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FT Women at the Top Summit

Clare Dyckhoff

This is all about action.

I attended this year’s Financial Times’ Women at the Top summit, on behalf of UN Women UK, one of the supporting organisations of the day.

Aiming to tackle the gender imbalance in the top ranks of business, the summit featured a variety of speakers from the public, private and non-profit sectors, on discussions ranging from what the workplace would look like in 2027, how inclusive leadership leads to growth, the strength of feminine power and how we need to look at the change beyond the boardroom. The following is to give you a taster of the meaty topics covered on the day.

One fundamental element that came out of the summit was an emphasis on company culture. Here at MG OMD, we pride ourselves on our culture and it is (in my totally unbiased opinion) just one of the reasons why our agency is the best.

But a strong and diverse culture is not a prerequisite to every company out there, in every sector. This can be part of the problem when it comes to retaining good talent. Tackling this problem, Paris Petgrave, Co-Founder and CEO of We Love Work, stated the key to retaining diverse talent is for companies with a weak or diluted sense of culture to readdress what it is. More often than not organisations have an aspirational culture but are lacking in knowing what the culture actually is. And for culture to be successful? It needs to be inclusive and sustainable. “Companies need to display culture as something strategic, not something fluffy to ignore” – prompting for less deliberation and more implementation.

The summit was not just restricted to covering matters of equality within the UK. Marlene Schiappa, Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men for France cited England as a source of “inspiration in terms of gender equality” and explained how “we name and shame and we name and change” companies that are caught being discriminatory. Helena Morrissey, DBE, struck a chord in the room of delegates when she said “the problems are so complex in the world today; we need new thinking” shifting to a wider need for change.

“Change, however good in the end, is scary for people” Baroness Dido Harding (Non-Executive Director, Bank of England) and what greater facilitator for change than technology.

Thinking ahead to the role of technology in change, when discussing the future of AI and how technology affects both men and women in the workplace, Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America, stressed the predominance of men in algorithms and machine learning – emphasising a need to address equality in the digital world as well as the physical.

Laura Haynes, Chair of UN Women UK, saw technology as an unbelievable “lever for change. Because of accessibility but also to help with education where people cannot be reached.” This can be demonstrated by campaigns such as #HeForShe and its champions and talking publicly about the companies who are celebrated for moving to change the future of equality. Because the only way we’re going to create change is by working in partnership.

The summit was the perfect platform for networking and mentoring. From CEOs to Heads of Departments, the room was abuzz with questions and further points of discussion for the speakers. Because while business should be part of the solution on gender equality for one, it is not just a business problem, it’s societal and political.

Thinking ahead to what the speakers want and hope to see is different in the future?

Paris Petgrave, co-founder and CEO of We Love Work, said “I believe fully that change is inevitable.” Upon being asked what she hopes will have changed in the workplace by 2027, she said: “That this room is full of men driving this conversation.”