Posted by: ginalazenby | July 25, 2012

More women needed on Boards

Here is the second video in the series on Feminine Leadership taken from my discussions in Sydney with Dr David Paul, a professor of, and expert in, leadership and complex change.    I’ve had really great feedback from the first one that went out last week: thank you for sharing all your positive comments with me.

This segment of our conversation is where we talk about getting more women onto company boards and later David shares some practical ways that women can have more influence in creating the change that the world needs.

Much has been written about the glass ceiling that is keeping women out of the top echelons of power in corporations.  In March this year, the UK’s Cranfield School of Management said that the percentage of women on the boards of the UK’s 100 largest-listed companies had risen over the past year to a record 15.6%, from 12.5% the year before. Numbers are inching forward it seems but still painfully low although in Germany and Australia numbers have gone down and in Italy half the companies still have no female directors at all.

I think there are many reasons why women are not there in greater numbers and it’s not just because the influential chairmen and male directors don’t invite them. Apart from the fewer opportunities, I think that there are less women ready and available at that level for selection.

In the video David talks about women not feeling confident. It’s a sentiment echoed by Financial Times columnist Heather MacGregor who wrote an article earlier this year in the FT magazine about eight women role models who successfully developed careers that have led them to Board level. Heather said that women often ask “Am I capable?” a question she says, most men wouldn’t even think of asking!  Lyn Wood, a high-flying exec in Australia was quoted in the Sunday Life news magazine as saying that “women lack the confidence to aim for the top job ….. if you don’t believe in yourself others won’t either”.

Why do we doubt ourselves? I hear it all the time when I talk with women in women’s gatherings all over the world. It’s not every woman but it seems that no matter how successful a woman can be, many still have a nagging self doubt. I think in a world where the male gender has been, and in many respects still is, more important than the female and where opportunities for women, particularly in government and corporations, are only available when men give way or allow us to rise.  This seems to gives men an in-born sense of entitlement (both conscious and unconscious) that most of us women just don’t feel. Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, talks about a “belief barrier” in Australia of deeply ingrained cultural beliefs “that a good mum should be at home with the kids, and that the ideal worker is available 24/7, has no visible caring responsibilities and is usually male”.

WATCH VIDEO:  Gina Lazenby in conversation with Dr David Paul, 2nd video in the series of seven

You read anywhere the advice given by other women about how they rose to the top and they will talk about sacrifice, difficult choices and the need to work hard and prove their competence. When you hear that you know that women are trying to fit in to a corporate world that was designed over the last century by men and for men (all of whom had the support of wives back home until the last few decades). Women may be working within that system now in huge numbers but we did not create the culture – we are simply adapting to a masculine culture which I don’t believe serves the women or the men who have to operate inside it. People seem to survive corporate life, but few really thrive in it. Time and again in our women’s circles, talented, professional women share how they opted out because they could not cope with the culture and could not align with the values. All that is bound to undermine us and dent our confidence.

I could write so much more here but right now I am really interested to hear of your experience and whether you feel confidence has ever been an issue for you? Has a lack of self-belief ever shown up in your life, and how?  It has certainly been an issue for me and during these last few years I have been exploring its roots as I have questioned what it is I am here to do. I’ve been examining how I have developed a set of soft skills which aren’t always visible and are therefore don’t seem to be valued. That makes it hard for me to fully appreciate what I am good at!

Does that resonate for you at all?

David goes on to talk about the need for women to initiate transformative conversations to accelerate change.  He shares some practical ways in which we can do that. He reinforces that necessary changes usually only take effect when initiated at the grassroots level which forces the leadership at the top to listen and follow. Right now, when the world is looking for new answers, he says the new ideas will come from women.  So there is a clear message here for us to raise our own levels of self belief and lead from our inner power. WATCH THE VIDEO


  1. David, you have ‘hit the nail on the head’ again. I feel some women lack confidence in the work force because they are bullied, not only by their bosses but other women.

  2. Hi Gina and David, this is great. Gina your findings below concur with what women have shared with me over 25 years, women whether from disadvantaged circumstances or well resourced, socially supported or educated business or professional women. There is an assumption that women want to be in the board room. The lack of confidence women describe is I believe a symptom of a deeper knowing. The collective unconscious field we have all been socialized into. I would like to view this lack of confidence not as a pathology or individual weakness, or even a lack of belief in self, but a lack of belief in the conditions to thrive!

    Let us re –interpret ‘lack of confidence’ as our sixth sense operating, women’s intuitive warning system, towards conditions which don’t serve to support who we truly are as women.

    We have fought hard for equality of opportunity and choices, but no opportunity has substance or leverage without the appropriate nurturing support systems in place. Generally women intuitively know this when considering promotional opportunities with increased responsibilities. It is lonely for women at the top; we are not autonomous beings, which many men are. Bravado competitiveness and pretense has served men well but not many women. In the 21st century women are seeking more wholesome ways of communicating and being. May be the retraction in numbers in the board room is indicative of our boredoom!! Could it be we are just being savvier protecting our wellbeing, looking for collective collaborative ways outside the corporate structures to create the social and cultural change we know at a deep level needs to happen?

    As our consciousness rises, with it comes an awareness and release of a sense of disconnection. In Lynn Mctaggart book the Bond , she brilliantly articulates what I am trying to describe here. Our behavior reflects our learned survival patterns; our decisions driven by unconscious drivers to belong. So some women consider very carefully whether the corporate board room, or leading a business will support their core values. The decision to belong involves a trade off to work within accepted norms and expectations of others.

    So when faced with values conflict some of us retract into safe spaces, sacred spaces, some of us into depression as we connect with feelings of low self worth and lack of confidence. These are symptoms of a deeper despair about our value and purpose, in the home, workplace and in society. Yes we need to create structures for new conversation to occur and for us to start naming the change and solutions we seek within and outside ourselves.

    I am exploring the topic of caring and its value in my research with Nottingham University and for my book vital women. Through Vital women network and in collaboration with Jeanne Booth the good work guide we have initiated conversation suppers, to explore what it means for us to flourish. So Gina and David lets keep you in touch with the outcomes of these shares.

    Thank you for leading in this social change work, Blessings Karen

    • thank you very much for sharing your beautiful wisdom Karen. This is an interesting conversation for us all to continue. Do watch out for the other videos that I will release from my conversation with David ….. another 5 to come.

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