Celebrating women in leadership for International Women’s Day

Nearly 40% of board-level executives at FTSE 100 firms are female compared to 12.5% a decade ago

The latest FTSE 100 data on female representation at board level has shown that we continue to make positive moves towards more gender equality in the upper echelons of business. But are there enough women in leadership positions generally?

Nearly 40% of board-level executives at FTSE 100 companies are female, compared to just 12.5% a decade ago. Across mid-sized businesses, this number stands at 32%. This is positive news, particularly in light of this year’s International Women’s Day theme: #BreakTheBias.

While there is still more work to do, we continue to improve our representation. Some businesses, however, are leading the way in their female representation. Customer service outsourcing provider Kura has a leadership team made up of 50% women, and a huge 70% of its senior management team is female.

DiversityQ hears from some of the women blazing the trail in leadership positions at Kura to find out more about their careers, how they find being a woman in leadership, and how they support other women looking to break the bias.

Women in leadership: varying career paths

The women in leadership roles at Kura have all taken very different paths throughout their careers. Leigh-Ann Paterson began at Kura in 2009 and has risen through the ranks from an advisor position to her current senior management role of Head of Estate Services.

Leigh-Ann says of her journey: “My personal growth and development is a key achievement in my career. After hard work and determination, I was appointed as Head of Estate Services in 2016 and became a member of the senior management team.” Kura is all about developing people, so it’s positive to see women start in advisor roles and progress into senior management quickly. It’s indicative of an environment that actively supports women.”

Client Delivery Leader Senga Kane has had a varied career that included ten years in the hairdressing industry. Senga took a 28-month career break to have her children before returning to education to undertake a Marketing & Economics degree.

Senga joined First Direct as an outbound sales advisor, moving quickly up the ranks to coach, trainer, dialler coordinator, and then Call Centre Manager before joining Kura as an Operations Manager in July 2012. She progressed into further senior roles at Kura before achieving the role of Client Delivery Leader in October 2021. Senga is proof that women can incorporate breaks in their careers to care for their children while still progressing into senior roles.

Being a woman in leadership

Being a female leader can bring its own challenges with it, so how does Kura look after its high-ranking women? Leigh-Ann says: “We don’t apply labels at Kura. Gender doesn’t play a part in who is right for the role. Being a leader, regardless of gender in Kura, is a privilege and rewarding.”

While recognition of female leaders is important, businesses should also ensure that everyone in senior roles receives equal treatment and respect. Leigh-Anne continues: “Being a leader, regardless of gender, in Kura is a privilege. We don’t apply labels in Kura. I don’t think of myself as a female leader. I am just a leader.”

Operating in global locations including the UK and South Africa presents differing challenges for the women at Kura. Shakti Naidoo, HR Business Partner at Kura South Africa, says the local culture has an impact on her and other female managers. She says: “In South Africa, women – and women of colour – have rarely shared a seat at the same table.” So how does the business counteract this? Shakti says: “At Kura South Africa, we have inductions and monthly sessions where we directly address conscious and unconscious biasedness. Initiatives that tackle gender biases in the workplace are important to creating a workplace that allows talented people to progress, regardless of their gender.”

Supporting women around the business

Women in leadership roles are in a great position to help others who are looking to progress into these roles, especially if they encounter gender biases and obstacles. For Shakti, this is especially important in her office. To offer support to other ambitious women in the business, she says: “We initiated ‘Kura-Queens’, a platform where women meet and freely discuss and raise matters around gender. 

“It is also a platform to recognise women at Kura who are leaders, future leaders, and role models at Kura South Africa.” Through this platform, Shakti says she has a “team of strong women who support, motivate, and raise each other”.

Seeing other women in senior leadership positions is vital for women who want to pursue these types of roles in the future but feel like it’s harder to reach the upper levels of business. Role models help to show us what is achievable and they provide aspiration. With COVID-19 exacerbating gender inequalities, these role models are more important than ever.

According to Leigh-Anne, one of her favourite things about her role is the ability to support others. She says: “The ability to coach and develop others makes my role hugely rewarding.”

Tertia Van Staden, Head of Operations for Kura South Africa, feels the same: “I feel privileged to give the ladies on the floor the encouragement to know that they too can achieve big things if they work hard.”

Creating an environment that supports women and creates equal opportunities for them is a key ethos of Kura and its leadership team. Tertia continues: “We continue to be committed to working to create opportunities for the women of our community. We are proud to be making a difference in our people’s lives, and at the forefront of that is empowering our women in their roles and in their lives.”

We’re making positive strides towards gender equality at the highest levels of business. While we aren’t quite there yet, there’s no doubt that we’re on the right path. Businesses like Kura are leading the way in supporting women into senior roles and businesses and are reaping the rewards. In order to achieve more gender equality in the workplace, businesses must both recognise that women may face more obstacles on their career journey while ensuring they are treated as equals to their male counterparts.

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