Touchstone CEO Alison Lowe, one of Forward Ladies Women in Business Award Winners in 2014, asks is negative self-talk what holds women back in business?
Whilst seven out of ten employees in the voluntary sector are women, only 43% of charities are led by female chief executives or chairs. Why is this? Do women still struggle with negative self-talk and is it possible to buck this trend?
As Harriet Minter recently wrote in The Guardian, compared with men, women are less likely to consider themselves ready for promotions, they erroneously predict they will do worse on tests and generally, they think less of their abilities than their male counterparts. Sounds familiar?
According to the latest Acevo pay survey, women leaders are also paid on average £9,750 less than their male counterparts and they make up less than half of all charity chief executives. So there are still many challenges for women in the voluntary sector and more generally in other workplaces too.
At Touchstone, where I have been CEO for 11 years, I hope we buck this unfair trend: not only is the organisation led by two women- as CEO and Chair of the Board; 50% of our senior managers are women and 75% of our management team.
As well as this, a third of SMT is BME and 16.5% LGB. Managers are 33% BME and a quarter LGB whilst our Board is equally representative of the communities we serve.
As an organisation we strive to challenge ourselves and our performance in the areas of inclusion and equality. Our Board sets us annual diversity targets for staff and service users which we monitor and report on every year. We deliver annual Equality and Diversity training for all staff which is mandatory and we pursue external accreditations of our practice and performance by becoming Stonewall Diversity Champions (we are placed 19th nationally in the Stonewall Top 100 Gay-friendly Employers Index), we are Investor’s in People Gold, a Sunday Times Best Company to work for and we are Positive about Disabled People.
My experience as a woman, both personally and in the workplace, has been a major driver and an underpinning value in the progress we have made at Touchstone. However, whilst I have enjoyed personal success and believe being a woman has contributed to that success, I have also experienced adversity and challenge on the grounds of both my gender and ethnicity.
As a black woman I have experienced violence, different treatment and low expectations of my life chances. I have struggled with my own identity, my perceived place as a role model for others and the burden of higher expectation this has then placed on me. I have taken on men in the workplace, within politics and at home, sometimes winning and many times losing and throughout it all I have learned that only by knowing and loving myself can you survive and succeed.
I love being me but the journey to self discovery has been long, hard and sometimes painful. At the age of 50 I truly know and accept myself- my strengths and my weaknesses-but I believe that it is my womanhood that gives me this insight and the power to take control of my own destiny.
Being a woman gives me humility, self-knowledge and the power to hope for better things and to turn that hope into reality. I may choose not to change a plug, but I can change lives and I started with my own.
Alison Lowe, Touchstone Chief Executive