How Women in Management Challenge Conventions
How Women in Management Challenge Conventions

As a blonde female lawyer, I’ve had to work hard to address expectations of women in my industry,” says Oxford Saïd alumna Kelly Carter, VP for Legal and Compliance at the Australian arm of South African mining giant Gold Fields. The company employs 2,500 people – just 16% of whom are women. “There are no other women in the Australian executive team. I was acutely aware I was joining a regional executive exclusively comprised of middle-aged men. My tendency in that situation was to try and assimilate.

This discrepancy is typical of the mining industry as a whole; there are only 35 women on the boards of the world’s 30 biggest mining companies, out of a total 377 board directors, making it the most male-dominated industry on the planet, according to EY. The temptation to adopt the values, views and approaches of her mostly male peers – and try to ignore her own – is therefore understandable. But it’s in no way desirable, says Carter, and is a view echoed by other enlightened leaders.

It’s an ethos shared on Saïd Business School’s Women Transforming Leadership (WTL) programme, which Carter attended in 2014, before enrolling on the Oxford Programme on Negotiation (OPN) a year later. WTL is an intensive five-day course that attracts female leaders of diverse backgrounds, from private, public and voluntary sectors, and industries ranging from manufacturing, mining and petroleum to professional services, jewellery and IT.

A plurality of ideas

WTL has two key aims, says Kathryn Bishop, Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School: “To increase the repertoire of ways in which women lead and feel comfortable leading. And to encourage them to start to transform what society in general thinks leadership is. We hope they will finish the week with a clear sense that their contribution is as valid as anyone’s. That then inspires them to go and find other people with other experiences and backgrounds.

Carter’s position is clear: greater diversity in Gold Fields’ management fosters a plurality of ideas. Therefore, she’s looking to foster greater diversity within the organisation by attracting more women and people from a greater range of ethnic backgrounds into the industry. One of the ways Carter has been looking to do this is by speaking to children about the industry.

I recently had a five-year-old boy say to me: ‘I didn’t know a lady could be the boss of a mine site.’ I find it fascinating that from such a young age, children can have strong ideas of “boy jobs” and “girl jobs”, and that this can have a direct impact on whether girls feel comfortable gravitating towards science, technology, and engineering activities. I’m very passionate about encouraging schools to really challenge that,” she says.

Encouraging greater awareness of one’s own leadership style is at the heart of the WTL programme. Carter says the moment of revelation for her came when her group had to conduct a college choir in the 19th century chapel of Balliol College, Oxford, which Carter says was one of the most valuable exercises of her time at Oxford. “It was life-changing,” she says. “It’s intended to take you out of your comfort zone and make you think differently about your leadership style. Some people marched up and began to conduct without engaging the choir. Others took time to build a relationship, even only through eye contact, before commencing. It raised important questions of your awareness of what’s going on around you and the pressure you may inadvertently be putting people you’re working with under. It really holds a mirror up to yourself.” And every leader needs that from time to time, don’t they?

The importance of negotiation skills

Success often rests on an ability to empathise and keep an open mind, particularly when it comes to the myriad negotiations Carter has to undertake in her role. These are skills she honed on the Oxford Programme on Negotiation in 2015. “I now take a much more strategic, relationship-based approach,” she explains. “It’s about investing time at the beginning of the negotiation process to consider the objectives and imperatives of the people I’m negotiating with. Understanding who they and their stakeholders are, and how this informs their priorities. Then it is about going through a mapping process to identify potential obstacles and opportunities. I’ve found this invaluable in all the negotiations I am involved in, from straight down the line commercial negotiations to dealing with indigenous groups with interests in the land on which we want to operate. It’s about understanding the position the other side has come to and finding a solution that benefits all parties.

Carter’s negotiation responsibilities include everything from contractual negotiations to discussions with indigenous communities over land rights. Programme founder and former World Bank director Tim Cullen MBE explains how OPN helps her.

We very much focus on getting under the skin of whoever you are dealing with. In Kelly’s context, I think that is particularly valuable. You have to try and understand where the person on the other side of the table is coming from. However opposed to your view they might be, you need to understand people's psychological biases. And one of the big things we teach is understanding these biases and why some behaviour may appear to be irrational.

If you understand these biases, you will know how to calibrate your responses to whoever you are negotiating with. We advocate the concept of creating versus claiming value.

The classic example is the negotiations that took place in Camp David in 1978 when Israel and Egypt said they wanted the Sinai Desert; that was impossible, you couldn’t cut it in half. But the simple question ‘Why?’ that President Jimmy Carter posed, elicited these responses. Israel said they wanted it for security. Egypt said it was an issue of sovereignty; ‘it belongs to us, therefore it should be the same colour as Egypt on the map.’

Therefore it was agreed that it could be Egyptian but Egypt could never put anything military there. That is value creation. Both sides get what they want.

A fuller version of this article was originally published in Saïd Business School’s Executive Education magazine.