barriers is the first step to finding some solutions. Simon highlighted the importance of mentoring (men have more mentors than women), which can give huge benefits with a relatively small time input.
Poppy Gustafsson brought the speeches to a close. Poppy is CEO EMEA for Darktrace, the cyber security company founded in 2013 which has grown very rapidly to a team of almost 400 and has a high proportion of women at all levels. Poppy spoke about the gender blindness at Darktrace “gender is what makes you you, but not what makes you successful”, and the importance of role models and increasing confidence amongst female members of the team. This will have benefits for everyone, resulting in building many more successful businesses.
Claire Clarke, Managing Partner of Mills & Reeve chaired a lively Q&A session. Claire was made Partner at Mills & Reeve in 1999, when she was on maternity leave with her first child. A couple of years later she took charge of the Corporate team, and in 2015 she became the firm’s first female Managing Partner.
In response to a question about recruitment policies, Claire spoke about trialling blind CVs to identify if there is a subconscious bias. This is something that Mills & Reeve has just started to trial. Poppy Gustafsson commented on this “I don’t think there are businesses out there intentionally applying a sexist recruitment policy. But there is a subconscious bias. An idea of what someone might look like in that role.”
Anne Miller, The Creativity Partnership (one of the first guest speakers for Women 4 Technology when the forum launched in 2008). Anne mentioned the differing leadership styles of men and women. When she started leading, Anne realised that her natural leadership style was very different from that of her male colleagues. More collaborative, more consultative. “Leading from behind.” A key moment was realising that this was OK.
As discussion continued, culture was identified as a key issue if companies are to attract and retain more women. As Sonia Powar (Boost & Co) commented “The culture needs to change to embrace how women function.”
The event was the latest in Bailey Fisher’s Women 4 Technology series, founded in 2008, presented in partnership with Mills & Reeve, Grant Thornton and FieldHouse Associates. Guests attended the event from technology, biotechnology & digital health companies, coming from Cambridge, London, Oxford and Paris.
Research shows that women leaders are integral to inclusive, high-performing entrepreneurial teams. Gender diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones, demonstrating superior team dynamics and productivity, as well as improved financial performance. And the benefits are particularly evident when women occupy a significant proportion of top executive positions. Research published last year by Harvard University found that businesses with more women in leadership roles were more profitable. Despite this, progress is slow when it comes to increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles. There are just 7 female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies; the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that whilst the percentage of men starting new businesses increased 21% from 2013-14, the percentage of women starting new businesses stagnated. Female CEOs receive only 3% of venture funding, and only 7% of partners at top 100 venture firms are women.
Bailey Fisher Executive Search has partnered with Professor Barbara Sahakian of the University of Cambridge, with the aim of putting some science behind the headlines. The research will look at cognitive and environmental factors influencing female founders and CEOs in pursuing their roles. The longer term aim is to suggest ways to help women develop into leadership roles. Professor Sahakian launched the research on International Women’s Day at Bailey Fisher’s Women 4 Technology event in Cambridge.
Female founders & C-level executives across the UK are invited to take part in the research, which is conducted via an online questionnaire, taking around 10 minutes to complete. Involvement is anonymous.