Design must try harder at bringing women on board

Design consultancies should move away from ‘macho’ management models if they are to address the issue of women being under-represented at senior levels, suggests a report out this week.

According to the Cranfield School of Management report, women still struggle to break through the glass ceiling at senior levels in management across British industry. Only one in 12 non-executive directors at Britain’s 100 biggest companies are women, dropping to 4 per cent of executive directors, and 32 FTSE 100 companies have no women on their boards.

The report’s co-author, Cranfield School of Management senior research fellow Val Singh, says women’s talent ‘is not being developed and used in the same way’ as men’s.

Design Business Association figures suggest the design industry is doing slightly better than average on percentages, with women comprising 26 per cent of senior management on the organisation’s database, although specific figures on board composition are not available.

Women working within design feel the glass ceiling is beginning to shatter, but say boards must move towards a more balanced approach to business.

‘There are many women who thoroughly deserve to be on boards, but their management style doesn’t scream out [for promotion],’ maintains Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton.

Women often have a more ‘coaching’ style of management rather than a ‘commanding’ approach, she says, and groups need to judge candidates’ potential by results rather than process.

‘It’s important to judge people themselves, not their style. [Consultancies] must recognise that you don’t have to act tough to be tough or to get powerful results,’ Clifton asserts.

FutureBrand creative director Sam Dumont agrees diversity is important and that women’s management style offers real benefits.

‘In a couple of key roles throughout my career I have had women mentors who have brought a slightly more people-focused and nurturing business philosophy to their teams and their staff.

‘Personally, I feel this is really important for any business,’ she says.

FTSE 100-listed WPP Group has chief talent officer Beth Axelrod on its board. But moving beyond a ‘token woman’ to achieve true representation is some way off. According to the report, only 22 of the top 100 companies have more than one woman board member.

Clifton believes the ‘cohort effect’, where more women joining at the bottom leads to more women in power, will prove itself true in the design sector, and Lewis Moberly creative director Mary Lewis agrees.

‘Creativity is a great leveller,’ she says. ‘Talent and ability lead to increased responsibility, not the singular desire for it, [but] there are sacrifices to be made. [Women must] decide if [the sacrifices] are worth it,’ she adds.

Moving into top-flight management

Mentoring Use senior mentors with a range of experience to help you understand what skills and knowledge you need

Gap analysis Identify the gaps in your experience and work out how to address them. It’s usually a requirement to have both line management and financial experience

Networking Build visibility through networking, both internally and externally, with important people in the industry

Self analysis Be very clear about where you want to get to and be aware there are choices about work/ life balance that will need to be made

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