By Rachel Ellison

It’s not so much a case of glass ceilings, but glass cliffs and poisoned chalice jobs when it comes to many women’s workplace experiences, according to Dianah Worman OBE, CIPD public policy adviser, diversity.

Worman discussed the findings of the ‘Women on Boards’ Davies Review and her own research into diversity in the workplace, pointing out that while Norway has set a target of 40 per cent of women on boards and the UK will indeed reach its target of 25 per cent by 2015, this wasn’t the whole picture.

“Most women at the top are actually in non-executive roles on boards. Very few hold executive director positions. And when they do, it’s often the jobs that are hardest. Men are likely to avoid those roles in case they fail and it damages their careers.”

Worman delivered the joint keynote, ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ at Coaching at Work’s annual conference on 1 July, which saw the launch of the Coaching at Work Campaign for Gender Equality.

She said that big businesses increasingly believe that “diversity of thought in senior management and in the board room improves decision-making in companies, increases business performance – including the bottom line – and makes organisations more sustainable.”

But her research on diversity at work shows that for women to reach the top, there needs to be both systemic and individual support. “It’s a mistake for women to think they’ll be seen if their work is good enough. We need to coach women leaders on how and who to make alliances with,” she said.

Following on from Worman, was a cross-generational lesson in growing tomatoes. Jessica Chivers, who specialises in maternity comeback coaching, shared lessons from gardening with her grandfather. He told her: “It’s no good giving plant food, when you haven’t got the soil right to start with.”

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