Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of Mitie, speaking on Women in Leadership: Breaking Down Barriers.
David Docherty says Ruby is one of the few women running a FTSE 250 company.
Ruby starts by saying “It’s a rare thing to be both female and Asian and be at the top of a FTSE business”
Women have a massive role to play. We need gender equality at the top of businesses and we need to celebrate diversity. I was successful because I joined a very young organisation in a very young industry. We had fewer hierarchies and could think about talent differently. The Chair and CEO said ‘we’ll teach you’ as they knew I hadn’t done it before. It needs mentoring and support at different levels in women’s careers.
When I became a mother – it was almost impossible to juggle everything. I took 2 years out. The non-execs of MITIE didn’t really understand that, but it worked. She also chairs the Women’s Business Council – and that’s about understanding the barriers at each stage of a career.
It starts early in schools and colleges and Universities – and it’s about setting aspirations. Needs more collaboration on careers – and this is pretty weak still. We’re still grappling with understanding how and where to recruit the right graduates for example.
Loads of barriers – how do we start a business – where do we get the mentoring and support we need.
While things have changed over the past 25 years – there is still much to do on diversity – beyond gender. Need to make sure young people demand and expect equality in the workplace. More work to do.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far we’ve come – and culture is slow and difficult to change. We do need to support people to rise through the ranks.
In the world of facilities management – it’s very male dominated. Don’t focus on your differences – focus on your talent. Difficult to achieve but we can make progress on this – at every single level. Young people need the biggest possible aspirations – and it’s time to make sure this happens and that people see the opportunities and are able to grasp them.
Q- what role doe employees have to play in helping with career guidance?
Ruby says that school is very different from the workplace – we need to help young people to understand what work is like – and there’s a role for existing employees to help with this. It’s very important that graduates and others are supported in the early stages of their careers.
Q – what is in the gift of the government?
Flexible working is very important – and affordable childcare for families (not just for women). There are specific things government can do. They’ll say there’s no money – but they have to spend money on something.
How can universities help?
Better workplacements, a better understanding of the role of outsourcing – not always the most popular of industries.
Q – which countries have better working practices than the UK?
Ruby says the US is better in certain areas – but she doesn’t like quotas. We have a multi-level problem. We seem to have issues at each level in our organisations.
Q – how about the difference between the best person vs the best team issue?
She says if you pick the best person they should find the best team [errrm].
Q. – role of apprenticeships
Ruby says they are as important as graduates and often better. We have about 500 apprentices and this is more than the number of graduates we recruit. They are very important to us.
Q – re aspirations and people recruiting “people like us”. How can we change this?
Select talented people and give them responsibility early – be less hierarchical – fast track people to big roles early.
Q – re lifelong learning – how to implement in business?
Ruby responds that we need to make developing people integral to the role of the business – send them to a business school – make sure you keep them up to date – very important.
Q – who helped you develop and who mentored you?
Partner in accounting firm, CEO of SERCO – provided her with encouragement and support. I wish I’d had more confidence and self belief. We also need to develop cultures where ‘getting things wrong is an important part of every day”
Q – Ageism is an issue for women – often they are considered ‘past it’
A – Not about age – it’s about ability to deal with change and deal with rapidly moving markets. We need to help women get back into work – it’s a big untapped market and they need to be brought back into the workplace.
Q – How do we deal with demands on women to be the main Carer especially as parents get older. How do we change that?
No easy answer. It’ll take a long time – but increased flexibility in working will help – fitting more things around work. Changing society is a tough call.
Q – what could businesses do to help fathers play a bigger part especially when their children are younger and need someone to go to them
A – Boards need to be family friendly – once that happens things will improve.
Q – re leaving for extended periods to have children vs the idea of ‘backing off’
A Once you’re out of the workplace – the phone stops ringing and no one is interested. This is very difficult. It is very hard coming back in – and you just have to make it work.
Q- do you need to behave like a man to make it in business?
A – It’s a shame if women feel like that – it’s important that people are prepared to be themselves. I always tried hard to be me and I think that’s the way we can make progress.