THE BLOG

Why Working in a 'Man's Job' Is Paying Dividends for Female Execs

25/03/2013 14:04 GMT | Updated 21/05/2013 10:12 BST

There is no escaping the fact that the sight of a woman directing operations in a factory or leading a group of engineers on a gritty construction site still remains an unusual image. As a woman working in supply chain logistics - traditionally a male dominated trade - I have grown used to people expressing their surprise that someone like me should want to become a trained manufacturing engineer and perform a "man's job". Even now, as a Senior Supply Chain Director at PepsiCo, it's clear from speaking to both fellow professionals and people outside the sector that there remains a perception that certain jobs and industries are still "for the guys".

The suggestion that women could reach the summit in these "non-traditional" careers - progressing to the male-dominated boardroom realm - may be even harder for some observers to believe. However, a new report released by EEF - The Manufacturers' Organisation - reveals that when it comes to female board representation, the UK manufacturing sector is actually ahead of the field.

The report shows that the top FTSE manufacturing companies have a greater percentage of women on their boards than other FTSE 100 companies. This highlights that careers not typically regarded as "female friendly" may actually offer the strongest opportunities for businesswomen to reach the top. Furthermore, in the 12-month period to January 2013, women secured 13 out of 36 FTSE 100 manufacturing directorships, a figure that compares strongly with other sectors like finance. Just look at global drinks giant Diageo, which now boasts an executive board that is 36% female - certainly not the Mad Men stereotype some people might expect from a company that owns Johnnie Walker!

Yet clearly more must be done, both to get stronger female representation at executive level, and more widely to promote careers in traditionally male-dominated sectors to the brightest and best women in Britain. Indeed, today's EEF Report reiterated what Lord Davies' Government Review said back in 2011 - that it is not just about creating more female executives, but developing a genuine "pipeline" of talented women across every business.

So how should a company do this? Some have called for compulsory female quotas - forcing a company to maintain a minimum required number of women on their boards. But is this really the right way to go? Companies should not have women on their boards because they have to, but because it is the right thing to do from a business point of view.

As Lord Davies said in his review: "It is clear that boards make better decisions where a range of voices, drawing on different life experiences, can be heard". This means choosing female executives based on merit and I am fortunate enough to work for a company that embraces this view. In this respect we are fortunate that our Global CEO and President - Indra Nooyi - is one of the most successful businesswomen in the world and a clear role model for everyone at PepsiCo.

So how then do we boost female representation at the top without imposing quotas? At PepsiCo we have taken a constructive approach to the dilemma - engaging women across the business to find out what they think the company could do to enable them to unlock their full potential.

One recurring theme was that many women felt they lacked the confidence and self-belief to really push themselves forward in their jobs. In particular, there was a view that men were more effective at developing their own personal business networks - securing the type of high level contacts and relationships that help you get "noticed" at a company. There was also a view, backed up by today's EEF Report, that companies could do more to mentor female staff and provide strong, inspiring female role models across a range of different careers.

In 2010 we launched our very own female development programme based on this insight - Strategies for Success - which gives women at PepsiCo the support and guidance they need to rise up through the organisation. The results thus far have been very encouraging. For example, in the operations team that I work in we have increased female representation in senior management roles from zero to 33% in just two years. In addition, 60% of participants in the 2011 and 2012 Strategies for Success programmes have since been promoted.

We're also doing everything we can to change stereotypes about "male" careers by showcasing the range of opportunities available for women in traditionally male-dominated jobs. In this week's Budget George Osborne is likely to repeat his view that boosting manufacturing is absolutely crucial to driving economic growth. Indeed, politicians often claim that our economy needs "rebalancing" in favour of manufacturing and a return to "being a country that makes things again." I can think of no better way to do this than by encouraging the UK's brightest and best women to consider a career in manufacturing.