Category Archives: women in business

Coping with grief in a business

ack: The Wisdom Daily
ack: The Wisdom Daily

One of the main lessons I learned in 2015 is that when anyone in your family needs you, business takes a back seat.

I am not imagining that you are daft enough not to realise the family imperative, I am just recording one of the most important personal lessons I learned in 2015.

By and large I have been spared unexpected and unfortunate family events since setting up FOXY in 2004. So I didn’t appreciate that when they play their part you can’t plan for the ramifications in your business life, no matter how well organised you are.

For example I had no idea how much time I would spend travelling to and from Newcastle (I live in Sussex) to be with my Mum, in and out of hospital, as she grew weaker. Or how affected I would be by her death when she died in September.

As a small business owner, no-one does my job when I can’t so I simply had to try to catch up afterwards. Nobody leads the team, nobody cracks the whip on occasion and a lot of things simply don’t happen whilst others wait to be told. In fact I am still catching up and know the opportunity cost is much more than this, including things I have paid for but haven’t been able to take full advantage of.

Another lesson I learned was to do with customer service levels at bereavement time when sorting out financial matters with banks and insurance companies. Mum had some old savings policies and the businesses concerned had been taken over and so on. Yet as fragile individuals in these circumstances we were speaking to some of the most insensitive staff I have ever dealt with and who don’t seem to appreciate that their daily business norm isn’t one we are used to coping with.

Without previous experience of dealing with such matters I expected these people to understand what we’d need and help us sort out Mum’s estate. Sadly the catalogue of errors, unhelpful bureaucracy and unnecessary obstacles (in commercial organisations) outweighed the contrasting help and support I received from government bodies who seemed more aware that I was mourning a loss and, it seemed, were simply more helpful and efficient.

Mindful of the fact that I am tougher than most (and yet I struggled here) I think this is an area that can be improved upon.

If you agree and would like to share your bureaucratic experiences through bereavement (in case this is something FOXY might tackle at some stage), please email or write to me at FOXY offices c/o 35 Goring Road, Steyning BN44 3GF.


Female Executive Directors Preferred

boardroom heelsWhen it comes to organisational health, judged by financial and efficiency metrics, the more women at the top, the better the financial returns says McKinsey & Company.

Put another way, it’s not just what you say and do but how well you do it.

Yes a male CEO can justifiably say ‘we want to employ more female car sales staff’ but the reason there are so few might be because the business isn’t perceived to be a female friendly employer from the Boardroom down.

Certainly that’s true of the UK motor industry, which is the big picture in too many female minds – and I’m talking about women in a broad context; seen as Board member recruits, staff AND customers.

So whilst it’s encouraging to hear that Lord Davies is being listened to in UK Boardrooms we’re a long way short of making the impact we need to en route to a new target of 33% of women board members at FTSE 350 firms by 2020.

That’s too far away and well short of the 50% I want to see in my working lifetime.

The Executive Gender Elastoplast

All too often however, a female Non Executive Director (NED) is the ‘tick the box must have’ Elastoplast solution. This is because an unconvinced CEO can turn to an executive recruitment agency, say ‘we need one or more female NEDs’ and they’ll supply them. This is when a CEO can also think (to himself) – ‘if she doesn’t work out/fit in, we’ve only got her for three years then I can line up another one.’

Now I’m making a female NED appointment sound easy but I’m assuming NEDs, regardless of gender, with the requisite corporate skills, such as HR, governance, legal or secretarial. Fortunately there are plenty of serial NEDs (male and female) who offer such skills and whilst they might be experts at reading Board Minutes and Balance Sheets they are not the best judges of the culture of a business. That can only truly be felt from working on a full time basis within it. And for some time within it, to hear and be trusted with honest staff opinion.

So my point here is that whilst female NEDs will tick the diversity box (and are to be welcomed in the absence of others at the top) they are not as valuable, as I see it, as Executive Directors. Female Executive Directors need to be sponsored and groomed from within, then given a mandate to change a business from a mainly masculine to a female friendly employer (where appropriate – I am writing with the motor industry in mind).

Corporate nirvana, as I see it, is when a female takes a strategic position within the Board, usually as CEO. This is when a female business leader steers a naturally female friendly business using her personal perspective and experience, influencing all aspects of the business whilst accurately predicting and addressing women’s needs and expectations.

Of course many male-led businesses do this already, such as fashion and beauty businesses where the Boards are often full of female, but businesses in my industry, the UK motor industry, seem woefully slow to understand why they might need ANY let alone MORE female Directors.

So here are some good reasons guys – and you really need female Executive Directors to transform overly masculine cultures from within.

More female Executive Board Members needed

Female Board Directors are needed in the UK motor industry because…

+ They are missing from most motor industry Boardrooms
+ They show aspiring female employees a career path
+ They act as role models for ambitious graduate/apprentice recruits
+ Women are half the executive talent out there (but need encouraging to apply)
+ They represent the gender that influences the majority of purchases (80% of cars/aftersales)
+ Women bring consensus and a more collaborative style of working
+ Women add ethical and environmental values (that may well have made a REAL difference in VW’s 100% male Boardroom)

windscreenviewSome time ago, working in a consultant capacity, in my own right, I set out to measure the UK automotive industry in terms of the numbers of female Board members and executive positions.

