Realising The Potential Of Senior Women In Your Business

26th March 2015

Posted In: WMB Advice | Your Business

“Companies with a greater proportion of women in executive roles dramatically outperform those with lower representation,” said leadership expert Elaine Sullivan (pictured).

Elaine, a partner with London-based consultancy Manchester Square Partners, made her comments at a function last month. It was organised by global executive search company Alternatives Elect and entitled ‘Realising the potential of senior women in your business. How to help them get to executive board level and stay the pace.’

Elaine said: “Companies with the greater proportion of women in executive roles dramatically outperform those with lower representation – and also are more creative. This gap is likely to widen as increasingly, buying decisions and spending power are in the hands of women.” Recent research from McKinsey & Company shows that gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to succeed.

Michelle O’ Connor, Client Partner at Alternatives Elect said: “We believe passionately in the power of a gender balanced and diverse workforce in driving business performance. As a business that finds leadership talent, we are committed to ensuring a genuinely balanced and diverse range of leadership talent for clients from Ireland and abroad. We welcome the latest perspectives from experts like Elaine on driving this agenda forward in a practical way.”

Unfortunately however, Irish listed companies perform poorly when it comes to female board membership. Women take up 16.6 percent of the seats on the boards of large, listed companies across the EU. In Ireland, this figure is just 10.7 percent.

“We are not getting enough women to the level where they can qualify for executive board roles, fill the pipeline for NED (Non Executive Director) roles, or at least have a meaningful contribution to the leadership and success of the business,” said Elaine.

Gender balance, she points out, is not about diversity for diversity’s sake. It needs to be seen as a critical business issue – to be measured and delivered on – just like any other. All of the participants at the event were adamant that this isn’t a ‘female over male’ agenda. It’s about creating a level playing field for both men and women.

The focus needs to shift from ‘fixing the women’, to fixing the culture and systems. Organisations who foster gender diversity will reap its benefits.


What businesses can do to help:

– Women benefit disproportionally in companies, which have talent management programmes because they ensure that women with potential are identified and moved into stretching roles.

– Formalised female networks within the business provide women with a support structure. It shouldn’t however be just about women relying on women to help each other. Male employees and leaders have to be fully engaged in making gender balanced workplaces happen.

– Organisations need to provide both internal coaches/sponsors and external mentors. The UK Centre for Leadership Development has said that the most successful women all had strong and active internal sponsors.

– Visible female role models help. Encourage any senior women to be visible and to become accessible role models for other ambitious women.

– The Power of targets. What gets measured, gets done. Progress should be measured as any other strategic initiative in the business.


In terms of what women can do for themselves, they need to own their own brand and be able to pitch themselves. “Performance is a pre-requisite for success – but women should not only do their jobs extremely well, but also ensure what they have done is known. This can be done without bragging or over claiming. Just make it clear when they can – what they have achieved, or led the team to achieve, giving specific outcomes such as increased revenue, profits, market share or cost savings.”

Elaine contends that women are particularly adept at the newer skillsets required today, including collaborative working, inclusiveness, exercising soft power and having a focus on values. They are also more likely to engage in transformational leadership behaviours; encouraging employees to take ownership of company goals; and providing inspirational motivation.

She concludes: “I know it’s not easy, there is no simple fix – it takes hard work consistently over time at many levels. But maybe it is time to lean in – not just the women – organisations too, on leadership, targets and talent management. Women on banning guilt, having confidence in their abilities, saying what they want, getting sponsors and mentors, taking risks. And speaking out and engaging the men on the solutions.”