Women in the City Celebrate

net_womencity1.jpgby Jane Lucken (London)

350 women came together in the Plaisterers Hall in London last Friday to celebrate the achievement of senior professionals working in the City of London, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.

The eight award winners were recognized not only for excelling in their careers and organizations but also for actively mentoring and improving opportunities for women in their profession. You can see a full list of winners at the end of the article.

The most anticipated event was the announcement of Woman of Achievement 2008 – Amanda Blanc, Chief Executive of the UK broking division of Towergate, a leading UK insurance group. Since Amanda took over her role, gross earnings at Towergate have grown by 64% and she leads the activities of 3,000 people in 60 locations. She plays a very active role in ensuring that talented women in insurance get the promotion and recognition they deserve and as the only female board member has used her high profile to promote this message as strongly as possible.

Gwen Rhys, creator of the awards said: “Today gave the City a chance to celebrate success, leadership and talent and these Awards provide a much needed boost to morale. This year’s entrants were of an extremely high caliber and we congratulate Amanda Blanc on her success.” Luxury sponsors such as Coutts and Jaguar supported the event with champagne and prizes.

It was wonderful to see so many women in one place exchanging business cards, stories and advice. While under-representation of women at board-level remains a pressing issue the conversation was focused more on how the skills and attributes of women can help companies survive the current economic pressures.

After lunch and toasts, Ruth Steinholtz, General Counsel & Group Security Coordinator for Borealis AG, addressed the hall about the importance of cultural awareness for a successful organisation.

She recommended a robust sense of humor along with the ability not to take things too personally. And “don’t believe in stereotypes” she explained. She urged the room to add international management experience to their CVs. “Widen your comfort zone so that you can work comfortably in more areas.” Language is one such area. Having learned to speak Italian, Spanish and French she said that learning the second second language was much easier than the first.

“In the current economic situation it is more important than ever to appreciate cultural and gender diversity…Diverse teams are less likely to fall into group-think or maintenance of the status quo. A lack of robust discussion in the boardroom has led to some of the recent problems.”

Steinholtz then quoted a favorite saying: “Women are not less risk averse, they are more risk aware”. She said companies needed “to recognize the importance of risk awareness and that women are more likely to recognize signs of trouble…Women are generally less arrogant so more likely to admit mistakes.” She pointed out that you need at least three women in a large group to make a significant difference -one will be alone, two become ‘the girls in the corner’, but three become a significant force.

“Strong teams respect one another and value the differences. Women have a more consultative way of managing diverse teams. Be ready to adjust your style and, if that’s too hard, then explain it.” Steinholz recounted a story of moving from Denmark, where her open, consultative style was the norm, to Austria, a more hierarchical business environment. Rather than change her approach she spent time discussing her leadership style so that the team understood that she is consultative for a reason rather than just being soft.

She acknowledged that it’s difficult to manage a family and international career and said that companies must learn how to manage this better as more women achieve senior management. Above all, she said, “abandon your judgment and stereotypes and approach everyone as an individual and with curiosity. Open yourself up to the experience and really listen.”

The following is a complete list of all the winners. In the coming weeks, The Glass Hammer will be profiling each one for our Voices of Experience series,