My intention was not to name and shame but to publish a useful benchmark to influence behaviour and raise gender matters in this area.

Sadly I was unable to obtain the Board composition details I needed re: automotive manufacturers and/or dealership groups operating in the UK so I look forward to this previously ‘secret’ information becoming public when we can all see gender composition re Executive and NED Board appointments in this industry.

Needless to say, if our FTSE goals are now to achieve 35% women on Boards by 2020, it’d be a lot quicker to simply introduce female quotas. Which is my preferred strategy now Lord Davies – one I never thought I’d EVER support but do now after waiting for too long for gender and diversity to reach the top of big businesses in the automotive industry.



Steph Savill Limited

The female Executive versus Non Executive Director choice

NEDS-TABLE-Short_580Given a choice of methods to meet gender targets which tactic would be quicker/easier for existing mainly male Boards to recruit more women to the Boardroom would you think?

You could EITHER invest in skilled, qualified and previously groomed senior females from within the organisation with a view to their long term future as a Director, making a genuine commitment to gender diversity…

OR you could talk to a recruitment specialist to find/appoint a Non Executive female Director with the specific functional skills you need.

Given that choice I’d plump for the first scenario as this will create female role models and represent career progression for ambitious women in future, making the business stand out as a female employer of choice.

But if an employer hasn’t looked at or wanted to create a female talent pipeline in-house, how likely are they to have suitable females ready and waiting here? Whereas it’ll be easier to go to the right executive agency, give them a recruitment brief and await an often serial NED to tick the gender target box with the right experience to boot.

For a contracted period of c3 years which mightn’t be too disastrous if it doesn’t work out and someone who doesn’t get ‘too’ involved in day to day business affairs?

Are NEDs the easy Board choice?

Call me cynical but isn’t it easier to meet mandatory gender targets by recruiting female NEDs rather than having to completely change an internal culture, especially if there hasn’t been any effort to court females to the highest echelons previously?

I am reminded of a recent occasion when I was in touch with a CEO of a top dealership group in the motor industry, discussing how to promote his group to women customers in future. ‘Of course we are female friendly’ he explained ‘we have several women in senior management roles.’ He then rescheduled my meeting with him, because he was too busy, so I met the senior and impressive females in question. After a good deal of polite but time wasting banter for us all one of them finally told me the truth – that neither of them could recommend the business as female friendly. And who better to know, but clearly the Board and the CEO were oblivious to the perceived reality of their internal culture.

Today’s Cranfield report

exec roles_nov13

A new report from Cranfield today confirms that the  UK’S biggest FTSE-listed firms are making ‘steady progress’ towards hitting 2015 targets to increase the number of women in their boardrooms. But, surprise, surprise, few are hiring women for executive roles, according to new figures released this morning.

Women now make up 19 per cent of FTSE 100 and 15 per cent of FTSE 250 board positions – the highest proportion since the survey began in 1999. And during the last six months since the statistics were last updated, 27 per cent of new appointments to FTSE 100 boards and 30 per cent to FTSE 250 boards went to women.

But though 33 new executives joined the ranks of the top 100 firm’s boards in the year to 1 October, just four of those appointments were female, with women still more likely to land non-executive (NED) roles.

The way forward for non-FTSE businesses?

I find it hard to believe that a genuinely enlightened CEO/MD/Chair wouldn’t appreciate that an all male Board has been selected from just 50% of the talent out there. Or fewer if you take into account the growing number of women graduates. Wouldn’t he want his business to be run by the very best candidates including those that can act as role models in future?

So, bearing in mind the reality in so many all male yet caring Boardrooms (but who don’t know how best to make the right gender decisions here) perhaps the short term and more feasible Board strategy could be to bring in female NEDs as a short term fix, with the specific mandate to identify and nurture future female Executive Director talent from within the organisation.

The Board could then have this as their stated medium term strategy and publish this in their annual report. An open, transparent, honourable, realistic, scheduled and truly measurable strategy that many women would recognise and appreciate as a reasonable way forward…

Before the EU might make them do this in 2020 anyway.

Steph Savill

Sussex FOXY Lady climbs Kilimanjaro for charity

Lucy Dawe and carLucy Dawe from Shoreham-based lettings agency Lawton & Dawe certainly knows how to do something different for her birthday.

This year she will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world and the highest on the African continent at 5,896m. She will be doing this in September to raise funds for two charities: Spinal Research and Worthing Churches Homeless Projects (WCHP).

The route to the top

The exciting trek takes the Machame route, camping and taking in the splendour of the surroundings and clear night skies.

The terrain changes as the mountain is climbed – from thick forest, moorland and scree en route to the highest point of the crater, Uhuru Peak. This is a challenging trek at altitude and one which will give Lucy memories and challenges that will last a lifetime.

