The business advantages of a diverse team

Rosemary Stark, Senior Vice President of management consultancy Capgemini, talks to about the advantages of having more women at the top in business.

Being a senior woman in the financial services sector is beginning to give Rosemary Stark a bit of a business advantage as diversity moves further up the agenda.

Clients are increasingly asking about diversity when they choose to strike business deals and in a male-oriented business it is still fairly unusual to have women at a senior level, particularly if they have climbed the ladder in client-facing jobs which are very mobile.

Rosemary’s team has a majority of women and she says that because “clients are looking very seriously at the diversity agenda it can be a real boon for me”. A customer recently commented on the diversity of her team and recognised that they provided a more rounded approach.

“It’s becoming quite retrograde in Europe to have an all male team,” she says.

Rosemary, who was recently a finalist in the Leader of the Year award at the 2014 FDM everywoman in Technology awards, has been at management consultancy Capgemini for 17 years and is now Senior Vice President – Head of Banking, UK.

She was headhunted to Capgemini 17 years ago as a consultant. At the time she had two young children, who are now aged 22 and 25. Two years after joining she had a third child and, although she went down to three days a week after her first two children, she returned from maternity leave to full-time hours after her third.

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As Senior Vice President, she is responsible for the £100m UK Banking division, employing 2,500 people, across eight countries and has helped to grow the financial services sector at Capgemini from £10million a year in 2009 to approximately £100m four years later, as well as doubling the revenue from its Barclays account.

She is currently the only woman in the Capgemini Group managing a global account, but is keen to encourage others up the career ladder, realising that the major barriers for women getting to the boardroom occur at middle management level when many women are starting a family. “If we don’t stop the drop out at mid-tier manager level we will never get a good mix of men and women as candidates for senior posts,” she says.

Work logistics

Rosemary, now aged 50, knows the issues these women face only too well. She speaks of the logistics of working and looking after three children under 10. “I had this horrible routine of coming in from a challenging day at work, feeding the baby, getting the children to bed and then going back on the pc. It was not necessarily a model to aspire to,” she says.

She kept her head down and got her work done, although she admits that sometimes it was a challenge to fit everything in and she felt at times that she was “short-changing people”. Having a supportive husband was vital. They would have weekly discussions about the logistics of pick-ups and drop-offs. The couple set up a “who’s where when” spreadsheet. At first both were working for Capgemini, butRosemary says this became too difficult due to the fact that both jobs involved travel – for her, this meant a couple of days a month spent travelling to Bristol from her Glasgow home. Unusually, it was Rosemary’s husband who decided to leave and look for a job closer to home and this made things easier.

Her current job involves a lot of international travel and she says she would not have been able to do it with small children. “If things go smoothly, it’s fine, but when something unexpected happens it can be very challenging,” she says. “You have to be a project manager in your personal life.”

Her sister has often been a port of call in an emergency and she says having a good family and friends network is vital for parents so they don’t feel isolated and stressed.

The challenges have changed as the children got older. Parents’ evenings are often organised at short notice when she might be away on business. Her teenager sometimes calls up while she is away and asks why she is not around for her. “It’s a serious guilt trip,” she says.

In her current job she is rarely around between Monday morning and Thursday evening and she has to spend one week in India every six weeks, including a weekend. “It’s a really interesting job,” she says, “and it supports my children’s lifestyles, but it also means they don’t have me around in ways that other mums are.”

She thinks that in the 17 years she has been with Capgemini things have got easier for women due to flexible working becoming more common. There are now senior women working four days a week, she says.

She believes more needs to be done, though, to move away from a presenteeism culture towards a performance-based one and to make the business case for diversity. “We need to get our customers to understand why diversity counts and that a mix of talents and ways of approaching things is good for business,” says Rosemary.

She feels her leadership style is different to the typical male approach. “I haven’t got any issues with being a catalyst for compromise or a bridge builder. I think women are more likely to have that skill as they get to exercise it more often. There’s more of a tendency for men to want to give orders. I prefer a more collegiate approach,” she says.

She would like to see more recognition of unconscious bias in the office, but she is totally against quotas. Instead, she would like to see more support for women’s career development, including matching them up with senior mentors, both men and women, can be beneficial to all. “There are no quick fixes to the diversity issue,” she says.

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