Executive Women’s Leadership Development Programme

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The Executive Women’s Leadership Development Programme met for their ninth session on Wednesday 2nd of November. The session was focussed on Teams and Decision Making and the group welcomed two very distinguished guest speakers in Benny Higgins, CEO of Tesco Bank and Birna Einarsdottir, CEO of Islandsbanki in Iceland.

Benny spoke first and gave an inspirational talk on Leadership and Strategy – his definitions of each and his explanation of the qualities and behaviours so important in leaders. His opening words included a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald and this set the tone for a talk punctuated with extremely relevant literary references throughout. The common thread being that, in most cases, what was valid then is still valid now.

Benny continued with more literary examples and interesting stories from his own experiences in business, sport and life. He concluded by inviting and answering questions from the group that covered teamwork, collaboration, culture and uncertainty.
Our second speaker was Birna Einarsdottir – another inspirational figure and the lady entrusted with the turnaround of Islandsbanki following the financial crisis. Birna spoke very positively about the role of women in corporate Iceland and how the country had taken positive steps to close the gender gap and promote equality in the workplace. This is having the desired effect as 80% of women in Iceland are in work (UK 60%). Much of this is down to specific policies put in place that have addressed inequality in terms of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. This is all supported by an infrastructure that promotes equality (e.g. cost of childcare is extremely low and parents can decide how to split the parental leave they are given as a couple) and also gender balance laws that have been implemented.

Birna then spoke, and fielded questions throughout, about the journey to recovery of Islandsbanki. The strongest message to come from this was the level of employee engagement, the transparency of communication and the sharing of decision making that was central to achieving this success. They were all ‘ordinary people in anything other than ordinary circumstances’. Currently, at Islandsbanki, four of the seven Board Members are female and this ratio is reflected or bettered at most levels throughout the organisation.

The penultimate session for this year’s programme will be on Saturday 19th of November and will involve presentations to Ian Marchant, former CEO of SSE and current Chair of the Wood Group.

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