• Wed, Feb 22 2012

This University May Have Figured Out How To Get More Women Into Business

Brunel University, based in Uxbridge, West London, may have come up with the right way to get more women to go into business. It has launched the Women into Business program  to raise aspirations among female students. The program is not promising to break the glass ceiling or even promise to get 15% more women on company boards in 10 years. What it is doing is getting young women to actually think about a career in business in the first place, which even in 2012 can still be a challenge. Pauline Seston, a employability and entrepreneurship consultant at the university, wrote in The Guardian, “There are perceptions around the so-called barriers to being a woman in business, and some are simply incorrect, so our aim is to equip our students with an approach and a series of tools and techniques that support career progression and help them overcome the genuine barriers of being a woman in a male-orientated world.”

Though it looks like 2012 will be a huge year for female CEOs, growth for women at the executive level in business is still stalled in many ways. In 2009, women held 15.2% of Fortune 500 board seats, according to women’s issues research group Catalyst. In both 2009 and 2010, 12% of Fortune 500 companies had no women serving on their boards. Female leaders  also only make up about 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs which is just a 1% increase from seven years ago. Women’s progress in the CEO category is always slowed down by the work/life balance struggle.According to a recent survey from More Magazine, less women are willing to make that kind of trade off. More found that 43% of the women surveyed say they are less ambitious now than they were a decade ago. And only a quarter of the 500 women ages 35 to 60 say they’re working toward their next promotion. Two out of three women reported they would prefer to have more free time than a bigger paycheck, and two of five said they would be willing to accept less money for more flexibility. Being the boss is even less appealing to them:  three out of four women in the survey — 73% — say they would not apply for their boss’ job. Almost two of five — 38% — report they don’t want to put up with the stress, office politics and responsibility that often go hand in hand with such positions. But we are starting to see some change, it will just take time. According to Julie C. Norris, Partner in the CEO and Board Practice at CTPartners, “We are starting to see changes in the boardroom that mirror the macro changes in the economy, including demand for directors with insights into new customers, technology, distribution channels and global markets. Boards are looking for diverse perspectives, and the next generation of directors has the opportunity to include more women.”

Around 50 female students have signed up for the Brunel program, a series of workshops running in addition to their undergraduate or postgraduate studies. The students earn a certificate when they finish the course which can go right on their resume. They are learning about issues ranging from career planning, leadership, networking and image to assertiveness, negotiation, confidence-building and looking after their own reputation. The speakers who run the workshops are successful businesswomen. Seston said the most important things to come out of the workshops have been the importance of networking and the differences in how men and women communicate in business. “Women tend to have more empathy, whereas men generally just want to cut to the chase. It’s not that men in business are necessarily ruthless, it’s just the way they communicate, and learning to adapt to that is really important for a woman.”

Seston thinks other institutions should take Brunel’s approach and develop a workshop through trial and error. She said, “ We started off by getting business women around the table and discussing the key issues they have had to overcome, then building up a programme of speakers and a pilot to discover what our students want. That’s been the key – ensuring that what we offer is relevant to students’ interests and ambitions.”

Photo: Stephen Coburn/Shutterstock.com

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  • Pippa

    I was once interviewed for a graduate role, the CEO asked me ‘Why do you want to go into business, do you have family in business, do you read industry papers/business magazines?’ I said no, I don’t know why I want to go into business, but it would be a challenge and exciting (I was really thinking: what other well-paid career paths are there?). Of course this wasn’t the right answer, I wish I could have been involved in university with a programme like this one. I still don’t like reading the business section of newspaper. I don’t know anyone who runs a business. Does this mean I am not cut out to ever be in the boardroom?