Why did BAE Systems join 25×25?
I think 25×25 is a great start to talk about how we would like to improve, to have more balanced gender in high leadership roles. BAE Systems, as we are a defence company, we also have this notion of duty and care for countries we work in and 25×25 plays exactly this role for us.
So, we feel it’s not just only about our company and how we increase diversity—and gender diversity, specifically—but much more what can we do within the country and in the countries, we work to help increase the leadership positions, with more female positions filled. And 25×25 is a great platform to help us with that—to share knowledge, bring our own experiences in, but learn from other companies what has worked and what we need to do and how we need to influence the regulators. What else that can be done to have a much better balance on gender at higher levels.
You, personally, have done quite a lot at BAE Systems to improve gender balance. In your view, what made the biggest difference?
I think the biggest difference we made is when we increased the visibility of it. And we increased visibility by using data pieces, by having much more factual arguments, and explained to people why and how.
And then clear visibility from the top—commitment, have the ambitions out. I think a lot of these things are down to visibility, communication, with some facts underneath. I think that goes a long way.
On the flip side of it, it doesn’t come natural to everybody to think about it this way and treat people the right way. So, we also have increased the training sessions we give people in terms of awareness, in terms of development, and certainly around biases. So, what is it that you need to be mindful of? And I think these pieces—with the real visible leadership and drive and commitment, plus then helping individuals to think about it differently—as a combination goes a long way.
What’s your view on the pathways to CEO?
So, traditionally when you move up within a company, you would go into a line leadership position early on, and then you would stay on a line leadership track. And I think experience tells us that actually great leaders can come from all kind of different backgrounds. It doesn’t need to be coming from a very technical background, and then move into first line management role, and then only have one path up. People can come from different backgrounds, from different functions even, and then learn—with the right attitude and aptitude—to get to a higher level in an organisation.
I mean, I’m a good example myself. I’m a geophysicist by background. I had line leadership positions, but having worked at a company called Schlumberger, a service company for the oil and gas industry, we had to have certain milestones in order to get a career progression. And the milestones included a job in sales marketing, a job in technology, a job in HR. I did IT, which also is not an obvious choice to go. And then from then on, each time you have lateral moves before you move up. So, it’s not a matter of, “Where is your last job and what did you do in the end?” It’s much more what are the experiences and skillsets you gathered along the way to get to the top and actually progress.
And I do believe the more lateral moves you have, the more skillsets you acquire—and this is not what you get when you just go straight into line leadership positions. And that’s exactly what [we’re] trying to do now at BAE Systems. So what are exposures we can give to people, how can we develop them that is not always just straight going up the ladder of line management – but how we can give people an opportunity in a different function, in a different sector, in a different country, if anything, just to acquire different skillsets that will teach them much more on how to be even the better manager but a leader later on in their career.
What are the key challenges for women?
I think it’s not always the hard, core skills that you see on the CV that make a difference to become a good leader. Quite often, it’s the ideas around what have you really accomplished, in what type of role, that makes a good leader. And I do believe a lot of women out there are outstanding, they just don’t sell themselves very well because they’re missing some of these hard, core skills that some companies are still looking for.
So, it’s a matter of being open around accepting different profiles in your organisation and promote them and take a bit of a managed risk, if you like, because you always have two aspects to a role, you have the soft skills and the hard skills, and you can only, most of the time, bring the one of them. And, traditionally you would look for the hard skills rather than the soft skills. So, why don’t you start the other way around and let them learn about some of the hard skills rather than thinking there’s only one way to go up? I think we are now at a point that more companies realise that there are more ways to go up to higher levels in the organisation.
Is data important?
I think data is quite crucial. If you want to advance as a company, you need to understand where your succession plan is going, what are the gaps? Where are the gaps? What I need to be mindful of? And this is not just the gender question. It’s around: When are people exiting? Why do we have the attrition? Why do we have it in these boxes?
The only way you can get better [is] if you understand some of the facts behind it. Otherwise, you make emotional judgements rather than factual ones. You really understand, “Where are my pain points and how can I improve and what do I need to do differently?” And data is absolutely crucial to that.
You get the buy-in from people in a very different way. like, ‘Wow, we didn’t know that.’ ‘Oh, I had no idea.’ So, just the awareness you get with that is fantastic.