Gender diversity – the shift from ‘why’ to ‘how’

Gender diversity – the shift from ‘why’ to ‘how’


Thinkers 50 Conversation for International Women’s Day 2021


On this year’s International Women’s Day, our Chair Ruth Cairnie met former colleague and friend Deborah Rowland for a fascinating discussion as part of Thinkers50, the business and management ideas initiative.

In the conversation they explore what “choice” means for them: choosing one’s self, choosing how you lead, and choosing how to show up.



And Ruth talks about the work of POWERful Women and how making real progress on gender diversity in business is now less about the why and more about the how – and that good leadership is key in taking that practical action forward.


Old-fashioned companies don’t get it

Ruth describes how the early years of working on the issue were about making the business case for having more women in senior roles, but now for many companies the evidence is established and the argument won.

“I spend much less of my time worrying now about organisations and leaders for whom that’s not the case” Ruth says. “If they don’t get it, it will become existential for them.  Because in due course people will not choose to go and work for organisations that are old-fashioned and monolithic. People are choosing to go for much more open, inclusive organisations where everyone can be themselves.” 

And she says that the focus for her has now shifted to supporting the companies who do get it. “I worry much more about the leaders and organisations who do want to really change but maybe are struggling to translate their actions into real outcomes and progress.”


Good leadership develops good practice

This is a focus of POWERful Women’s practical support work, particularly with the CEOs in our Energy Leaders’ Coalition, who are working together to learn and develop good practice on diversity and inclusion.

“You see organisations where the senior leaders and the top leader passionately believe that things need to change, and they always talk about it and intervene if they see behaviours and actions that aren’t aligned with the direction they are going in.

They will set very clear expectations and hold people to account, and they will drive things with a powerful conviction. And then you get real change. It comes back to leadership.”


The power of data 

Central to success is the gathering and reporting of data. Both Ruth and Deborah agree that research and evidence are vital for pushing change – they gives credibility when choosing to challenge.

This is the reason for POWERful Women’s annual board statistics exercise, where we gather and publish data from the UK’s top energy companies on the representation of women on boards and in executive director roles.  The 2021 statistics will be launched at our Annual State of the Nation event on 19th May – register to attend here!


You can watch the full Thinkers 50 conversation here (gender diversity and inclusion is discussed from around 34 minutes).