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Womenomics: What Constitutes Best Practice for Future Leaders?

10/04/2015 14:38 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 10:59 BST

Yesterday, I was the proud and lucky owner of a golden ticket to the top gender equality event in town. I attended the Womenomics event hosted by BNY Mellon in London. The event was held at the Ham Yard Hotel (lovely loos, by the way). Not only was this an excellent opportunity to put off my dissertation, but it was an event jam packed with inspiring leaders and inspiring conversation to boot. The event was centred on a piece of research lead by Cambridge Judge Business School "The Rise of Women in Society: Enablers and Inhibitors", commissioned by BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management. The principal objective of the study was to investigate the global drivers behind women entering the boardroom, and more importantly, them staying there and resisting the ever-looming, ever-feared revolving door syndrome. The longevity of female boardroom tenure, in many ways, is a more complex campaign.

I really enjoyed the event, not just because Sir Chris Hoy popped in, nor due to the abundance of Bollinger that flowed in the evening, but it got me thinking. The buzz-word of the event seemed to be "best-practice", but I'm not quite sure I know what that means, in practice, if you will. In the UK 23.5% of board memberships are held by women, that's not huge but considering that in 2010 the percentage stood at 12.6% that is huge progress, principally driven by the 30% Club. A lot of the conversation that surrounds this topic is about how we can accelerate women in middle management or executive roles to the boardroom and what indeed the best-practice is to achieve that goal. We know that quotas don't work and The Rise of Women in Society study backs that up. Early-career workshops, mid - career mentoring programmes, shining the media spotlight on senior women in business; these are the strategies that are accelerating this process, strategies that the 30% Club have adopted.

But that buzz-word "best practice" still comes back to bite. As an undergraduate listening to the panel discussions, the focus is on the upper echelons of businesses and appointing female board members in the coming days, weeks and months to hit that 30% tipping point target. I agree that a top-down approach is the only real way to bring about change. But I also hold the view that a bottom - up approach is essential to ensure the continuation of this change in years to come. If I choose the business route, I am a good 15 years away from even considering board membership, and that's an optimistic timeline.

This brings me back to the revolving door syndrome and what the best-practice is to stop it from spinning, not just for now but for future generations. With the work that the 30% Club is doing, we will hit the 30% target. It is not a matter of "if" but rather of "when". I suppose the question on my mind is will it be 30% or above in 15 years' time when my peers are trying to enter the upper echelons of the business world?

Perhaps the logical answer is "yes". However, if best-practice constitutes a business culture change, then that culture needs to be embedded in schools, colleges and universities. Female talent needs to be nurtured and unleashed now, not in 15 years' time when bridging the gap between the conference room and the C-suite.

In many ways, we've got that covered. The Speakers for Schools project does just that by organising free talks in state secondary schools by business leaders, inspiring boys and girls alike. The national rollout of The Students' Aspiration Survey recently piloted by the 30% Club and myself at Cambridge University, will tell us what women aspire to do and what they need to get there.

But I still believe we need to engage students more widely in the conversation. Talking to them in a key-note speaker context is inspiring, but talking with them is different and in my opinion a key driver for change. Change, not just for now, but for the next generation. That would be my definition of "best-practice".

As a 21 year old undergraduate, the current revolving door to the boardroom seems very much out of reach. My focus is to work now so that in 15 years' time its hinges are no longer being oiled and it stops altogether. Failing that, if anyone knows of a cheap deal on doorstops, that would be outstanding.