Jane Tappuni was recently appointed to Ingenta's executive board. In this article, which first appeared in The Guardian on 2 May she reflects on her career, and discusses the challenges women face when they want to progress at work.
I recently wrote about the lack of women working in technology and how perceived obstacles and challenges deter them from seeking employment in the sector. Like in most industries, the scarcity of women is more prevalent in the upper echelons. Finding a technology board with more than 10% female representation would be a major stretch – far below our already unacceptable national average (15% on FTSE boards).
Whether David Cameron's recent acknowledgement of the problem during his visit to Stockholm was political posturing, an attempt to claw back women voters, or not, remains to be seen. But at least this critical issue is debated and finally creeping onto the political, and hopefully corporate, agenda.
However, is the absence of women CEOs and directors something that can really be resolved politically? Is enforcing a quota on companies the right way to go about bridging the gender gap? According to research by recruitment company Norman Broadbent, Britain is unlikely to meet Lord Davies' target of one in every four board positions being occupied by a woman by 2015 and progress up until now has been far too slow. Something drastic needs to happen to help redress the balance, be it aggressive government policies such as quotas, a swift transformation in corporate culture or a change in the way women view themselves, their prospects and confidence in the workplace. My guess is that it will need to be a combination of all three.
When I made the move from the publishing industry, which has no shortage of women directors and superstar CEOs, across to the technology sector, which has surprisingly few women in top positions, I was astonished by the stark contrast in terms of career mobility options for women. In male-dominated environments such as these, which Susan Vinnicombe from Cranfield University would say are "designed by men, for men", women have inevitably always found it more of a struggle to make a name for themselves and rise through the ranks. Perhaps this is down to the way these companies are set up, to not encourage diversity at the top. But part of me feels that there is generally an acceptance on women's part, that this is "just the way things are" and that the creative acumen of women is frankly not welcome in these somewhat dry, logical and very traditional boardrooms.
It wasn't until recently, when I reached one of my own career milestones, being offered a position on my company's executive board, that I realised just how important diversity is for decision-making in businesses. For a technology company, our board refreshingly transcends barriers of gender, race and sexuality, and this diversity means that different perspectives and insights can be offered – a luxury that quite simply does not exist in most boardrooms. On a personal note, being involved and responsible for business development and company strategy at this level is incredibly rewarding and motivating and I like to think that as a woman, my soft skills, interpersonal abilities and creative gusto brings something new to the table.
There is no doubt that in most industries a woman will find it that little bit more difficult to scale the heights of boardroom success than a man. This could be down to a variety of contributing factors that plague companies and individuals alike; sexism and outdated perceptions, being part of a minority, maternity, work-life balance difficulties, fear of failure, lack of ambition and self-confidence – the list goes on. Nevertheless, these obstacles should not get in the way. If politicians are willing introduce changes and companies start to strive for greater boardroom diversity, women need to ensure that they too are making strides in the right direction – taking greater risks, relying on their gut instinct, believing in themselves and what they can offer and bring to the business and most importantly, being passionate about what they do.