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Kate Laurie, Group Head of People


In 2019, there was a piece of research that identified that John’s were in a higher concentrate in the board room than women – All women… With male-to-female ratio of 19:1 for CEOs and 6.1 for CFOs, this persistent underrepresentation of females in key executive positions, is very frustrating. This is a complex and multi-faceted challenge and has many reasons and potentially many solutions; yet here we are having the same old conversation. So who are the movers in shakers in this puzzle – Us, the women – what can we do? The men in senior positions- do they support and encourage the growth of female talent through the organisation? The government – do they have a part to play in the this, should we force through legislation to push companies to recruit women?


So with a deep breath I am going to focus on one question here – What do female HRDs believe has helped them have a seat at the boardroom table? There seem to be 3 key points that resonate for me:


  1. Make no apologies for wanting a place at the table! Take responsibility for your own personal development and career path. Learn, constantly reflect, be clear as to your key strengths and approach that makes you stand out?  It is OK to own your own hunger for a senior role. A recent study showed that if a man sees an interesting role, he will apply if he has 20% of the matching skills/experience; women, will not apply unless they have 80% of those skills- be confident in your ability to learn and provide value – be brave, take a risk, you have an incredibly ability to learn new skills; but your behaviours are your key assets to being an amazing employee so focus and have confidence in yours. 

  2. Find a senior ally, no matter what sex they are.  Be open and honest about your passion and determination. For me, building alliances and relationships at this level has led to becoming part of discussion and debate. These interactions have proved to be hugely valuable experiences to my development and profile, it has deepened my understanding and made me more confident in the value I can offer.

  3. Support other women; share your knowledge and experience, become a mentor yourself and bang the drum at every opportunity! Lead by example and take the time to support others and share experiences. Think about your unconscious bias and challenge the recruiting decisions you make, there are some fascinating articles and Ted Talks about this issue to help you change your approach and lead by example.


This is a complex issue tied up in other areas of diversity and the lack of it in the boardroom, if we can make strides here, I hope it will help us make strides in the others. So what else can we do personally to equip ourselves? My advice is to question your approach and look outside for support/advice in the areas you feel you need to develop. There are some brilliant women groups on social media that you can tap into, as well as Ted Talks, podcasts and books out there. Check out your local LinkedIn and Facebook for ‘Women in Business’ collectives and speak to others, to gain more confidence, skills and tools to help you achieve. If you can, call out behaviours and examples when you see others not demonstrating a commitment to gender diversity, be brave… be awesome.


In some ways I am lucky that I have a number of allies on the board who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity as a key priority for developing talent but fundamentally the best advice I feel I can give and the mantra that I follow every day is that we must ’own it’. Own our capability, Own our skills and Own our hunger to develop ourselves. We must feel that we can call people out when they lack the understanding to appreciate the issues. In reality, we really only have the ability to influence and impact a small circle of people around us but if we live and breath our passion, skills and talent, we will not only stand out from the crowd but be able to drive through a change in approach and attitude – I for one, do not want to see the gender pay gap taking a further 70 years to be balanced.

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