Leadership3Sixty

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Pamela Permalloo-Bass

Meet Pamela Permallo-Bass Head of Equality & Diversity at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust

In Conversation With…

Dr.Yvonne Thompson CBE

Dr.Yvonne Thompson CBE is a trailblazing business woman and author with over thirty years experience. She was awarded CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2003 for services to women, small business and minorities. Be Inspired!

You've had a diverse and rewarding career, based on your experience, do you think that the challenges for women in business today are greater, lesser or just different?

It is easy to be nostalgic over adversity, easy to say ‘Back in my day things were like this and things were like that’, but there was an innocence in those days, there was a simplicity that rewarded dedication and hard work Although information was not so freely available, to some extent you felt like every business-woman was hampered by similar obstacles and in fact these obstacles were par for the course in being a business-woman. The challenges for women in business today are therefore more difficult. Today women have to act nationally and think globally to stay ahead of the curve. Moreover there are a myriad of other options and directions competing for your time, today it is almost hard to see the 'wood for the trees' as a woman in business.

Two of the issues that repeatedly appear in discussions about women's careers are 'imposter syndrome' and lack of confidence: In your view how can women overcome the feelings related to concepts like "imposter syndrome"?

Constant positive reinforcement is one way to combat the lack of confidence or the ‘imposter syndrome’. Young female careerists embarking into the world of business have the opportunity to be inoculated from these issues by learning from their parents, schools, colleges and universities that there is a place for women in leadership in business. Businesses to play a role in this area. Having a robust in-house system for identifying talent and then a process of supporting them with the skills and the competence through courses, mentoring, coaching, networking goes a long way to reinforce confidence. Ensuring women have equal pay within the supporting executive structure also enhances legitimacy and authenticity in addition to supportive policies that encourage women back into the workplace after childbirth.

As you reflect on your journey, what would say has been the biggest challenge that you've faced as a woman in business?

At the time I entered the world of business and setting up on my own, those closest to me felt that being in business was not the place for a woman with a young child, especially as I had left a steady job albeit with zero prospect of promotion. This was difficult on so many levels. I had to be true to myself whilst being responsible for a life I created with an uncertain future.

In your business life, what would you say has been your biggest learning experience?

To follow your passion. Our world is uncertain. As a business woman I have had many enjoyable moments and I have surrounded myself with the rewards that some of those successes. However, if I did not follow my passion I would have caved at the first obstacle. My passion for what I do has enabled me to find answers that enable my business to stay relevant and kept being prepared for change.

And your greatest/proudest achievement to date?

Being recognized for my achievements by way of my doctorates and my investiture ranks highly across my achievements, but without question my greatest achievements is the contribution I believe I make to help shape the younger minds in the women who will go on to make a difference in business and the aptitude of resilience I have enabled in my daughter in her business endeavours.

Do you think that your parents/upbringing have influenced the leader that you have become?

Without question. My mother was a domestic entrepreneur. She also gave me a can-do attitude to most things and was the influence in me leaving a regular job for the unknown.

Are there any individuals who inspire/ have inspired you whether you know them personally or just by reputation?

Mellody Hobson, Oprah Winfrey, Cydnie Thompson

Over the last few years there has been a growing clamour for more diversity on boards: do you think that the target of 25% set by Lord Davies in 2011 for gender diversity is still within reach? Is there anything else that you think could be done to improve the figures?

My issue is not so much whether the these figures are in reach, it is whether or not they will be sustained; and for society to grow to the extent that women no longer feel that they cannot excel to the Boardroom purely on the basis of their gender. Lord Davies is doing a brilliant job addressing this complex issue but any development arising from it has to be sustainable beyond the architect. This is why I am in favour of government legislation. Government intervention on gender equality in the boardroom will create a critical mass on the back of which new societal and business norms and values will encourage women into the boardroom and allow men to see women as business executive equals.

Do you think that targets or quotas need to be set for increased BAME board representation?

Without question. Emerging markets in Asia and Africa are at the top of global growth projections over the next few years. Within this context currently BAME representation on Boards are rarer than women. This begs the question. Is the lack of BAME representation on Boards in the UK down to a lack of ability of the BAME talent pool or down to a lack of access and opportunity? The only independent way to answer those questions are for there to be government intervention. However there is also a business imperative to increasing BAME Board representation.

In today’s business, finding unique ways of anticipating or solving client needs, being innovative and finding market differentiation, requires a diverse way at looking at business problems. Having a homogenous pool of executives who perhaps went to similar schools, universities, recruitment structures or families, promote group think which is the antithesis of what is required today in the fast-moving, ever changing global marketplace. Having people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, recruitment pipelines, enriches the executive corporate thinking process,  thereby maintaining competitiveness, especially when tapping into those merging markets and their customers. External intervention through the government is therefore required to help change this paradigm.

What inspired you to write your best-selling book "7 Traits of Highly Successful Women on Boards"?

I’ve been passionate about gender equality issues ever since I started my own company and witnessed first-hand how difficult it was for a woman nearly three decades ago. I can remember going to a bank for a business loan only to be told that I would not receive one without my husband’s signature on the application as surety! I also recall my time being as the only woman on the Board of Choice FM. Whilst I look back on those days with fond memories I can still recall that my skills-set where somehow compartmentalised into the Administration or the Human Resource area of the business and the meaty strategic stuff were handled by the men. A few years ago a chance business lunch meeting reminded me of some of those travails and it seemed the conditions were right to start a book. I happened to know seven women who were currently serving on Boards and felt if I interviewed them, the appetite for the gender equality in business debate might tolerate a book and so the “7 Traits” was born.

What goals have you set for yourself for the next couple of years?

My first goal is to encourage as many women in business, whether that be in their own business or whether they are careerists in a company, to feel free to consider themselves for Board position, either now or in the future. One of the problems that I predict is that to meet the 25% target of women on Boards there will be a fair bit of ‘musical chairs’ amongst the current women on boards. This means for the few involved, they will be encouraged to take on two, three or four board positions, particularly as Non-Executive Directors (NED) with companies because they are a known commodity. This might enable us to meet the target but at the expense of new women coming to the table as Board Members either through the formal route through their employer as an Executive position, or as a first time NED. My aim therefore is to speak to as many companies and women as possible to strengthen their pipelines of women aspiring for those roles. To do this I want to put some of the women that featured in my book, in front of these new aspiring women, not as role models but as ‘Real Models’ to show that as a woman being on a board is achievable and how they navigated their way to the top.

Do you have a favourite quotation or book?

A book that I’ve had for many years but only listened to in the 2 years since I started work on my book is “The Alchemist” By Paulo Coelho. I have the hard copy but listened to the audio version voiced by Jeremy Irons – it may be his marvellously silky voice, but I have listened to that book now about 20 times and continue to listen to it, analyse it and use it for meditation.  For me there are so many instances in the book that I can relate to.  It’s brilliant.

Thank you Dr Thompson.