|Op-ed: Gay Collins on getting comms women on the board|
|Friday, 28 September 2012 00:31|
“Communications suffers less from the ‘leaky pipeline’”
Women are appearing in boardrooms in ever greater numbers, but Gay Collins believes that women in corporate communications need to exploit the opportunity further
Last month the 30% Club celebrated as new figures revealed that their campaign to increase the proportion of women on UK Corporate boards to 30% through a business-led approach was yielding results. At the end of June FTSE 100 companies had increased the proportion of women on their boards to 16.7%(up from 12.5% in 2010), and all-male boards are now down from 21 to eight (since 2010)*. Since 1 March 2012, 44% of FTSE 100 Board appointments have gone to women, compared with 30% in 2011 and just 13% in 2010*. This leaves only 145 more female FTSE100 appointments needed to reach the 30% target. Gender diversity is increasingly becoming a mainstream idea, as companies realise that having a greater number of women on their board is not just good for society; it’s also good for the bottom line.
The argument has now moved on to where these women will come from. A key tenet behind the 30% Club is that quotas are not an appropriate way to re-balance boards – the rationale being that women should be there because they are best qualified for the position, not simply because of their gender.
A major obstacle keeping women from reaching senior positions in the workplace is the ‘leaky pipeline’. CEOs complain that gender equality at the top of a company is difficult to achieve because there aren’t enough well-qualified women in senior positions. A far greater proportion of women than men fall out of the pipeline in middle-management – a depressing trend that persists because companies don’t create working environments that allow women to negotiate the demands of other areas of their lives and succeed professionally.
Communications is one sector that does not suffer from the “leaky pipeline” as much as other parts of business. Whether it’s because this relatively new sector is more willing to embrace technology and alternative working practices in order to better support women, or because this is an industry that plays to the traditional female strengths of communication and diplomacy, the fact remains that women in this sector are far more likely to hold senior positions compared to other areas.
This statement holds true for internal communications roles, as well as for the wider communications sector. After the CEO and the finance director, the comms director is likely to be the most important person in a company. Because of the nature of the role, senior communications personnel are in the unique position of having the ears of both chairman and CEO, while also benefiting from a deep understanding of their company’s strategy and direction.
One of the main challenges facing “big business” today – especially, but not limited to, the financial sector – is how to combat accusations of opacity in the way they operate. Consequently, these businesses are relying ever more on their public relations and comms teams as they seek to communicate a clear message that will engender trust from key stakeholders,.
In helping businesses to overhaul their public image, communications teams are playing a central role by ensuring that a company’s story is accurate, honest and easy to understand, thereby establishing a reputation for credibility that is vital for success. While having a deep understanding of the company, the communications team brings the public perspective to an organisation, fostering its ability to be responsive to public concerns.
I predict that as companies seek to include more women on the corporate boards, one of the first places they will look will be their communications team.
Gay Collins is a 30% Club steering committee member