The case for gender equality in the workplace is an on-going debate. In some cases, women are constantly trying to prove themselves within the working environment, and some argue that they have to work a lot harder than men to even get noticed – particularly when it comes to being considered for a managing role. According to the BBC, new statistics show that the Europe-wide figure for women in boardrooms is just 13.7%. A recent article by The Independent reported that the average British CEO is a 53-year-old male with a background in finance. The Women on Boards 2013 survey claims that internationally women account for only 11% of all board positions, with Norway, Sweden and Finland continuing to lead the developed world in their percentage of female directors. So why is this still an issue? The European Union decided to tackle the problem with plans to increase the number of women directors in companies, but this is now under scrutiny as MP’s claim that it had been rushed into. However, the EU argues that it will improve governance and improve economic performance across the continent. With the ever growing discussions and arguments about women in the working environment, will women ever be able to break the glass ceiling for good?
We spoke to successful businesswoman Jane Griffiths, who recently spoke at Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit in London, about these particular struggles for women. Jane is not only chairman of pharmaceutical business Janssen in EMEA, but is also on the Senior Advisory Board of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) in Europe. She is a motivated, hardworking, busy individual who strives for equality in the workplace. She believes that women are far better represented in business today, but she still thinks that it is vital to ensure they are not overlooked. She prides herself on the company’s ethos, which has a focus on equality for women.
Hi Jane! As chairman of Janssen in EMEA, you are responsible for the pharmaceutical business across the entire region. How does it feel to be the first female chairman of the company?
I feel very proud, that’s probably the most appropriate word for me to use, and it is not just about being a women heading up a business. It’s also the fact that it’s a healthcare business which is part of Johnson & Johnson and it’s a pretty noble cause when you’re involved in improving and extending people’s lives. It’s a doubly proud moment to be responsible of such a great business and even more so when that business does good.
You started off in sales – do you hope that your journey will highlight that hard work and motivation really does pay off, particularly for women?
Yes I do. We’ve got a good record with our company of female diversity but it can always improve. Many of the people who come to talk to me about their career plan are women and they specifically want to talk to me because they want to understand how I did it and whether or not they can take the same path. The fact that I did start at the grass roots level gives a lot of women the feeling of ‘if she can do it then why can’t I do it?’
Starting off in the company, how did you find the working environment? Was it very male dominated? How did you feel you came across when giving ideas and having your say?
It was quite male dominated but I didn’t feel hampered by that in any way. As a junior person, whether a man or women, when you are junior, it sometimes is more difficult to make your voice heard, than when you are more senior. But I do think since time has gone on, like 30 years ago there might have been an old school of managers, the companies are very different now. I didn’t feel it was particularly difficult but maybe that’s my personality, I’ll make myself heard anywhere (laughs).
You are very passionate about women climbing up the career ladder. Why do you think it is important that the working environment should be equally divided with male and female employees?
I actually do believe having a good mix of diversity in many aspects is an important contribute to business success, it’s not just men and women but its different cultures, different background and different personalities. I have a very diverse group of people who report to me because by definition they are representing different geographies in the region, Europe, Middle East, Africa, so that is good. There is a study by McKinsey, which showed that big companies who had more than the average number of women on their board were in general more successful than businesses where there was either no women or just one. You need more than just a token woman. It’s not just about having some nice girls on the board, it’s about having that diversity and having different thoughts and different ways of doing things that are going to make it a better business at the end of the day.
I read that you are also the Senior Advisory Board of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) in Europe. Why do you think that it is important to focus on the development of women within the healthcare industry?
The HBA is a very good place to meet people, to network and to learn from each other about healthcare. I want the industry to be successful so the more we can develop women, the more women we can have in companies, then the better the industry will be for it.
Why do you think that it is still a struggle for women to ‘break the glass ceiling?’
