Anita Longley, Director of Corporate Responsibility at RWE npower, talks about women in senior business roles.
RWE npower has a board level directive to increase the number of women in management level positions to 22% by 2018. What are your thoughts on this?
The aim and intention is right but more important for me is the ‘how’. Practical steps like ensuring there are senior women on interview panels and female candidates on shortlists really help. My concern with targets is that they can lead to criticisms of positive discrimination and we have to be really careful about that because it’s not helpful for anyone. The other thing I would say is that diversity is not just about gender and we need to make sure we are reflective in all areas.
What do you think are the barriers to the attraction and retention of female leaders?
In this organisation being a woman has never made my job harder. One barrier is issues around women leaving work to have children – often at quite a critical time in their career path. Even being out of the business for a year or two can have an impact, but then when you return your priorities might have changed so we need to consider whether we lose sight of women when they’re on maternity leave. You need to be strict with yourself in order to keep a work life balance no matter what level you are at. It’s been important for me to manage this. Responsible business is embedded in the organisation but individuals also have to take responsibility for their own work and manage it.
Another potential barrier is the skills criteria we look for when recruiting board directors – which tend to be operational or financial skills. Broadening these to HR, communications or legal backgrounds could help – if you value these skills in board directors it could improve the numbers of women in those positions.
There is one woman on the Exec currently and that’s something that I think is really important – having role models.
What kind of initiatives do RWE npower undertake around diversity and promotion of equal opportunities for women?
I’m a member of the ‘Senior Women’s Network’, a group wide women’s network, and similar groups exist at the operating company (Op Co) level. They allow women to network with other women and provide a direct link to the Chief Executive of RWE Group who sponsors the network, so we can raise issues and give feedback to him to help raise awareness of the barriers women might be facing.
RWE npower supports women internally through the mentoring scheme – I think it’s really helpful. The target has made us much more conscious of having women on interview shortlists; there is evidence to show that we tend to recruit similar people so just having the target is helpful to make sure we are including women on the shortlist for these senior roles. There is much more flexibility now around maternity leave and the whole agenda around agile working will help to support women in senior roles.
The critical behaviours also help and I am really seeing evidence of change in how people behave since they were introduced two years ago. They are linked to performance management so it supports these behaviours into your everyday role. They help to engender a more inclusive culture and it is an inclusive culture here at RWE npower – I have never felt discriminated against and I can definitely see women moving through into more senior roles internally.
Why is it important for companies to have mixed gender boards?
The EU Commission said that 15% of board positions in EU member states were filled by women in 2013 which is clearly too low. It’s important for us to have representation of our customer base at all levels. We need a broad talent pool to meet the challenges the industry faces. More diversity means that there can be a different approach to decision making and alternative perspectives are considered.
In both attracting and retaining talent it’s important for candidates to understand the culture of the organisation. Having women in senior roles could be an indication of how women are considered in that organisation. In terms of retention flexibility is important. This isn’t just about children but that does tend to impact women more, so how much flexibility is there in this organisation? We’ve also introduced a meditation technique ‘mindfulness’ which is about creating space to think.
Why should the energy sector appeal to women?
It should appeal to women for the same reason it would appeal to anyone: energy is such a fascinating and quickly changing sector – no two days are the same, my job is changing all the time and I love that. I have loads of variety in the role that I do and the issues that I manage are so diverse and broad.
The other thing I love about working here is the opportunity to make a difference. I really do have an opportunity to change the way things are done around here and that’s good.
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