A third of British businesses have no female senior managers and it is costing the economy £23billion, according to research by Everywoman.

It recently launched its Retaining And Advancing Women In Business: A Model For Success report at Barclays in Canary Wharf with a discussion by a panel of experts including Wendy Papworth.

The director for global diversity and inclusion for the bank and Barclaycard told us about the impact of female role models on her career and how businesses could get help more women achieve senior managerial positions.

Who were your role models growing up and what did you learn from them?

My grandmother grew up during the depression of the 1930’s in the East End and was widowed at a young age she had huge amounts of reserve and determination. Both her and my mother were entrepreneurs and worked throughout their lives. They showed me hard work, not doing what society expects of you, and taking risks pays dividends not only in being able to support your family but in your own sense of self-worth.

Who is your role model now?

Probably my husband, who is more of a feminist than I am. He has always been supportive of my career, even when it has meant being away from home for long periods of time. He works part-time and takes on the majority of child-care and stuff that needs to be done at home.

What obstacles have you faced to get to where you are?

I think the obstacles, if any, have been of my own making – trying to balance my personal and professional life and not always being as proactive as I should have been in developing my career. But, like everything, you learn and grow from your mistakes and what might have looked like an obstacle in the past is no longer one today.

Have you experienced sexism?

I started my career in the insurance industry with a high degree of responsibility at quite a young age. The sexism I did perceive manifested itself when I turned an insurance claim down or the attitude of the legal profession when negotiating a personal injury settlement but that sometimes played to my advantage as people often underestimated me. Overall, I have always worked with supportive colleagues, many of them men.

What practical steps can be taken to tackle the lack of female senior managers?

Interventions are required at every stage. For example, ensuring diverse hiring panels and slates, running programmes that encourage women who have put their careers on hold back into the workplace at all levels and fostering strong employee diversity networks that provide support, networking and opportunities for development. But, leaders need to understand change doesn’t come overnight and doesn’t fit into a 12-month business cycle. Commitment is required for the long term so gender balance at all levels in an organisation is sustainable.

How do we fare in Canary Wharf?

There are a huge variety of senior and middle level management roles occupied by women on the Wharf. Barclays probably mirrors the rest of the estate. Certainly in financial services you can see how we and other financial institutions measure up in the HM Treasury Women In Finance Charter. And, by in large we have a great pipeline of graduate and apprenticeship level women coming in. But, we know there is more to be done to grow and sustain the pipeline of talented women.

How do we encourage more women to be mentors and mentees?

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to mentor you, they will be flattered, but then make sure you manage and own the relationship. They are giving you the gift of their time and experience, use it wisely. If your company has a formal mentoring scheme sign up; join your firms women’s network and offer to mentor. It is really important we pay it forward and support women more junior than ourselves to be successful, realise their potential and achieve their ambitions.

What Everywoman’s report said

The study, based on a sample of Everywoman’s 20,000 members, found 74% of women who have regular access to role models found it inspired them to develop their careers.

And when combined with access to regular use of learning and development resources this resulted in a 42% higher chance of promotion and 75% of them continuing their career at their current organisation

But when a women’s appetite for learning was not met due to inadequate training, 65% of them left their jobs.

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