Women of the Future Summit 2013: “Without networks, we will fail”

To support women navigate the path to leadership, we need to understand the importance of networks, said Meera Sanyal, former CEO of RBS India at the Women of the Future Summit today.

Networks were the golden thread at the Summit this morning. Meera Sanyal shared incredible stories of rural entrepreneurship in India, where women are changing their communities through incredible strength, courage and generosity. But all over the world, as geopolitics are shifting, networks and connectivity are more essential than ever.

“Courage is a great female trait; it’s about realising your own potential. For women in this new global age we need confidence, conviction about what we do, and we need courage,” said Vicki Treadell, high commissioner and governor of Pitcairn, and British high commissioner, New Zealand. “If you can’t navigate your cause in this fast moving world you will lose your way. You need a global perspective, internationalise your outlook. Understand how changes in this world will affect you personally and professionally. For you to truly succeed, it’s all about sharing networks.”

The Women of the Future Summit is one of these networks. Delegates from many different generations and nations brought an energy to the conference room at the London Hilton Park Lane that was simply astounding. But we were all here to discuss a serious question: how can we make sure that women leaders can reach the top and drive economic recovery?

“From a purely financial point of view, FTSE 500 companies with women on boards perform better,” said Dr Andrew White, dean of executive education at Saïd Business School, as he presented research prepared for the Summit. “In fact, women outperform men. If the UK had the same level of female entrepreneurs as the US, that would add £42bn to our economy. This would mean 600,000 additional female-owned businesses.”

The numbers may be telling but female entrepreneurialism and female leadership are still part of a big debate; so much so that even government-imposed boardroom quotas are still on the table. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable described in a keynote the “uncomfortable reaction” from Glencore when approached by the government about the absence of women on their board. 

“All FTSE 100 companies without women on their board have been written to,” said Cable. There are six of them left. Although the UK is not far off from meeting the 25 per cent representation on boards laid out in Lord Davies’s report, there are plenty of gaps left to fill. The engineering industry in particular is suffering from a serious deficiency of women. “The UK is the worst country in Europe when it comes to the progression of female engineers,” said Cable. “At half of all UK state school, not a single girl is studying physics at A level – which is a basic requirement for engineering.”

Deborah Baker, group director for people at Sky, agreed that the lack of women in tech and engineering is a problem: “That’s something we’ll be addressing with female-only apprenticeship schemes.” Mentoring schemes, summits, and all kinds of other networks are absolutely essential to even the path for women. As Meera Sanyal said: “Women’s generosity of spirit enables others to grow. Networks and mutual support are vital.”

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