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Thriving among the old boys: Eight tips for women in the boardroom

I’ve heard lots of advice for women in the boardroom throughout my career, but none of which prepared me for the reality.  I remember sauntering up to the boardroom for my first meeting as HR Director with the board and shareholders, only to discover that in contrast to the three of us women, there was a pack of men, 17 of them, all in grey suits, all with loud voices and taking up lots of physical space.

So here are a few of the things I’ve learnt over the years that stood me in good stead:

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Do vice chancellors dream of electric sheep? Why education leaders must embrace digital technology

Last week, I was at a London Technology Week symposium on international partnerships in higher education.

I started to wonder about the transformative effect of technology on partnerships in academia, and how technology might facilitate more collaboration. I wondered, too, about the ability to invest in technology when competition is growing and students globally have more choice than ever on where they go. For smaller institutions lacking scale, reputation and global reach, the challenges are particularly daunting.

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Self-awareness is the prime leadership quality

It is said that we are living in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). It is also said that the pace of change is accelerating as never before.

This may be bad news for individuals or organisations who have yet to feel the impact of change.

In recent times, we’ve seen dramatic transformations in how value is distributed within industry sectors – the appearance and growth over the last few years of Airbnb, WhatsApp, Uber, Facebook and Amazon has already shaken up accommodation & tourism, mobile messaging, public transportation, and publishing and there are countless examples of possible disruption appearing over the horizon.

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The challenges of leadership in times of change

Business is not physics, and people are not fundamental particles whizzing around inside the LHC, subject to largely immutable laws. If anything, business is governed by psychology, because everything depends on the unpredictable behaviour of human beings.” Andrew Saunders, Management Today

Whether or not the need for transformational change is caused by disruptive innovation, or by other political, environmental, social or economic developments, leaders won’t necessarily know the full extent of their characters – for better or worse – until they are truly tested and transformational change is by it’s nature, Truly Testing.

A typical scenario in the preparation for change goes like this:

  • A major development triggers the need for large-scale change.
  • Senior management disappear to off-site meetings.
  • Consultants in grey suits with brief cases may appear.
  • Soon there is an announcement.
  • The Communications team go into full flow to steady the troops and to create messages designed to cascade the need for, and the benefits of, the change.

Depending on how long it’s taken to get to this point, and how ‘leaky’ the organisational culture is, people may have heard rumours, have begun ‘catastrophising’ or seeing the opportunity for ‘land-grabbing’.  Colleagues who may have worked peacefully together for years may find themselves on different sides of the fence. Gossiping around water coolers reaches a peak.

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