A problem shared is a problem halved: How and why women should build a ‘personal boardroom’

muslim lady wearing a headscarf at board meeting
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There are many companies out there making huge efforts to support women in business and readdress the gender imbalance.

Yet the numbers suggest there is still much more that needs to be done.

The Government gender pay gap data recently showed nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of firms pay higher rates to their male staff. Only 17 per cent of employees in the tech industry are women. And the proportion of women in influential non-executive roles has barely changed in ten years, in 2017 it’s eight per cent, compared with six per cent a decade ago.

Debate about what can be done rages on and certainly there is no silver bullet, but these stats demonstrate a clear need for women to build a support network around themselves. Or as Amanda Scott and Zella King brilliantly put it, assigning a ‘personal board’.

Just like how a business has an executive board – whereby a group of decision makers meet to discuss the company, vision, strengths and weaknesses and essentially, make critical decisions, Scott and King suggest people should do the same.

This group of people will be your sounding board. They could help, for example, if you’re considering a new job, a new role or how to deal with a difficult person at work

For me, having a personal board has been critical to my success and career development; and I’m not the only one. Leaders in companies from the BBC, Google, EY and RBS have also used this approach.

Where to start?

If you’re wondering where to start and think your circle might not have a Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos, don’t worry. You don’t need to overcomplicate it.

Everyone has a network, whether you’re an intern, manager or CEO of a successful business – you’ll know people. The first step is starting to think of who you know well and more importantly, trust. Take the time to think this board through. I’d recommend setting aside 45 minutes thinking about people you know well, who you admire and even going through your connections on LinkedIn to catch up on where someone you knew well at university is working now.

Scott and King outline the three key roles to have in your personal boardroom, these are:

Power roles

These are people who are well-connected and could introduce you to someone influential. For instance, you might not know that your Uncle Barry has worked in tech his whole career, sitting on a wealth of experience and contacts that could benefit your career.

Perhaps this could also be one of your peers or tutors, who you got on well with at university. Check out where people are currently working now on LinkedIn and if you have any mutual connections that would be of interest. Also, consider what introductions could offer them in return.

Development roles

This group is people who will challenge your thoughts or provide some balance. You can’t have a personal board of ‘yes’ people. Say you have a very straight-talking friend who, without fail and no matter how blunt, will always give honest feedback; that is someone you need to balance your thinking on your board.

Information roles

Lastly, information roles are people who bring new insights and ideas. If you’re lacking people like this on your board you can always ask your network to recommend someone. Then contact them with a personalised note saying that you’re impressed by them and would love to get their advice. The worst they can do is say no. You’d be surprised with how open people are to helping one another.

For women entering the tech industry, it can seem daunting with media headlines often dominated by widespread bro-culture in many emerging tech companies. But what’s remarkable is the power of the female collective. When women come together and support one another you’ve got a network that can take on anything. I surprise myself each day with my strength and as Eleanor Roosevelt famously put it: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”


About the author

Emma Maslen is the Regional Director at SAP Concur.

Emma has worked in the technology industry her entire career and has two boys under the age of five. Before joining Concur, she worked at firms such as, Ingram Micro, Sun Microsystems and BMC Software.

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