One of the City’s most prominent female bosses has demanded tougher “action” to get talented women to the top of businesses, and demanded improved childcare to help them succeed.
Moya Greene, the chief executive of Royal Mail and one of only five female chief executives in the FTSE 100, said cultural and societal expectations were still blunting the aspirations of too many talented young women.
She said: “One of the most important things to do is to help women take ownership of their ambition and aspirations. It’s still disappointing when you see how young women view their ambition – and how others view that ambition.
“To be a CEO it’s really hard work and you really have to want to do it. For women, even in 2014, that can be a problem,” she said.
Ms Greene was speaking at an event in London to launch 25 by 25; an initiative led by the executive search firm Egon Zehnder, to help companies develop their female talent and achieve 25 female CEOs in the FTSE 100 by 2025.
However, the Royal Mail boss said 11 years was too long to wait for such a transformation, arguing that Egon Zehnder’s goal could be achieved in only a few years with a call to action and having a sharper debate. “EZ’s ambition is great but why wait 11 years?” she said. “The increase in numbers of non-executive directors has gone from just over 12 per cent to around 24 per cent with positive action from the government’s Davies report in the three to four years I have been in this country.”
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But one of the big problems in the UK was the quality of childcare, she said, which was not as good as in places such as Sweden or her home country, Canada. British companies could do more to help with childcare – Royal Mail had its own crèche.
Her own career in the Canadian civil service and in financial services had been helped by positive action and the legacy of the US civil rights movement, which is why she urges today’s female executives to mentor younger women and drive change in organisations themselves.
She said: “I don’t think you can expect boards to change the executive pipeline because it’s not really their job – they don’t have all the reins at their disposal that the executive team has.
“I have committed to take the same chances with talented women I see that were taken with me, and so 30 per cent of my executive team is female – and so is our chief operating officer.”
Ms Greene – who is the lowest-paid CEO in the FTSE 100, earning £1.5m last year despite having turned the Royal Mail from the red into profit – added that banking was one of the worst sectors for women to work in. “When I was working on the IPO for Royal Mail I saw more than 100 bankers in one day; only two were women and they weren’t allowed to say a word.”
Miranda Pode, Egon Zehnder’s UK managing director, who is behind the 25 by 25 goal, said companies today had a great opportunity to find and develop great leaders for the future without needing to look outside their own business.