New Women's Business Council chief Cilla Snowball says more needs to be done for female empowerment in UK firms

Tracey Boles
Advertising Week Europe 2016 - Day 1
Cilla Snowball (second from left) wants a business-led, government-backed model to get more female business leaders (Source: Getty)

Female representation on FTSE100 boards has risen from 12.5 per cent to 26 per cent in a year according to a report released yesterday.

The latest Female FTSE Board Report by Cranfield University, City University London and Queen Mary University London also shows that, overall, the percentage of women on all FTSE boards has increased since March 2015.

The government has attributed the rise to last October’s Women on Boards report by Lord Mervyn Davies, which set out a target of 33 per cent of board seats at FTSE 350 companies to be held by women by the end of the decade.

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However, in the wider world of work, women also need a champion. At executive level in the FTSE, for example, only 10 per cent of positions are held by women.

One force for change is the Women’s Business Council (WBC), set up to maximise women's contribution to the economy, be they in the middle of a journey to the boardroom, or women who want to set up their own businesses.

Yesterday, a new chair was appointed to the WBC: Cilla Snowball, group chairman and chief executive of AMV BBDO, the advertising agency. Replacing Baroness McGregor-Smith, she comes with some heavyweight business credentials.

At AMV BBDO for 24 years, she oversees the three companies that comprise the AMV Group in the UK: AMV BBDO, Proximity and Redwood. Awarded a CBE in 2009 for services to the advertising industry, she sits on the boards of BBDO Worldwide, Derwent London and chairs the Women’s Business Council. Snowball was also chairman of the Advertising Association from 2012 to 2015.

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Snowball, pictured, says there is widespread recognition that harnessing the skills of women benefits business and the UK economy. She says: “The business case has been made time and time again. Gender diversity is good for businesses.”

She says the WBC is intended to “affect and accelerate change by filling the pipeline [with women] and removing obstacles”. She believes the WBC has the “team, plan and momentum” in place to do ground-breaking work that will bring about change within a generation. Key to this is “shining a light on best practice”.

She adds: “If you have ambition and voluntary targets, there is lot you can do.”

The council has assembled working groups that look at different aspects of women’s working lives: education, from schools to universities; getting on in the world of work and dealing with maternity leave; staying on in work if you are older; enterprise, which includes encouraging women to start up businesses; and men as agents of change.

The groups identify best practice and role models, as well as potential barriers; they also gather evidence.

So far, WBC’s insights have informed legislative change on flexible working and shared parental rights They will next bear fruit in gender pay gap legislation which comes into force next year.

The council’s work is supported by some big corporate names including Barclays, GSK, BT and Vodafone.

In Snowball’s view, the model that works best is “business-led, and government-backed”. Supporters include minister for women and equalities Nicky Morgan, and fellow minister Caroline Dinenage.

Morgan said yesterday: “This government has prioritised equality for women, pushing for greater representation in business and providing young women with the role models that inspire them and their career choices. We have already made huge progress. But now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back and say ‘job well done’ – we must be even more ambitious."

Snowball says men have a key role to play in pushing women forward. “We can’t do it alone,” she explains. One of those men is Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GSK. Together with Dame Helen Alexander, chair of UBM, he will undertake a review of how female representation in leadership positions at British businesses can be improved.

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