Watching the concluding episode of BBC 2’s Women at the Top with the fabulous Hilary Devey, I felt unsatisfied. A bit like the feeling you have after a Chinese meal. You feel full as you stand up from the circular rice covered table, but then hours later you are rummaging in the fridge for something else to eat. (Or is that just me??)
Last night, Hilary and the production team at the BBC did a wonderful job of exposing us to innovative employers who think differently about how they can provide flexible working for their employees and cost effective and convenient childcare. These are fantastic places to start and I am sure would encourage more women to stay longer and work their way to the top.
Or would it?
I still don’t think the ultimate issue of corporate culture has been addressed enough. Why is it that smart, ambitious women who have their home lives organised to enable them to have a career still decide to leave? Yes, I know from my research that for those who are mothers, the flexibility of running their own business is appealing. And I also know from that research that these bright, ambitious women get fed up. They don’t want to play in this sandpit anymore, growing tired of the games and politics needed to elbow their way to the boardroom table.
Here we have a conundrum, or do we need to be more patient? Do we hope that the innovative flexible working and child care solutions exposed last night do the trick, as more employees are exposed to this new way, that the toxic culture dissolves and more women stick around. Or does the same level on innovation and investment need to be poured into changing the fundamental framework of the corporate culture?
If Hilary and her team had spoken to those senior level women who had chosen to leave when they were so close to the top, then my hunger would have started to dissipate. If we had got past the easy answers of flexible working and affordable childcare as solutions to help women stay, and really came up with some ground breaking ideas abut culture change through out all levels of the organisaton, then that would have made me feel completely satisfied.
Let me know what you think….
The research summary of 300 women business owners who left corporate to set up their own business can be found here: