Getting more women in the boardroom

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  • Christie Hunter Arscott

    Christie Hunter Arscott

Executives sit around the world’s boardrooms all stumped by the same question: how can we get more women in the room? So, Christie Hunter Arscott asked the women.

The Bermudian’s findings are featured in Dear CEO, a collection of letters that offer advice to leaders from 50 of the world’s top management thinkers.

The book, commissioned by British-based organisation Thinkers50, was published by Bloomsbury in July.

“It was our insights on what the most pressing challenges CEOs are facing,” Ms Hunter Arscott said of her submission.

“What they should be asking themselves to address these challenges: What areas are they overlooking? What solutions are out there.”

She said she and coauthor Lauren Noël were invited to contribute after tapping into a “niche area” — early career women.

“Women in the first ten to 15 years of their careers,” she clarified. “That’s a talent population that’s been traditionally overlooked by researchers and also often by organisations.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there on women and a lot of stuff on leadership, but most organisational strategies and research focus on senior executive women.”

In their initial research for the International Consortium for Executive Development Research they asked CEOs: “What is your most pressing talent challenge?”

Their response: “Retaining women five to ten years out of university.”

“There are a lot of misconceptions about why people think women leave or don’t advance,” Ms Hunter Arscott said, citing reasons beyond children, flexibility and work-life balance.

“In our interviews, women around the age of 30 weren’t quoting their primary reason for leaving being flexibility or family — it was because of compensation,” she revealed.

“That breaks down a lot of gender stereotypes that exist that men care about pay and women care about babies.”

She said women were also more likely than their male counterparts to lose ambition and confidence after year two of their first job.

The 32-year-old said it was important to address those challenges early.

“When leaders look at organisations and say, ‘We have only X number of women executives’, they often target their training and programmes just beneath [the executive level], but actually research has shown that to really change the shape of the pipeline, we’ve got to target earlier. So, from the minute the woman walks in the door — first job, 21 years old — your women strategies or overall people strategies need to happen then.”

“Ask, don’t assume,” she advised.

“A lot of people strategies are created in boardrooms but they’re very far removed from the people they’re trying to target.

“They’re asking, how can I retain Susan? but they’re not asking Susan. They’re making a lot of assumptions [like] I don’t know if we can keep her because she just had a kid.”

Ms Hunter had her first child in March and moved back to Bermuda from Boston in April. She did not take time off from work. “Every person is different in terms of the impact a child has on their life, their priorities, their career — I chose not to take time off,” she said.

“I’m so passionate about my work. It’s something that really made me feel engaged and as human again as possible. For some people, three months is enough, sometimes six, some people need a break overall to focus on family. What’s really empowering is having choices.”

She was taking conference calls from the hospital and Skyping with her executive coaching clients, all while continuing her research. She takes one week out of every month to be in Boston with her husband, Ramon Arscott. Mr Arscott is finishing his plastic surgery training at Harvard and will move to the island next year.

She said women and men could benefit through options — “options of flexibility and leave policies; through the ways to stay connected to the workforce; through childcare or family friendly, gender-based policies at a national level”.

She calls this “the humanisation of work”.

“Before the internet, people would come in from nine to five and that would be it; there were no e-mails, no mobile phones.

“There was a very clear cut-off time. There wasn’t the same impetus to really know the person because they could be an employee during those hours and home and with their family for the rest. Now there are no defined lines.

“Leaders can provide essential support, connectivity and resources to

retain women as they navigate

challenging obstacles.”

Two years ago, she spoke at the CPA Bermuda Women’s Conference on “understanding the person behind the work”.

“I think that’s really critical in not only retaining people but maximising their impact on your organisation while they’re there,” she said.

The gender and generations strategist will speak at the conference again on September 19 on bullying in the workplace and at the Dive In conference on next generation strategies for organisations on September 22.

She serves as principal of Quest, “a global leadership institute for early career women”. She spoke at Harvard Business School when she was nine months pregnant and will speak at Georgetown next month. In November, she will speak at HSBC in London and in Hong Kong.

“I have what I call a portfolio career,” she said.

“It’s this amazing, never-boring blend of advisory work, executive coaching, writing and [public] speaking.

“When I was younger, I didn’t even know that a career like this was possible, but when I look back, it makes a lot of sense.

“I loved problem-solving and strategic thinking; I was a public speaker and debater and I had always had a passion for reporting.”

She has also signed on with the Bermuda High School to launch a school-wide leadership initiative.

“They’re looking at how to truly embed their value of leadership into the very fabric of the school — from the minute a girl walks in at the age of four to when she graduates.” she said of her former school.

“I’m going to be working with them to assess what already exists within the school, identify any gaps, look at leading practices of other schools across the globe from Canada to Australia to the US and look at what’s the best fit for BHS.

“The next step of that is building out a community-based programme, so that girls in other schools can also get access to this leadership development. It’s really how do we ensure that we’re creating the next generation of women leaders for Bermuda.”

Book available on Amazon

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Published Sep 1, 2017 at 11:31 am (Updated Sep 1, 2017 at 11:31 am)

Getting more women in the boardroom

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