We don’t generally talk about the glass ceiling in our company. The pharmaceutical group it is divided up into four regions. Mine is Europe, Middle East and Africa and I have three colleagues, one who looks after Asian Pacific, one who looks after North America and one who looks after Latin America and three of those four positions are taken by women. So we have a pretty good record in senior positions in the Pharmaceutical Group. There are a number of things impacting career progression for women one is, how much unconscious bias plays a part in women not moving forward. Another contributing factor is that women don’t do themselves any favours either. It is well documented that women don’t believe in themselves and often don’t think they are qualified or ready for the next job, whereas more men believe that they are. An additional thing is that women tend not to be so good at networking – we try to encourage women in our business to network. Also, women think that they need to be a perfect mother, perfect partner, perfect employee but you seldom will be all on the same day. You can’t pile guilt on yourself because you can’t be good at everything on one day. I think that is why some women give up their career or hold back because they feel the pressure of not delivering simultaneously on every aspect of their lives.
Have you been brought up with the ethos that women should have the right to be in control of big businesses and play an important role in the working environment?
Yes. My mother had a degree in chemistry, which was unusual for her generation. She then went on to work as an industrial chemist and met my father who worked for the BBC. But she had to leave that job as my father had to go somewhere else for work, and of course that was the kind of thing that was done in those days. Early on in my career I was doing reasonably well and she told me to never compromise on what you want to do. I’ve always remembered that and it’s so sad that she died relatively young and hasn’t seen me get to this job, because it’s always been ringing in my ears when she said that she regretted giving up her job. I have never felt that people have thought “you are a woman; you are never going to get anywhere”. So I think you have to have a supportive workplace and supportive family. I’m lucky, I have a very supportive husband and my mother set me off on the right tracks and I’ve been in a company that is supportive of women.
What tips can you give to women who strive to show their best potential at work?
Well, one of the things is whether you’re a woman or a man you have to do a good job. Try to network and talk to people who you think will be instrumental in your future career. Ask for honest feedback – what do people think of you and ask for honesty on areas where you need to further develop. I would say show your best potential when you’re at work. Be clear from the start, set your priorities and make those clear to those around you. The good thing for women is that a lot of men now take a much more active role in family life, especially when both partners work. More friendly working practices such as the ability to work from home on occasions and to take time off for family commitments will benefit everyone, not just women.
What elements of your job are most rewarding?
How long have you got (laughs)? I absolutely love my job and I feel very privileged because of that. I was speaking to my husband a few months ago saying that I want everybody to get up in the morning and think: ‘I really look forward to going to work’. We’re going to be working for longer and living for longer so we need to enjoy it. I also love working in a business with the noble purpose of improving and prolonging human life. In the last 30 years, 40% of increased life expectancy has been down to pharmaceuticals. Seeing people develop in their careers is a big, big aspect of my job and I find it very rewarding when I see talented people doing well in the company – particularly when women do very well. I’m a business person too, so it’s rewarding that the business is successful.
As a mother, how do you balance your working life with your home life?
My kids are grown up now, but if I reflect back when the children were younger I made sure that I had help with childcare. I didn’t have my mother around as she died when the children were little and I didn’t have a big network of friends close by, so I decided to use a lot of my taxed income on a nanny for several years. It meant that if I was in a board meeting or up to my eyes in work I wasn’t looking at my watch thinking ‘how am I going to get home in time to pick up the kids from nursery/school?’ The other thing is establishing with your partner what your goals are. I told mine that I was quite ambitious and I said when I have kids I will continue to work. Make sure that you set your own parameters for how you want to balance your work and your life – but never think that you’re going to perfect at everything on the same day and don’t beat yourself up if there is a pile of washing the size of Mount Everest (laughs). Put it into perspective, if you’re enjoying your work don’t beat yourself up, prioritise your family, participate in things they enjoy, go to the sports day and put time in your diary.
What advice would you give to women who struggle to spend time with their children while trying to move up the career ladder?
Well I think if you really want to spend more time with your kids you have to prioritise it. Make it clear to your superiors that occasionally you will need to take time off for family stuff but make sure that you still deliver on your job commitments. Organise your work to best effect and make sure you have good childcare arrangements as well.
Do you hope that the work you do will inspire women to help further their careers in areas they may feel are out of reach?
Yes I do. I started off as a salesperson and when people see that in my biography, they think “wow, maybe I could do that too, if she can do it then so can I’. And indeed they can.