Jacey Graham & Peninah Thomson

on Friday, 18 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Issues Motivated Leadership

Jacey Graham & Peninah Thomson
Authors, A Woman's Place in the Boardroom
Jacey Graham & Peninah Thomson

Jacey Graham (BA (Hons), ACIB, FRSA) is a partner and co-founder of Brook Graham LLP, a global consultancy company specialising in the strategic management of Diversity and Inclusion.  She originally started professional life as a banker but moved into Human Resources, where she held various corporate roles in talent/career management and leadership development for the Lloyds TSB Group.  In the mid 1990’s, as head of Executive Succession for Lloyds TSB, Jacey devised and led the implementation of a strategy, which resulted in a substantial increase of senior women in the bank’s talent pipeline.

Jacey moved to Shell International as head of Diversity Strategy and Planning in 2001 and whilst her work encompassed broader aspects of diversity in cultures around the world, the career advancement of women remained a central theme.  Shell received awards for work in this field in the US (Catalyst Award 2004), UK (Opportunity Now Award 2004) and Holland (Employers Diversity Award 2003). 

In 2003 Jacey co-founded Women Directors on Boards, a UK consortium aimed at developing solutions to the lack of women as main board directors. Working with CEOs and Chairs of FTSE 100 companies, she co-directs the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme for executive women on behalf of Praesta Partners LLP. 

She is a graduate of ExeterUniversity, an associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; she is married with two grown-up step-daughters and lives in the UK.


Peninah Thomson BA (Hons) 

Peninah Thomson is a partner of Praesta Partners LLP, the UK’s leading executive coaching firm and sponsor of the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme. She was formerly a director and then a partner of The Change Partnership, part of Whitehead Mann Group. Before that she was a director in the London Office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. She began her career in the UK Foreign Office working for the Board of National Delegates of NATO in Paris. She has worked extensively with chief executives and boards in the public sectors on strategy, organisational change and culture, and leadership.

Peninah has worked extensively with Chief Executives and Boards on strategy, organisational change and culture, and leadership. She specialises in 1:1 and group work applying her technical skills in coaching, process consultancy, facilitation, counselling and psychotherapy, grounded in a broad experience base, an approachable style, maturity and common sense. She combines an interest in the process of managing change with an analytical approach to the substantive issues that cause change. Her combination of technical and process skills enables her to carry conviction, and she has been engaged by the IBRD and by a number of Boards in the private sector and in Government specifically to help in the conversion of conflict to a negotiated settlement.

Jacey Graham and Peninah Thomson Co-Authors of A Woman's Place is in the Boardroom

Interview with Jacey Graham & Peninah Thomson

Have either of you experienced the Glass Ceiling? What personal insights have you drawn from your own experiences?  

Jacey – Yes I believe I have. Based on my own experience I would say that sometimes you have to accept reality and be prepared to move out of a company or division etc, in order to move up.  There is only so much hitting up against glass ceilings one can do without being left with an almighty headache!  I also think it is good to move companies to let people see you in a different light – there seems to me to be some truth in the saying that “a prophet is never recognized in his (or her) own land”! 

In the book, A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom, you say that women on boards lead to a deeper cultural adaptation to the marketplace given that women form the majority of customers in many sections of the market. How do you regard women’s presentation of their achievements and value to an organization when seeking leadership positions? What advice do you give to women in how they present themselves for board leadership positions?  

The mentors in our programme have advised mentees that they should be selective about the boards for which they put themselves forward.  They should be looking for companies where they can add value through a specific match of their skillsets/experiences with the company’s strategy and business challenges.  The mentors also advise that women should only put themselves forward for company boards that they will enjoy serving on, in terms of the business and the people. 

Can you explain why there is a mismatch between the gender balance of boards, the marketplace and new graduates?  

In a nutshell, the reasons are historic and cultural.  The cultural differences are now the main reasons however we do not think women are any longer being intentionally excluded. 

What is the link between the proportion of women on boards and financial performance?

Actually we talk about this in Chapter 1 of our book so can we refer you to pg 9 – 15. 

You refer to Matt Ridley’s theory of how women and men have evolved in the context of the roles they played in Pleistocene Society and how this could be an underlying basis for the concept of hierarchy being masculine. How does the Queen Bee Syndrome sit within this framework as it also implies a hierarchical structure of power that some women adhere to?  

