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Balance in the boardroom

Elaine Warburton, OBE, Chief Executive of QuantuMDx – and keynote speaker at this year’s Fastest 50 Awards - and Sharon Clift, Managing Director of medicines manufacturer, PCCA, know a thing or two about running successful companies.

Innovation, strong leadership and a big dollop of belief in what they’re doing has steered them to the helm of two of the North East’s most dynamic businesses.

But according to Gillian Chinhengo, partner in the employment law team at Ward Hadaway, despite female leadership being high on the media agenda, Elaine and Sharon are still rare commodities at the top of any business.

Figures compiled as part of The Fastest 50 reveal that the number of female directors on the boards of the fastest growing companies in the North East have actually decreased over the past four years. This year’s list includes 27 female directors, representing just 15% of the total number of directors at our region’s fastest growing companies, down from 21% in 2017.

There are several reasons for this, including the historic under representation of female candidates, leading to there being insufficient women with the right skills available to select from.

Thankfully companies are waking up to the benefits diversity at board level brings, including different world views, skill sets and opinions, which all lead to a more rounded organisation and more balanced decision making.

Sharon Clift said; “Surrounding yourself with different skill sets enables you as a Managing Director to have an all-round picture of what’s happening both internally and externally. With diversity, you gain differing opinions which creates great debate. You need balance and I think that women and men working together at board level do bring that to the table.”

Elaine agrees, adding; “Coming from a medical science background with a focus on DNA profiling, I think about the fact that males and females have X and Y chromosomes and with that, different personality traits. Bringing those traits together in a business, in all their diverse ways, makes an amazing whole. You want that in your company, because combined they create a well-rounded, successful organisation.”

Gillian says there are lots of ways to introduce initiatives to help increase the female quotient in the longer term and often it stems from recruitment practices and internal culture. Here are Gillian’s top tips for creating a more diverse boardrooms:

  • Give thought to what you would like your board to look like. This may require a shift in mindset. You don’t necessarily want everyone to have the same skills and attributes as each other. In many businesses, the customer base will be women or minority groups – without these groups represented on the board, how can you reflect your customer’s needs?
  • Schemes specifically targeting women coming back into work after having children can be very successful. It’s often at this point in their career after they’ve had children, when women decide to step off the ladder and valuable experience and expertise is lost from businesses. How can you make it easier for women to stay on a trajectory to the top?
  • This leads onto the introduction of flexible working practices to support career progression. Giving your workforce more flexibility nearly always leads to positive outcomes because employees feel more valued and willing to give back, in return for making the arrangement work.
  • Make fast track arrangements for talented people – whoever they are. Positive discrimination is limited in practice, but there are things you can do to recognise and nurture the talent pool in your business and help them shine. And make sure your senior people – men and women – actively mentor those they see potential in for the future.
  • Be more open with women in terms of their career progression. They’re not always forthcoming when speaking up about their career aspirations, so make sure you are pro-active in talking about and supporting their development, if it is warranted.

The Fastest 50 Awards will take place at BALTIC, the Centre for Contemporary Art, in Gateshead on Friday, October 11 when the winners of the Fastest 50 will be revealed. Attendance at the event is by invitation only.