The Blog

Don't Let Our First Women be the Last and Don't Let Your Business Fall Behind

The UK clearly has further to go and we need a major shift in culture and approach to achieve anything near parity for women in the workplace.

This is my first blog for the Huffington Post and it comes at a time when heightened concern about the UK's economic prospects is making it essential for business to look for every possible lever to give itself a competitive advantage. This blog also comes in the wake of the First Women Awards 2013 opening for nominations across the UK. Both these issues are very much linked - more so than many people realise.

Lloyds Banking Group is sponsoring the awards again this year and as I see the nominations for some of the UK's most inspiring and pioneering women come rolling in, I'm both heartened and saddened that we are still seeing so many 'first women to...' Whilst I'm very much looking forward to being part of the judging panel and meeting some of these fantastic women, I'm also thinking about what comes next.

These women are breaking the glass ceiling for others to follow, but are we creating the right environment in British business for the next layer of women to do so, or will they too feel they are having to break through barriers to rise up the ranks? There has been great media interest in the number of women on executive boards and some progress has been made in this respect. This is significant and important, but we also need to recognise that we should be developing our female talent pipeline. Decisions of great impact are made every day below boardroom level and I believe that we all need to be looking further down our organisations, identifying talented women and supporting them in their career aspirations to ensure we start to see more women in line for the top jobs. Only then will we start to see real and sustainable diversity in the leadership of Britain's organisations - women ready, willing and able to follow those 'first women'.

But this isn't just about giving women the tools to flourish in the workplace. It is about making British business taking practical but essential steps to remain competitive. Specifically, If we are to continue with the progress at the layers below the board, it seems to me that UK companies need to look at how they are organised. Many of us are organised around what you might call a 19th century model of work: 9-5, 5 days a week, linear careers, starting work at 16, retiring at 60. We know for a fact that many women don't have linear careers for example but, equally, persisting with that model clearly does not enable businesses to meet the economic, technological, demographic and social changes that we are facing, too. Without changing the model, therefore, we are in danger of tinkering at the edges without effecting long term sustainable change. There's a business imperative to ensure that organisations are competitive and successful and part of this is about using our resources in the best way possible. Put frankly, bringing our business model into the 21st century is essential for long-term profitability - if your firm doesn't do it, another one will and they will gain competitive advantage.

Returning to my initial focus on developing a talent pipeline for women, the UK clearly has further to go and we need a major shift in culture and approach to achieve anything near parity for women in the workplace. At Lloyds we're looking to build flexibility into the way we do business rather than it being an add on, but that does mean we need to make a number of changes to create the necessary diversity and inclusion needed to underpin that flexibility. Some examples of what we are doing include unconscious bias training for all staff; building skills and knowledge across key functions such as HR; a 'comply or explain' policy (which ensures that we have women on our shortlists for all roles from junior management upwards); improving our support for maternity leavers and their managers; and a range of executive development programmes for our high potential women. I'll also be telling you more about our simple but effective role models programme in my next blog.

Lloyds is changing the way it operates to ensure we support women and make our business able to meet contemporary challenges profitably, and I believe other businesses should be doing the same. What do you think?