The panellists for the first session of the day – PepsiCo chairman and chief executive Indra Nooyi, Coutts & Co CEO Sarah Deaves, EMI Music vice-president of restructuring and change Pat O’Driscoll, and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell – revealed their experiences of how being female has changed their organisations.
Their comments came in response to a statement from a member of the audience about the superior financial performance of companies with diverse boards.
Nooyi said the third plank of PepsiCo’s “purpose” revolves around talent sustainability, and looks at how the company can “cherish” its employees.
“Cherish is about tough love,” Nooyi explained, adding that the focus is on “love” and not just on “tough”. Nooyi said the use of the word cherish is “uniquely female… but I’m proud of it”.
O’Driscoll said women are more confident dealing with emotion. “I’ve really only worked with two male colleagues who felt comfortable emotionally,” she said.
O’Driscoll also said women are more empathetic, which Deaves agreed with. “Empathy is important,” she said. “It allows people to come with you as a leader.”
When pressed on the contribution of women to the Cabinet, Jowell says Labour government initiatives such as parental leave, flexible working and the growth in childcare would not have been achieved without female influence at the highest, and lowest, level.
She added: “We should not denigrate emotional intelligence and the capacity for empathy as ‘soft and cuddly’. They are at the core of a modern skill set.
“Leadership is not sustainable without these qualities.”