Lessons from Wonder Woman: Stephanie Anderson, Scottish Enterprise

Stephanie Anderson, Project Manager for Entrepreneurial and Ecosystem Development at Scottish Enterprise on why having female superheroes on your team brings more than just a tick in the gender diversity box.

If you haven’t seen the new Wonder Woman film yet, you should really go see it! Not because a superhero film with a female lead has finally hit the screens, not because there’s a female director and not because you’ve heard Robin Wright is a glory to behold as an Amazonian ninja archer on horseback (though all of the above are true), but simply because it’s an awesome film and you’ll come out grinning from ear to ear and wanting to spread some power for good in the world. As a film, it’s about so much more than the diversity agenda and it transcends any focus on “…because she’s a woman”. She is just awesome, end of. The release of this film has been timely for me who has been thinking along similar lines in terms of women in business or female-led start-ups recently.

It was global headline news when Sheryl Sandberg became the first woman on Facebook’s board of directors in 2012. Yes, 2012, not 1912. It shouldn’t really have to be headline news. Having female superheroes (or as I like to call them – just females) on your team or board is a no brainer. Rather than ticking a diversity box, you should want more women in your business and on the management team or board to enrich the decision making process and ultimately to lead to a better organisation with improved financial performance.  It just shouldn’t be an issue. Like the name “Wonder Woman” wasn’t actually used to refer to the character in the film. Not because it’s dated or clichéd, just because it didn’t need to be said. Her name is Diana and the Wonder Woman bit just goes without saying.

Would you be surprised to know that most companies only hold one seat on their board for a female board member? Why would this be the case when the role women play in leadership positions is so instrumental for companies? 31% of all company directors in Scotland are female which, all things considered, is a fairly healthy figure. Females account for between 27% and 33% of directors in all growth sectors except life sciences (where the rate is 17%) and chemical sciences (24%). Bringing the average up is the creative industries sector, where women are starting to dominate and account for 50% of employees and 49% of the self-employed. But really, we want to see this figure closer to 50%.

Scotland’s women-led businesses contributed £268m to the UK’s economy in 2015 with Glasgow generating £67m alone, and Edinburgh generating £52m according to a new study by Royal Bank of Scotland. Collectively across the UK, female entrepreneurs contributed £3.15bn to the economy overall in 2015. A force to be reckoned with.

Wonder Woman is a great example of female power combining with a diverse mix of skills, let alone nationalities, from her four compadres leading to well, in this case, saving the world. But it’s clear that the world needs both. It’s not so much gender balance we should be seeking, but genuine balance. However, despite a strong growth in female entrepreneurship overall since 2009, the number of women setting up a business in the UK still lags behind countries such as Canada and the US, costing the UK economy £1bn a year and representation on boards is still inexplicably low.

So if you run a business, what can you do to ensure you have genuine balance?

  • Value
  • Advocate
  • Rebalance
  • Accelerate

 Value

I’m not going to list the top five valuable things that women bring to teams – because there is no such thing. Every individual brings something different, regardless of their gender. What everyone brings is uniqueness and a fresh perspective, approach and personal set of skills. Women can be powerful decision makers as well as being empathetic. Good communicators whilst still strategically minded. Indeed, women in management and leadership positions tend to come with impressive educational backgrounds and be ambitious and focused on achieving goals. Research has shown that gender diversity within R&D teams generates certain dynamics that foster novel solutions leading to radical innovation. The list goes on and there is lots of fascinating research out there on the subject but surely it’s obvious that diverse thinking leads to more innovative companies? Diversity in a team means a smarter team with a more rounded 360 view and by adding more women to the mix, you add exponentially to your power of collective intelligence.

