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Financial Times: Women are rising to the top of heavy industry

By Alison Maitland: Published: October 25 2006 03:00 | Last updated: October 25 2006 03:00

It is just like the proverbial London bus.

You wait ages for the next female FTSE chief executive to come along and then suddenly there are three of them.

For nine long years, Dame Marjorie Scardino of Pearson, owner of the FT, was the solitary woman heading a FTSE 100 company until the promotion of Drax, the electricity generator headed by Dorothy Thompson, to the blue chip index in June this year.

Cynthia Carroll’s appointment yesterday as head of Anglo American means that two of the three women now running FTSE 100 businesses are American – and that two of the three are at the topof traditionally male-dominated heavy industrial companies.

“This is fantastic,” says Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and a multiple board director. “It’s one small step but it’s the third small step and sooner or later it’s going to be a torrent.”

Although mining companies generally have fewer female faces on the board, women’s progress in engineering-dominated sectors such as electricity, oil and gas is not as slow as might be expected.

Physicist Anne Lauvergeon is the high-profile head of the French Areva group, the world’s biggest nuclear energy group, and was placed second after Banesto’s Ana PatriciaBotin in the FT’s annual ranking of Europe’s top 25 businesswomen earlier this month.

At Royal Dutch Shell, Linda Cook, a petroleum engineer, is executive director of gas and power while chemist Vivienne Cox is the most senior woman at BP, running gas, power and renewables.

Sir Mark Moody Stuart, Anglo American’s chairman, has long been a champion of diversity and was one of the first FTSE 100 chiefs to become a mentor to a senior woman in another company under the “FTSE 100 cross-company mentoring programme”, launched two years ago.

Under Sir Mark’s leadership of Shell in the late- 1990s, the energy group launched a diversity and inclusion programme and introduced targets to get more women and a wider range of nationalities up its ranks.

Jacey Graham, an independent diversity consultant who previously worked for Shell and jointly runs the mentoring programme, has done research that shows the percentage of women in some traditionally male-dominated companies such as Scottish Power remains constant throughout the hierarchy, whereas in most companies it declines at more senior levels.

“Companies like National Grid, Scottish Power, Shell and Anglo American have had to work so hard toget women in the firstplace because the basein the graduate market is much narrower that they make doubly sure they hang on to them and do something with them,” says Ms Graham.

“In other sectors, there’s often a feeling that the cream will rise to the top but then it doesn’t [with women] because of cultural barriers.”

The Female FTSE 100 index, compiled annually by Cranfield School of Management, showed last year that transport, financial services, pharmaceuticals and utilities had the highest proportions of women directors while real estate, aerospace, support services and chemicals, construction and mining had the lowest.

Val Singh, reader in corporate diversity management at Cranfield, says women scientists and engineers who rise to the top of male-dominated industries are comfortable being in a minority “because they’ve probably been in all-male environments since theirA-levels”.

The UK is probably doing better than the US in promoting women to the top of traditional heavy industries, says Deborah M Soon, vice-president for executive leadership services at Catalyst, a US non-profit organisation that researches women’s career advancement.

“The mining, energy and construction sectors are underperforming the Fortune 500 average and there are no women CEOs in these sectors,” she says.

“You have to reach down into the Fortune 1000, to company number 551, Tower Automotive, before you find a woman CEO [Kathleen Ligocki].”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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