The hot topic of gender parity was the focus of the first meeting of this season’s Women Development Forum (WDF) series.
The event, entitled “Women. Fast Forward”, sponsored by WDF’s founding sponsor EY, took place on Monday 19 October and was supported by over 100 members and non-members of the not for profit organisation organised by Michelle Johansen, WDF founder.
Speaking at the event was Wendy Martin, EY Channel Islands tax partner, Charlotte Valeur, founder of Board Apprentice and Toni Roberts, executive director at the Jersey Community Relations Trust (JCRT).
According to the World Economic Forum it will take 80 years to reach gender parity. The question debated at the event was whether or not Jersey should wait that long or should it fast forward the process?
Mrs Martin explained that EY is spearheading a global campaign which aims to draw attention to the global gender gap issue and galvanize support from other organisations to accelerate change.
During her address she shared her personal journey, explaining the barriers she has faced in her career before joining EY. This is as much about the person as the firm for which she works.
“I strongly believe that businesses need to provide the support and the right environment to enable women to flourish. Just as importantly, you need to identify opportunities and take them confidently – something I find many women, myself included, struggle with,” she said.
Mrs Martin was promoted to partner this year and was invited to Singapore to join the 753 other internally-promoted partners - the largest number ever to be promoted. Of those a record 31% were women which is proof in itself that EY is actively working on gender parity.
EY’s “Women. Fast Forward” report focuses on three major accelerators. Businesses need to illuminate the path to leadership. This path needs to be open and transparent to all employees and women need to be their own advocates.
“Firms need to speed up their company’s culture change with a progressive corporate policy for both men and women and, most importantly, they need to build a supportive environment, setting the tone from the top which visibly supports women,” she said.
Mrs Valeur, an ex-City investment banker who nine years ago moved to Jersey and now sits on 10 different boards.
“Being the only female on these boards was a little like being in the playground at school with lack of inclusion or not being able to join in with the conversation,” she said.
After witnessing this gender problem, she began to work on trying to increase the diversity on boards by providing tools to enable boards to be involved in solving the problem.
“Gender equality is a problem worldwide not just in the Channel Islands. The talent and knowledge is there but women lack board experience. Therefore as leaders, boards are the only ones who can take an active part in providing a solution to this problem,” she said.
By placing board apprentices on boards as observers for a year, women are able to gain valuable experience. “Women are very valuable and firms cannot afford to lose us,” she said.
This is how Board Apprentice was conceived. The not-for-profit organisation is currently set up in Jersey, Guernsey, the USA, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Japan and the Cayman Islands and just recently in Canada. Run by volunteers it diversifies the pool of available candidates for boards. This enables more women board members to apply for positions. It also helps companies retain and attract talent by offering employees the opportunity to become an apprentice. Not just because it is a good thing to do but because it actually helps to grow the business and enhance its bottom line.
Finally Mrs Roberts updated delegates on the JCRT’s findings of its States of Jersey commissioned report on Jersey Women in Business.
Here the States wanted to look at how successful business women are in Jersey and what obstacles and barriers they need to overcome to get to the top of their career. The report is thought-provoking and makes a number of recommendations on how the States of Jersey and businesses could change the business dynamic.
Looking within the States of Jersey (including utility companies), there are 79 board positions of which 67 are occupied by men and 12 by women. The organisation also looked at law firms with 10 partners or more and from a total of 90 partners, 71 were male and 19 female although the number of female associates was far higher than males. In some firms women outnumbered males by two to one. The question remained whether they were going to progress or would there be a talent leakage?
The report will be submitted to the States of Jersey with recommendations on how it can help move women forward in Jersey.
“There is a necessity to work with professional organisations to set aspirational targets for gender equality at senior management and board level,” said Mrs Roberts. “However, we also have to pick up the ball and run towards achieving gender equality so that the next generation of women have a strong platform from which they can achieve their ambitions.”
Mrs Johansen thanked the speakers and said: “Jersey is at a tipping point, it is up to us all to push the fast forward button by taking advantage of the initiatives in place through Board Apprentice, the Jersey Community Relations Trust and Women Development Forum, so that gender parity can come much faster than in 80 years’ time as predicted by the World Economic Forum.
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