A Letter From Our CEO

My Comments on Monday’s BBC Radio 4 Today

I have spent the past few days in a state of embarrassment. Embarrassment because I have caused unintended offence, and seen a myriad of headlines and hundreds of social media comments. And because with the benefit of hindsight, the reactions made me realise I committed an own goal. And for that I’m sorry.

Although I didn’t, and would never call for a ban on football or any other sports talk at work, the headlines that, ‘women feel excluded by sports banter in the office’ and, ‘football chat should be banned from the workplace,’ swamped the more serious intent of my message: the support for and championing of gender-balance at work.

CMI is all about creating better performance by turning ‘accidental managers’ into ‘conscious leaders’ - at every level and every organisation. One of the easiest and best ways to achieve this is to have gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive teams. They make better decisions, fuel superior outcomes, and result in more engaged cultures. Gender-balance benefits everyone: men as well as women. We’ve made superb progress on this issue in the past decade in two aspects: entry level positions - where our data shows over 50% of junior managers are female; and on boards; where over 30% of the FTSE 350 non-execs are now female.

The one area lagging behind is senior management, where we are still ‘stuck’ at about 25% of women in the top quartile and less than 10% in the C-suite. This lack of progress and promotion of women in senior roles, from a balanced start point at the entry level, is what I was aiming to address

One of many impediments to women’s progress into senior roles is culture. And again, CMI’s research Blueprint for Balance highlights that 4 in 5 women - and men - witness everyday behaviour that holds women back. Remarks, especially at senior level meetings where women are typically still in the minority, include banter, with sports banter being one of the most popular forms (see Institute of Leadership & Management’s report Banter: Just a Bit of Fun or Crossing the Line ). I have personally heard many anecdotes about this, shared with me by very capable mid and senior level women. Good leaders demonstrate inclusivity by checking that all team members feel included. Taking team members aside and asking how they feel about the meetings is a good place to start.

However, in my radio interviews and the subsequent headlines, all this morphed in three important ways - obscuring this message and alienating most of the audience.

Firstly, it was inferred that I was calling for a ban on all sports banter at work. Everyone found this utterly ridiculous - and they were right. Culture cannot be legislated; it must be inspired and lived through role modelling. I would never call for anything remotely like a ban, although I understand why my remarks were misinterpreted.

Secondly, I let the interview topic of banter be broadened out beyond the senior-level meeting context originally intended, to include all workplace sports chat, anywhere. Headlines such as “talking about sports excludes women” further fuelled this mistake.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, given our 90,000-strong learner community, half of whom are female, I failed to acknowledge the shifting and welcome fact of broadened female participation in and passion for sport.

Two practices I preach are: you are never too big to apologise or to learn from your mistakes. With this acknowledgement I hope to do both.

Be proud of your significant contributions to our CMI community and all the positive differences you make - and we make together.

Onwards and upwards,

Ann Francke, CEO