Female directors at accountants Rostrons tell young businesswomen they can aspire higher

Business feature with Rostrons chartered Accountants.
Rostrons marketing and business development ma

Business feature with Rostrons chartered Accountants. Rostrons marketing and business development manager, Claire Cullens with directors, Michelle Raper and Elizabeth Claxton. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Three female company directors are aiming to show young businesswomen they too can reach the top of the ladder.

The all-women senior team at accountants Rostrons in Norwich are spearheading a new mentoring scheme to help their younger counterparts get ahead in Norfolk's male-dominated boardrooms.

The We Can initiative will provide professional mentoring for junior businesswomen, while female senior staff from firms such as Howes Percival, Birketts and Archant have volunteered to share their expertise through the scheme.

The team behind it – Rostrons directors Elizabeth Claxton and Michelle Raper and marketing and business development manager Claire Cullens – were inspired by research by this newspaper into the gender diversity of the EDP/EADT Top 100 companies in 2016, which revealed only 74 of the companies' 526 board members (14%) were women and 57 businesses had no female board members at all.

The latest Female FTSE Board Report found 26% of board members at top-flight companies were women.

Programme coordinator Ms Cullens said: 'We became aware there is a real lack of female representation. We sit in quite an unusual situation having three female directors in a sector that is quite male-dominated.

'We wanted to understand how or why women have been successful, and if we understand what might expedite that success we can help women to achieve so Norfolk stops lagging behind.'

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London-based female career coaching firm Bird Soup will provide free training in professional skills and leadership for the scheme's participants, with input from other senior figures including the Dean of Norwich, Jane Hedges.

Ms Cullens said: 'Women in senior positions are often accused of 'pulling up the drawbridge' but the ones we have involved are very keen to give access to their expertise. They have reached a stage in their career where they want to give something back.'

Ms Raper said: 'We feel lucky and privileged to be an all-female owned business.

'We want to help women to achieve their career aspirations and fulfil their potential.

'With the programme, women are going to be able to get some real technical advice as well as emotional support.'

To provide the free sessions, Rostrons is looking for companies to sponsor the We Can scheme.

The younger generation

A new networking group based in Norwich for younger businesswomen is hoping to dispel some of the fears around professional mingling.

NewGen is aimed at women under 35 and offers an informal alternative to traditional networking, planning activities such as trampolining and clay pigeon-shooting. It is supported by the Norwich Business Women's Network.

Committee member Natalie Carman, a solicitor at Birketts, said confidence-building is as important in the group as contact-building.

'You can build confidence in an environment where there are people in a similar position to you,' she said.

The group is scheduled to hold its next meeting in June.

On female progression in the workplace, Ms Carman said: 'It seems there are still more barriers for women than for men.

'Companies are trying, but it is about changing people's perceptions of women and what they are capable of.'

Ms Carman said motherhood could still present professional barriers for women, with time away from work causing them to fall behind contemporaries and the prohibitive cost of childcare forcing them to reduce their working hours.

She said: 'There is still a perception that if you take maternity leave you are taking a step back. Even if you come back part-time, it is more difficult to work your way up the ladder.

'A lot of businesses are really trying to tackle that with flexible working and considering part-time staff for promotions.'

She added: 'With so many more women coming into law at the entry level this is the perfect time to look at the situation, for companies to say, how can we help these women to do well regardless of what they choose to do in their lives?'