Lucy’s chosen charities

Lucy is supporting Spinal Research following a motorbike accident involving a close friend last year. She is a tireless worker for WCHP and has recently been asked to join their fundraising committee. WCHP is the only charity looking after homeless and insecurely housed individuals in the Worthing area.

“It’ll really be a different way to celebrate my birthday” says Lucy, “although I’m sure we’ll manage to mark the occasion on the journey! My aim is to raise as much money as I can for two worthwhile charities which are very dear to my heart. WCHP is an organisation we can all support but don’t want to have to need – and Spinal Research work makes such a huge difference to people who have suffered life-changing injuries.”

Lawton & Dawe is the only ARLA-registered lettings agency in Shoreham and covers the whole of Sussex with a range of homes to let, as well as managing a property portfolio from Sussex to London.

For more information on the two charities, see and

Should women leaders be more like men?

Women-as-LeadersThe Telegraph published a thought provoking article about women as business leaders yesterday.

On the one side we’re described as humourless, some of us are more aggressive than the most ambitious men, we’re too emotional and so on.

But don’t put us all into the same camp says BBC Apprentice’s Katie Hopkins who admits to hating other women’s successes, preferring to work for a rational male and not caring a jot for people’s feelings, simply shareholder returns.

With both these viewpoints on the table, it’s clear to me that too many women haven’t been prepared for leadership roles and that ambitious wannabe Queen Bees think the only way up is by outbloking the men in their sights…

A waste of business time

I know how this feels because I’ve been there myself. In my 30s I was a Board Director for travel divisions of Granada, Mecca and Rank organisations and whilst travel was never the male dominated bastion the motor industry is today I still fought my way up. With the benefit of hindsight I definitely subscribed to the Katie Hopkins school of business thinking, more than than the Karren Brady one I now much prefer.

My eyes were finally opened when a fellow Director complimented me on a job well done by saying ‘You can consider yourself an honorary bloke Steph’ expecting me to be pleased by that.

That’s when the penny dropped that you can’t odds gender. Try as hard as you like, a man can’t be a woman and vice versa. So why was I bothering to be like a man and why are men trying to be like women when it comes to unleashing their sentimental sides…

I don’t know the answer to that other than to say we’re all flogging a dead horse if we can imagine we can be something we aren’t. So why not spend time understanding ourselves, letting the real ‘me’ rise to the surface, and let’s learn to live with it warts and all…

Gender roles in business

Observe a healthy business team working well together. Men bring logic and women bring emotional intelligence, encouraging team participation. It’s a bit like a strong marriage, assuming you pick the right men and women. It should be a partnership that complements each other’s talents hence the need for men and women to work together in healthy Boardrooms exerting that influence throughout their business. And there is evidence that this approach produces greater profits and shareholder value.

But sadly women don’t always fit in to the man’s world at the top and I can understand why those who are willing to fight their way to the top may feel the need to fend off female competition in that struggle… Having reached their goal, many women find themselves out of their depth because they don’t understand the male rules and chances are they don’t talk corporate male speak either.

NB: This is rarely a problem where a male CEO is enlightened, determined to listen, understand, appreciate and advance the female business cause.

Again, I have been a Non Executive Director too and despite my previous Executive Board experience I didn’t find this a rewarding role at the time. Was this my fault? I don’t think so although I’m not blaming anyone else. The reality is, as always, where an all male Board is a happy ship why would they feel the need to question that status quo especially if this meant learning female speak in the process? They simply didn’t see or feel the need to adapt in any way and I couldn’t speak their language to make my case heard.

So whose fault is it?

If some women leaders aren’t popular, don’t have a sense of humour, are scaring their female and male business peers as well as letting down their female successors they can expect to be shot down in flames… but it just mightn’t be their fault.

As always, the health of a business is best read at the very top. No really good CEO will want to ignore 50% of the best talent that might come their Board’s way in future. If female quotas become obligatory, I would be very surprised if a good male CEO wasn’t ahead of the pack having previously selected the best females for his team.

But there are other sorts of CEOs who mightn’t be at all willing or able to make a smooth transition from an all male Board to a gender balanced Board. And, sure as eggs are eggs, even the most talented and hard-working women will struggle to demonstrate their contribution in this situation.

The missing link

And the missing link in all this is surely the lack of training about gender issues in our business world.

1 Male CEOs need to be helped to understand what the best women can bring to the Board, how to maximise female talent when women reach Board level and why a healthy female pipeline is a source of considerable envy and competitive advantage with a view to the future.

2 Male and female Directors need training about the best ways to work together…

3 Male and female Managers need training to understand that what the business needs is their cooperation, natural talents and personalities – not them trying to be people they aren’t and unpleasant ones at that.

And herein lies the rub. If employers can’t make nice employees out of unpleasant ones, no matter how talented and profitable they might promise to be, I for one would have no place for them in any business I run.

But worst of all are those women who can’t support other women for they have no heart and therefore no place in mine. Thank goodness I learned this lesson before it was too late to make a difference for others…


“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”
Madeleine Albright, Former US Secretary of State

Finally this is the article that triggered this blog…