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Takeaways from Women of the Square Mile 2019

May 20, 2019 | Daisy Bernard

On Wednesday 15th May 2019, over 600 people gathered at Olympia London for Women of the Square Mile.  

In a day full of keynotes, seminars, workshops and networking opportunities, challenging questions were asked and insightful solutions were offered. Over a glass of wine at the networking drinks, we asked attendees, speakers and sponsors to share their takeaways from the day. Here's what we found:


Avoid exit interviews by asking women what keeps them at organisations

There was a lot of buzz around a workshop by Tracy Watkinson, COO for UK Service Company Entity at Credit Suisse. The session moved the conversation on from the business case for gender diversity to practical solutions leading to change. Tackling the issue like any other business problem, she talked about creating an action plan by using data to understand the current state, agreeing targets and measuring the success of actions. One of her most poignant points for retaining female employees. To avoid exit interviews, she emphasises the importance of management having regular conversations with women about what keeps them in an organisation. 

Emotional engagement could be the key to business growth

What would you do if your boss cried at work? For the majority, even the idea of it is mortifying, but Dr Kamel Hothi OBE thinks it could have a positive impact on business. "If a leader is emotionally connected to themselves and prepared to show vulnerability with their team,", she argued, "they're ultimately empowering them to share their issues with you. We talk about inclusion, we talk about diversity, we talk about mental health and wellbeing - all of that for me comes down to kinder and more emotionally engaged leaders."She emphasises that this "doesn't mean you'll sit their all day listening to sob stories", but it allows employees to stop worrying in silence.

As well as making sense on a personal level, she argues that this makes sound business sense. "If leaders allow our team release over a coffee and a chat, they'll be more productive for the rest of the day." She says that statistically this results in less sick days and a higher level of productivity. 

Kamel puts this lack of empathy largely down to the masculine traits historically associated with leadership. Traits she believes make a strong leader — such as empathy, kindness or sensitivity — are associated as weaknesses in a business context. "For centuries, the majority of leaders have been men, building the stereotype of the strong, dominant bread-winner, something that's now filtered into the boardroom. But actually, if you as a leader show your vulnerability and empathy, you'll become more relatable and lead a happier, stronger team."

Do we need to take the emotion out of quotas?

The issue of quotas arose several times throughout the day, and naturally, opinions varied. While some deem the concept patronising, others argue it's a necessary solution to readdress a gender balance. Several people believe that gender quotas are often misconstrued due to the emotional responses they evoke. The solution, they believe, is to have a more "business as normal" attitude towards quotas in order to level the playing field. 

Accountability should come from all levels

Diversity and inclusion drive better business outcomes, and senior leadership and engagement on the topic are crucial – but what about the rest of an organisation? Nishi Somaiya, Head of Private Capital Business ESSG at Goldman Sachs, discussed this at 10:30 in the Main Plenary. While acknowledging that organisations must play their part, she highlighted that "small acts of accountability accumulate to meaningful change", giving practical strategies for all levels. 

Following sell-out events in London, Sydney and Amsterdam, we are bringing the world’s largest conference series dedicated to driving gender diversity in Finance to Dublin. It's taking place 12 - 13 September 2019 at CCD Dublin, book now to avoid disappointment later.