Podcast Interview

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Did you know that women represent just 28.8% of researchers worldwide, the global gender pay gap is 28% and women hold only 23.7% of parliamentary seats? Gender inequality continues in the upper echelons of decision-making: so where are the solutions?

This week Katie Hyson, Director of Thought Leadership meets with Tamsin Jones. A lady whose first job was political adviser to South Australian Premier; since then Tamsin moved from Australia to London, where she helped drive the East London business legacy post Olympics 2012, to South Africa where she lead the expansion of private sector solutions for charity Mothers2mothers Africa, the leading non-governmental organisation helping women living with HIV to reduce transmission to their babies. Tamsin has since held posts as Senior Advisor to CDC’s Africa List – helping women CEOs and co-founded Cape Town’s Workshop17 – the Innovation Hub for Africa.

During this interview, Tamsin examines why gender equality throughout the workplace is important, presenting her new joint venture: The Boardroom Africa as one solution to the low female representation on boards; as well as sharing her advice on how we can create equality and what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur.

BFP: Why The Boardroom Africa?

Tamsin: From my time working on The Africa List I knew the numbers: Only 14% of Boards in Africa are women, similar to the European 18% and India 13%. I know that businesses with balanced and diverse Boards and leadership are doing on average 20% better than their peers, and I have seen the recent Hampton Alexander Review looking at UK FTSE 350 companies, where quotes for reasons of not having more women on Boards range excruciatingly from:

I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’ …to… ‘Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board’

Our aim with The Boardroom Africa is to address the excuses that this same review revealed:

  • All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up
  • There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board’
  • We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector’

My business partner, Marcia Ashong, and I set up The Boardroom Africa in 2016 with the vision – to create a simple, smart, virtual business that helps provide solutions to the lacking diversity within Boardrooms across the African continent.

We began by mapping out the exceptional women in our own networks, spreading and sharing the invite to join as we went, checking in with each to see who is ‘Board ready,’ helping those who want additional training or certification. Simultaneously we’ve been building bridges into businesses through peer recommendations to ensure we help organisations find endorsed Board members and therefore working through the lack of trust barriers.

I don’t believe that Board member selection needs to be a closed door boys only system any longer.

We now have a network of over 500 Board ready women across Africa; every new Board placement is advertised to the entire network, creating an open marketplace and complete transparency.

BFP: Do you think this is a solution for places outside Africa?

Tamsin: The statistics are similar in countries and continents outside Africa and yes, we have already had interest from people outside of our geography, in fact we have made one placement in Pakistan. We hope we have built a smart online business that has the potential to scale. I would love for The Boardroom to extend beyond Africa, but I also want to ensure we keep measuring, gathering data and learning to ensure we do this wisely.

BFP: What can organisations do right now to pro-actively ensure gender equality?

Tamsin: My three recommendations:

  1. Check your unconscious bias. How are women progressing through your organisation? Is talent management working for everyone? I grew up thinking: gender equality! What’s all the fuss about? Because when we start out 50% of the workforce are women. It was so surprising for me when I began to get higher in business and realise there just weren’t any women around– there are still significant barriers, many of which are hidden. Without actively looking for them and asking questions, the solutions will remain hidden.
  2. Which leads me onto my second point – gather the data, measure the numbers.  Interrogate where there’s a drop off of women from your business and why. Check your pay gap. This is all best practice right now and we just need to do it.
  3. Make sure that women are actively nurtured up through the business, ensuring your talent pipeline is working. Whether this is through sponsorship (by women or men) or increased focus and investment – the statistic of 50:50 women at low levels and 7% at Executive level needs fixing. No excuses.

BFP: As a female serial entrepreneur what is your advise to others?

Tamsin: First of all, get motivated and stay motivated. I find the best motivator is to focus on something I am really passionate about and then do what I am best at.

I am passionate about more women being on Boards and I am good at creating networks and ecosystems: The Boardroom Africa brings these two things together.

In terms of starting up and running a business – my biggest lesson was learnt during my Skoll MBA, which was, the importance of being all over the numbers. I find it easy to run on passion, but to scale and make real impacts I need to understand all parts of my business: how to structure the company, how the finance to doing, where and when to scale. I don’t shy away from these any more, but I had to make myself dive in.

And thirdly, nurturing my supporters and sponsors. I used to think a sponsor was only ever invested in a single business idea, but now I know they are often investing in the person behind it because they believe in them. If I am now lucky enough to be supported, I will do everything I can to bring them with me on this journey and the next.

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