In this context, you could possibly explain the Queen Bee Syndrome as one of “survival instinct”.   In the early days of corporate success, women had struggled so hard to get to the top and had to behave in male ways to be included that some of them guarded their positions closely and as the phrase goes, ‘pulled the ladder up beneath them’.  Fortunately you don’t see so much of that behaviour now although you do occasionally encounter it. Although some definitely still exist, Queen Bees are more of a dying breed now. 

When you canvassed the opinions of CEOs and/or Chairmen of FTSE 100 and S&P 500 companies in relation to appointing women directors, the value of diversity and increasing the number of women on boards and committees, what aspects did you find appalling and impressive in the perspectives these Kings were offering about such gender bias issues? 

There wasn’t anything ‘appalling’ but we found it surprising that the Chairmen were saying there were not enough women with the right experiences for board positions, or if there were, they (the chairmen) just didn’t get to meet them. 

What was impressive and continues to be, is the willingness of the chairmen and CEOs to play a personal part in changing the situation. 

In your interviews with corporate kings you also found that child bearing and rearing was not a major issue and is a problem for companies as for women. Do you feel that this opinion in reality is to the contrary, as women stop climbing the corporate ladder when they choose to have and raise children and when they return to the workforce, organizations do not always assist them resume the climb.  It was also interesting that this issue was not important to the Marzipan women (the term you use to refer to those women in the management layer below the board).

Clearly, childbearing and how companies cope with this, is vitally important for keeping the flow of women constant throughout all stages of the talent pipeline. But in our work, we are focusing on the women already in the Marzipan Layer (a phrase first used by Laura Tyson in her report on the diversification of corporate boards) and by the time women with children have reached this layer, they have mostly got help in dealing with the childcare issues they are still facing.   

Can you refer to what you found were common in the views expressed by the corporate kings and the Marzipan women?  

Both the chairmen and the women they are mentoring, recognize the importance of sponsorship in their career progression.  Also there is a commonly held view that operating experience, P & L etc is a more likely base from which to be considered for a NED (non exec director) position.  This is a dilemma for some of the women who have progressed to senior roles through functional routes such as HR, marketing, Comms etc. 

What would be some of the descriptions you would apply to the culture found at the top of large companies? How do these cultures pose difficulties for women wanting to participate at the upper echelons?  

We talk a lot about this in the book, but on the whole corporate cultures are still transactional rather than transformational and this plays better in general to predominantly male styles of leadership and communication.  Where women have a more transformational style (we refer to Carlotta Tyler’s analogy of the “spiral vs the arrow”) they can find the transactional way of doing things quite abrasive and ‘unnatural.’ 

What were some of the comparative findings you uncovered in terms of how women are treated in the US and UK?  

We didn’t find any differences in terms of corporate findings. However we did explore why there are so many examples of American women having made it to the top of British companies.  Both the US and UK women we interviewed felt it had something to do with the whole ‘can do’ culture of the US and the way in which Americans are educated and brought up (girls and boys).  Some British women describe American women as more assertive or even pushy, but we very much liked the analysis of an American female director who told us that women in the US know how to be “graciously firm.” 

What changes do you feel writing your book has made in the corporate world for women? Has anyone taken note of your conclusion that demographic change is inevitable and will demand that organizations are going to have to employ more women?

We have been delighted with the very positive feedback that our book has received, amongst women in the corporate world, but also amongst the senior men. We purposely tried to ensure this book presented logical and data based reasons for change which grabbed the attention of the corporate kings and all those with accountability and the opportunity to make change happen.  We wouldn’t say that the demographic argument has been any more or less persuasive than the others we use in the book.  

Although organizations are going to have to employ more women, you do say, however, that a new compact between sexes must be reached. What do you see this as involving?  

We do write about this in detail in the book but essentially we argue that both styles (male and female) need to be recognized, valued, integrated and leveraged in business.  This is not about men trying to become more like women or vice versa but it is about business drawing on the varied and valued contributions of all of its constituents in order to remain competitive and solve the problems of the twenty first century – in fact I realize I am re-iterating almost the final paragraph of our book! 

Can you discuss how the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme works and its benefits to mentees.

This would probably end up being an essay in itself!  We do talk about this in Chapter 5 (Bridging the Gap) and have since provided a more up to date summary for a very good publication produced by the European Professional Women’s Network (  Women@Work no 7: Mentoring- A Powerful Tool for Women)  www.EuropeanPWN.net