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What it means when businesses work towards gender neutrality.

Have you ever written a letter to yourself? It’s an excruciating thing to do but when it arrives later in the post after you wrote down all of the things you are going to do differently in your working life, it really does put a spring in your step, even in London’s driving rain.

My letter was written at a transformational personal development course called Walk the Talk, which championed gender equality within WPP (Bookmark is a part of the WPP group of companies). As CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said in his introduction, it was about “discovering what’s possible for the future of women within the group.” The course was not about how to climb the slippery ladder of success in the traditional way, but rather how to bring your whole, female self to work and call on all of your strengths to fulfill your potential.

Defining your own goals, from a personal and business perspective, working out what your values are, focusing on what you can change and making peace with what you cannot, facing fears, dealing with gremlins… all of this and more was covered in 48 hours of co-coaching that brought together 60 female leaders from across the world; seriously successful women, many of whom were still fighting ‘imposter syndrome’ despite hard evidence of their incredible abilities and talents.

WPP has a pretty good gender split but there are still not enough women at board level. Women account for 54% of total employees and 47% of senior managers, but only 31% of the WPP Board and 36% of non-executive directors. While 39% of our global client leaders are women. It’s still not bad compared to the rest of the business world where only 12% of board seats are held by women.

See also: Walk the Talk: Championing Gender Diversity with WPP by Katrin Kopvillem

So why are pesky men keeping all the best jobs for themselves? The truth is, the glass ceiling is not necessarily created by men but by our own insecurities and internal conflicts. It’s often about how we were brought up and our family dynamic. It’s about our vision of ourselves as females conflicting with what it means to be a successful business person. It’s a lot about motherhood – both the anticipation and the reality thereof. There are crowds of nagging voices in our heads and no one woman has the same combination of unconscious obstacles.

Courses such as Walk that Talk are a gift. Coaching that approaches the whole woman, not just the professional person, starts to bolster confidence quicker than you can say ‘lean in’. It helped that we were holed up in the beautiful Grove hotel in Hertfordshire. Thanks for that Sir Martin. But as we know, our CEO is an extremely canny businessman and the course was not just a lovely reward and a tick in a diversity box. While he whole-heartedly backs gender equality from an ethical point of view, he also knows a good balance at board level and below means better financial rewards. If you are a professional woman reading this, wondering if you’ll ever make it to board level, or even want to make it there, know this: companies where women make up a third or more of board members significantly outperformed their rivals, with 53% more return on equity.

Your board needs you. You can do it.