Women at the top a 'business imperative' not a diversity issue, says Women's Business Forum founder

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HR must stop talking about women at board level as a diversity issue and instead refer to it as a "business imperative", according to founder and CEO of An Inspirational Journey, Heather Jackson.

She said in order to help women reach board level then HR must help individual employees work on unconscious bias in the recruitment process and build women's confidence through sponsorship and mentoring.

Jackson, who set up An Inspirational Journey to help fix the leaking pipeline of talented women in business, was speaking to HR magazine a day after Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts announced she is stepping down from the luxury goods retailer to join technology giant Apple.

Rather than look at this move as a step back for FTSE 100 boards, Jackson said we should be celebrating it.

"People are saying we're losing a major talent but she's American not British. The UK needs to create its own female leaders not beg, steal and borrow others.

"We shouldn't be looking at this as a bad thing FTSE 100 loss is Fortune's gain. It's proof that women who create diverse teams can be successful."

Ahrendts decision to leave the UK means there are now only two female CEOs left in the FTSE 100 (Carolyn McCall at EasyJet and Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco) and 11 in the FTSE 350.

However Jackson said we can't just view women as numbers. "We're treating the percentages as points on a weighing scales, one up two down, it's not the way to view it," she said.

Barriers

She said one of the biggest barriers to women reaching board level in their companies is women themselves.

"Companies are now getting this and get the fact diversity works, so women need to take responsibility, build up their confidence and promote themselves in the way men do."

Jackson added: "When it comes to pay I don't think there is much of an inequality but there is an inequality in negotiation skills.

"This is why Ahrendts is a role model she was the highest ever paid CEO in the FTSE 100 because she knew her worth to the business and got that message to the board."

Ahrendts will leave Burberry in April 2014 where she will become senior vice president for retail and online store at Apple. She will be replaced by chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, who has been in his role for six years.

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