Dr Charles Woodburn, Group CEO of BAE Systems in conversation with Tara Cemlyn-Jones about pathways to CEO and targets

 by 25×25 team

Why is there a need for 25×25?

I think we can all agree that there’s not enough women CEOs or indeed women in senior leadership positions across all companies, ours included, and I think that we have a role to play in changing that.

At the end of the day, it’s a very competitive landscape for talent and making sure that we are properly looking at the 50% of our population that is indeed the women that we’re giving them the opportunities to move right up through the organisation to the very top positions.

25×25 is an important opportunity for companies and other organisations to come together and share ideas around what’s working. I certainly think as a company that we have a lot to learn on this and I know that by talking to other organisations that we can share ideas and hopefully we all benefit from this together.

Pathways to CEO

In terms of opening up the pathways, I think one of the things that we have done is set ourselves some targets because I know as a business we all rally behind targets. And I’m always realistic enough around the fact that we recruit an awful lot of STEM graduates and within that population there is a disproportionately smaller number of women, sadly. And I think that we have a role to play in trying to promote STEM subjects right down at school age and in fact, we do a lot of that often with the Armed Forces. So we’ve had some success on that but I think we all have to do a better job of encouraging women to pick those subjects early.

We’re also evolving our attraction and recruitment process so that we’re appealing to the widest talent pool and I’m delighted to say that we’ve been voted by female engineering job hunters as the number one engineering employer of choice in The Times top graduate employers.

We are making some progress. Last year our gender diversity for senior managers increased from around 17% to 22%. And in terms of building a pipeline, 23% of our 2000 apprentices are women. Our gender balance on the Executive Committee has also doubled from less than 10% to more than 20% and we’re continuously strengthening the gender balance of our emerging talent pipeline. For example, we recently brought our top 100 leaders from across the global businesses together at an annual conference and 40% of them were female.

How are targets measured?

Diversity and inclusion is very important for myself, for the Board and the Executive Committee and not surprisingly we set ourselves some targets around this, which are agreed with the Board on an annual basis and reviewed. And at the Executive Committee we do deep dives to see how we are progressing against those particular targets. I think it’s important that we’re open with the business as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and also with our external colleagues. So for example, we’ve signed up to the Women in Defence Charter, which means that we have to report our progress against some of these initiatives to external bodies. Overall, I think it’s important that we are looking at the pipeline, building the pipeline and holding ourselves accountable to improving the situation and the aims that we’re all seeking to achieve here.

What has your personal experience been?

Certainly when I look at my own career, people took a chance on me quite early in my career and gave me stretch opportunities that enabled me to progress. I think it’s really important that we’re doing that within our own business and actually looking for some unusual pathways. The things that wouldn’t always be obvious and I think some of those can be particularly important to helping women progress up the management chain.

How important are role models?

We have some exceptional women in senior leadership positions, both at the EC and across the business, and they’re providing very strong role models for both the up and coming men and women in the organisation.

I’ve spent my career working in organisations that are highly technical but with hugely talented people who come from a wide range of different backgrounds, countries and cultures, and they all bring their different experiences.

And in my experience, that diversity of opinion and background and thought processes does lead to better decision making. There’s less groupthink, there’s more ability to openly challenge, there’s more ideas flowing. So I think it’s really important that we as an Executive Team encourage more of that, both at the senior levels, but also throughout the business.


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