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Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with WDI Consulting's Lynn White and Clare Russell

WDI Consulting Women of the Squarre Mile

Lynn White and Clare Russell share their thoughts on the finance sector ahead of Women of the Square Mile, taking place 15th May at Olympia London. 

WDI Consulting's mission is to accelerate strategy and change through people. In a rapidly evolving and uncertain world, the capacity to learn and adapt is at the heart of sustained personal and business success.

In addition to being a Principal Partner, Lynn White is the Founder of WDI Consulting. She has developed a set of values throughout her career that underpin her business and approach to life: passion, trust, enquiry, curiosity, listening, reflecting, caring, integrity, role-modelling and inclusion.

By developing a deep understanding of the culture in which women and men operate, WDI Consulting work with teams, individuals, and organisations to achieve their full potential and create inclusive cultures.

WDI ConsultingClare Russell is a Consultant at WDI Consulting with over 15 years' experience in supporting individuals and groups at pivotal points in their growth. She has a particular strength in helping her clients utilise widely underdeveloped capabilities in the mindful, systemic, and transpersonal aspects of leadership. 

Together, Lynn and Clare have developed a unique approach, WDI’s Women’s Leadership Coaching which “works dynamically” with a model of the heroine’s journey. At the heart of the model are tools and techniques which enable women to reconnect with aspects of themselves that historically have not been valued within traditional, masculine models of leadership.

Lynn and Clare will be sharing their wisdom in a session entitled 'The Role Model Effect' on 15th May at 12:15. This workshop will help attendees identify key role models who will help to accelerate their finance careers which, as research has shown, is critical in supporting the retention and progression of women in finance.

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What is WDI Consulting, tell us a bit about yourselves?

A picture tells a thousand words so we thought we would start with a link to who we are, the individuals who make up our firm.  Although our people come from various different backgrounds, we share a strong set of values and a unifying purpose about how we want to employ our talent and expertise in the world.

Our shared passion is to work with our clients to create inclusive cultures so that leaders and their people can achieve extraordinary things through deeper and more human connections where their difference is valued.  We operate with the belief that if people feel connected and committed to their work, business performance and profit will be enhanced.

Because valuing differences is one of our values, we have also developed a unique approach to Women’s Leadership Coaching which respects and reflects the reality that women, at their best, do lead differently to men.  We want women and businesses to engage with this reality and actively encourage, support and promote that difference  this matters to us.

In November this year, it will be WDI's 20th anniversary. This is a landmark event for us and we are still pondering how we are going to celebrate!

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There seems to be a real issue, not so much with attracting women into the industry, but actually retaining female talent. Why do you think it is so difficult to keep women in the finance sector, especially at higher levels?

We asked precisely this question of circa 150 women and 150 men from across the globe in both the technology and legal sectors during our work with clients in 2018.

The answers were varied and complex, however, having explored what lay beneath the initial responses, there are a number of similar themes that influence a woman's willingness to remain in the corporate world.  

Women continue to leave finance, but they are not leaving the labour market  this tells us so much about what needs to change if businesses are to retain and progress more women to the top. We call this trend ‘threshold theft’ because women leave key thresholds and are robbed of what could have been.

The finance sector has made huge strides by introducing more flexible working, paternity and maternity changes, however as one man told us; “It would be career suicide if I took time out now, so my partner has stayed at home.” Evidently, conversations about what motivates us are missing. Both women and men are driven by a sense of purpose and meaning, however one women summed it up perfectly; “Work matters more to me now I have kids - if I’m going to leave my children at home and continue my career, I need to be in an environment where I feel even more connected to my purpose”.  

How many organisations include conversations on purpose when considering promotion and retention?  We believe it’s a rich conversation for everyone, and a critically missing one for the retention of female talent. 

Mentorship or sponsorship, or both? Is there a silver bullet for getting more women to the top? 

Absolutely both! And, as history shows us, there is no one silver bullet.  We are uncomfortable when we hear our clients talk about anything binary - when we hear “it’s either this or that” - we know something is wrong.  For organisations it is often easier to see the world that way, however it doesn’t reflect the complexities, interconnectedness, or richness of organisational life  it over-simplifies.

Research shows that men still receive more sponsorship than women and that females are over-mentored. Women need more men advocating for them and we are concerned about the recent reports in the press that there is a growing reluctance on the part of men to sponsor/mentor women post #MeToo. This is a major risk to advancing women. Above all else, we need more male allies and sponsors if we are to move the dial on gender balance.

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Given that you offer leadership training, what would you say is the difficulty that women face when it comes to presenting themselves as assertive and strong leaders?

There is an inherent assumption in this question that women are not assertive and strong as leaders, which we broadly disagree with; our belief is that women display those qualities differently to men.  While organisations continue to expect women to mirror the same behaviours as men, we will miss the opportunity to value the different styles of leadership that women offer. 

We are very much aligned with a great report by Korn Ferry ‘Women CEOs Speak’ which highlighted the qualities of successful women CEOs.  Amongst other things, it shows that the women at the top are leading differently to men. Although they have the same level of 'confidence', female leaders have higher levels of humility, balance, and independent thought. They value highly the contribution of others and bringing a greater willingness to challenge current structures. 

What do you think is holding back the advancement of diversity in the corporate world?

We believe that these three points contribute: 

  • Fear of speaking the truth to those in power. An unconscious desire to maintain the status quo in organisations is far more powerful than people acknowledge.
  • Assumptions and blind-spots. The human condition is to pay a lot of attention to what is familiar, safe, and known so we often miss or avoid what is in plain sight.
  • Task versus relationship. So often leaders lead with a focus on the task and yet high-performing inclusive cultures hone their ability to create connection and belonging through relationship-led leadership.

Finally, what can our readers, as individuals, do to push for gender diversity?

Seek, ask, require, request, cajole, demand to have the missing conversations that matter to women every day to avoid ‘threshold theft’ and create inclusive cultures. 

Interested in supercharging your career like Lynn and Clare have?

Women of the Square Mile returns for 2019. Join 1,000+ attendees and 60+ speakers on 15th May for a day of inspiration, networking, and learning at Olympia London. This is an essential event for all women in banking and finance looking to smash the glass ceiling. 

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