Advocate

Are you a champion of women in business, women in the boardroom and the women in your life? I hope so. Some inspiring women leaders (or as I like to call them – leaders) I know include:

  • Vicky Brock, Clear Returns
  • Fiona Houston, Fishbox (an actual Wonder Woman)
  • Rachel Jones, Totseat and Snapdragon IP
  • Evelyn McDonald, Scottish EDGE
  • Lucy Fraser, Albyn Housing
  • Kirsteen Stewart, Kirsteen Stewart Designs
  • Gillian Docherty, The Data Lab
  • Annie Stewart, ANTA
  • Rachael Brown, Cultural Enterprise Office
  • Ronnie Johnson, Informatics Ventures (also, an actual Wonder Woman)

And though I don’t know her personally, no list like this would be complete without J.K Rowling – in my opinion one of the greatest women ever! These are women I come across during my day to day who are all smashing it in their fields. Wonder Woman embraces in the issue of female power without being in your face about it or “because she’s a woman”. It’s just because it is who she is – strong, focused, goal orientated, but empathetic and true to her values. Likewise the above list is of awesome people, who just happen to be female, who are amazing at their jobs.

Rebalance

Have a think about your own team and board – hopefully you have diversity embedded as standard as part of your culture, but if not think about what you could proactively do to change this. Does the talent in your team demonstrate the power of diversity or are you currently missing out? Are there mindset reboots, cultural changes or organisational shifts (eg. in recruitment policy) that need to happen?

There are some great example of support and opportunities in the Scottish ecosystem focused on supporting female entrepreneurship which male or female, I would encourage you to check out:

  • Womens Enterprise Scotland WES inspire and support women to start and grow their own businesses, advise and educate external partners, advocate for gender-specific enterprise support and seeks to influence policy-makers.
  • Investing Women Changing the face of angel investing and helping more women realise their growth potential.
  • AccelerateHER Open to entrepreneurial women-led businesses based in Scotland, the AccelerateHER Awards provide a platform for growth aspiring businesswomen to showcase their companies and attract business angel investment.
  • Womens Business Mentoring Bringing together the connectivity and entrepreneurial spirit of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network, Women’s Enterprise Scotland and Scotland’s leading women entrepreneurs to encourage more women to have or become mentors and to help support and create more female business owners.
  • Changing the Chemistry challenge the status quo, have big conversations, stretch conventional beliefs and boundaries and run events daring to introduce difference and raise awareness of the benefits of redressing the gender balance on boards.
  • Principally Women – A bespoke programme of activities to increase entrepreneurial and scale up skills, tackle gender barriers in the workplace, raise ambition, and increase networking and mentoring opportunities.

Accelerate

By bringing women to the decision making table more, companies can and will excel. But it is also a huge boost for Scotland. Research that Changing the Chemistry has conducted proves that increasing board diversity improves the performance of organisations and can thereby also benefit the wider economy. According to an OECD Report in 2014, recognition of the importance of the link between entrepreneurial activity by women to economic growth, particularly among policymakers and the business community, has increased over the last 20 years. Yet despite this increased recognition, womens entrepreneurship remains largely an untapped source of economic potential. In Scotland if this was fully realised, according to WES, if women started businesses at the same rate as men, it would bring an additional £7.6bn into the Scottish economy.

The Time is Now!

There is plenty going on within the Scottish ecosystem that helps cultivate an environment which facilitates the growth of women entrepreneurs and this is something we should be collectively proud of. An abundance of women focused support aside – I’m just delighted to see a culture shift in general seeing more women recognised and coming to the fore in Scotland. That’s not necessarily in founding companies or being the CEO – it’s a growing confidence in all women working throughout organisations in both the private and public sectors, being recognised for being valuable assets and full of creative ideas, bankable and able to deliver. This has always been the case; we are just talking about it more and celebrating the fact these days. So let’s have more of that!

There may be no such thing as Wonder Woman… but that’s because “Wonder Woman” is singular.  “Wonder Women” is manifold and they are leading businesses, part of teams, on boards and working alongside Wonder Men in driving Scotland forward. It just comes down to one word – talent. It’s that simple; ensure you have a great mix of talent on your team. Be aware, be open, be outwork looking, and seek out greatness, in whatever form it takes. Amazonian ninja archer horseback skills are, obviously, a bonus.

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