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Women in business champion

Getting in on the game

Louise WilldridgeLouise Willdridge, Asia Pacific, network capabilities at Grant Thornton International Ltd, on why women need to be invited to the table – and the golf course.






What are the benefits do you see from having teams with more gender diversity?

Across the Asia Pacific region I have seen the significant difference that diverse groups can bring to meetings and regional projects. This encompasses gender diversity, ethnic diversity, age diversity and many other aspects. As a diverse group our discussions are richer, with shared insights and experiences that we would not get from a homogenous group.

Discussions are livelier, solutions are more innovative, and ultimately, I believe that the outputs from diverse teams are more widely accepted by others in the organisation. We reduce the feeling of being told what to do from a disconnected group sitting above, and increase the feeling that someone in the decision-making group understands our needs and is advocating for us.

What do you believe holds women back from being recruited to senior management positions?

I believe that ever-present unconscious bias and micro-inequalities hold women back. The cumulative effects are significant and I believe do more to hold women back from senior management positions than personal choices or a lack of pipeline. The challenge starts with getting an invitation.

If women are not even in the room when decisions are taken, how can we ever progress? If we continue to do things the way we have always done things then meetings, boards and events will feature the same line-up of the same faces. We may lean towards colleagues who look, act and think in a similar way to us, but all this does is narrow the pool of talent and ideas that we are exposed to. It is time to shake-up those invite lists!

Sadly, even today I still see strong, experienced females being automatically assumed to be admin staff, asked to make coffee for the group, to do the photocopying. While there is nothing wrong with performing these tasks, it is the assumption that the women in the group will be the ones to do so that disappoints me. It would be a refreshing change were the requests to be directed to male counterparts! And instead, for the women in the group to be invited to the golf days…rather than assuming that we don’t play!

Unconscious bias affects us all, and often in ways we are not aware. Raising awareness of these biases is something that takes time and effort.

In your opinion, what does an inclusive business culture look like?

For me, an inclusive business culture is a place where we listen to our colleagues, female and male, young and old and where we strive to ‘lift-up’ our colleagues. By being deliberate advocates for the people in our organisations, we can help them to develop and progress. We will all benefit from this progress.

Encouraging our colleagues, celebrating their achievements and helping them to recognise their own strengths is key. This is particularly true for female colleagues who may not feel comfortable self-promoting. We can do it for them! There is huge value in a personal recommendation from a respected colleague.

The most inclusive business cultures I have experienced are those where anyone can get an invitation to a meeting or event, based on the value they can bring to the meeting, not only on their status within the organisation. Forcing people to “do their time” before they get invited to meetings or events is a sure-fire way to alienate people and make them feel that they are not valued and not heard. Experience measure in years is valuable, but the benefits of a diverse pool of people with different experiences should not be underestimated.

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