Insights from WIG's Women's Leadership Programme facilitators Hilary Danelian & Ruth Morris

It is easy to question why we have a programme just for women in 2017. Why would we need one? What purpose does it serve women to learn together without men in the room?

Progress for women in senior leadership roles has not been as rapid as you might expect. Indeed globally women’s participation in the workforce actually decreased between 1995 and 2015, from 52.4% to below 50%. Globally women are still earning around 77% of what men earn. Any scan of the boards of FTSE 500 companies still shows a significant under-representation of women. It is in part to help address these inequalities that WIG runs a women’s leadership programme. But for the women on the programme, the impact is much more personal.

Hilary Danelian has been the programme director for the past 6 cohorts and works with Ruth Morris as co-facilitator. Together they share some insights into the programme and its impact.

What is the programme about?

The programme is about empowering women leaders and women in the workforce.
Ruth Morris describes her background in finance and IT sectors and how that shaped her experience of work and approach to the programme, “My starting position was that if women want to be treated equally at work then why would they want to be treated differently in development? But coming to this programme has absolutely shifted my view.”
The programme creates development experiences and opportunities to meet with and connect with inspirational women leaders, to create great networks and think differently about what a workplace can be, and how you can thrive as yourself in that space
The attraction of WIG, of course, is the huge diversity of experience of the people who come on the programme. The modules spread over nine months and in that time participants experience each other’s work, share different perspectives and learn from some truly exceptional speakers. At the end of the programme, participants are reinvigorated in their work, more open, creative and innovative and able to address challenges at work with a different energy.
Hilary Danelian is the programme director and sums it up as: “The programme is for women who have the leadership potential and are prepared to be open and learn. This isn’t a programme about leadership, it is leadership development in action – it’s not theory, it is about getting engaged and doing stuff differently.

What will participants be doing on the programme?

The modules run over nine months and no two are alike. The first module brings all the participants together and they start with sharing who they are and their backgrounds. Hilary talks about the approach adopted by her and Ruth as facilitators, “We model openness and vulnerability, it’s not a taught programme, we are all in it together and we all learn together. We model the kind of behaviour we want to see, be honest and open, approach it with humour, and learn about our preferences and impact”.

In one module participants have the hands-on opportunity to see other ways of working.  This often involves a one-day placement in a charity which gives the cohort a very different perspective, looking at a real-time issue for that organisation, learning from them and contributing to it. WIG has excellent connections with the not-for-profit sector and has facilitated very engaging placements in the past, with organisations such as Smartworks, a Primary School, National Literacy Trust, Place2Be.

Some modules are more intensive and personally reflective, others much more experiential working in other industries and leading change and consultancy activity.  Two other modules are hosted by members of the group at their respective offices, which builds on the real-life experiences of the course and brings real expertise into the room.

As well as the modules there is mentoring and coaching. And of course, the network of other participants that develops over the programme. It is the breadth of the programme that makes a real impact.

Ruth has also been involved for the 6 cohorts so far and says no two have been quite the same, “We are constantly evolving the programme to make sure the context is really current. Keeping pace and indeed future-proofing it. For it to have an impact for participants it needs to fit the real context people are operating in.”

What benefits come from only having women in the group?

Many of the organisations that participate in WIG programmes will have women in the minority in senior leadership positions and some participants work in very male-dominated environments. Existing role models and dominant leadership behaviours don’t always fit with women. The programme allows participants to develop their own style.

The difference for Ruth is clear straight away, “Women want to know who people in the room are, not what they do. The dynamic is immediately different”.

The benefit of a WIG leadership programme is that there is such a mix of private and public sector participants. Although they may start feeling they are poles apart, the difference isn’t quite as significant as expected, and there are learning opportunities in the similarities, as well as the differences. All participants can learn from each other and see that skills and behaviour in influencing senior leaders in different sectors aren't actually that different.

How does the programme help the participants?

Participants report greater confidence, more comfort in their own skin and real change at work. The vast majority of participants come through personal recommendation which is the best advert of all.  But one of the biggest issues that stops women getting to the top is women themselves and their lack of role models; the programme helps show participants that there are different ways to lead, different role models to follow and a different leadership style to live.

Many participants have reported applying successfully for roles that they wouldn’t have considered, then going on to mentor other participants on the programme. The benchmark for Hilary and Ruth though is how people stay connected, “We still have women who meet seven years after the programme and created a support network that’s sustainable. These women are now very senior and are becoming the role models for new participants on these programmes.”

Beyond individual impact, there is also an organisational benefit. There is plenty of evidence that companies with a greater percentage of women in senior leadership roles are safer, more effective and more efficient. Having women in your organisation or team who are more confident, have more impact and are able to bring an external perspective from other sectors benefit everyone.