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 An interview with Charlotte Rushton is Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific and EMEA, for the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters.

Ms. Rushton leads the Tax & Accounting business operations that serve corporations and accounting firms across the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions, including Australia and New Zealand (ANZ).

She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in engineering from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Get On Board

When he took office, in May 2010, Prime Minister, David Cameron planted gender equality firmly on his parliamentary to do list. The goal was to raise the number of women on boards to about a third by 2015.

Charlotte Rushton
Charlotte Rushton

Prime Minister Cameron was made aware of the significant differences between countries as to the percentages of women who make up top corporate boards, with percentages vary from 3.5% in Portugal to 31.9% in Norway.

While most countries were showing progress in women taking up boardroom appointments, there were two notable exceptions – the USA and the UK.

In the USA, gender diversity on the top corporate boards, such as the Fortune 500, had plateaued at 15% for the past five years. Similarly in the UK, according to our own statistics collected for the Female FTSE report, the number of women on the FTSE 100 boards has plateaued for the third year running at 12%.

Cameron wanted to make a difference, and he wanted to achieve this without resorting to the quotas that are now law in Norway and France and are being phased in by Spain.

As a first step he commissioned reports to identify what the Government could do to increase the number of women on boards in Corporate UK. Lord Davies as tasked to lead a review (Women on Boards) into how obstacles can be removed to allow more women to reach Board level positions in organisations.

The review recommended that UK listed companies in the FTSE 100 should be aiming for a minimum of 25% female board member representation by 2015. It also recommended that FTSE 350 companies should be setting their own challenging targets. Lord Davies called on chairpersons to announce these goals within six months of his report.

Cranfield University published a six-month progress report detailing the developments made following the Lord Davies recommendations. The report found that 61 of the FTSE 100 companies had responded to and, acknowledging that gender diversity is an issue, with 33 setting themselves the target for the percentage of women they aim to have on their boards.

The Executive Summary to Cranfield’s, “The Female 2010 FTSE Board Report – Opening up the Appointment Process’, identified a barely perceptible change in the representation of women in leadership positions to UK PLC’s top 100 companies. Overall the percentage of women on UK boards was 12.5 % showing a three-year plateau with only 13% of new appointments going to women.

Given the stagnation of women on boards, the report offered five key recommendations to chairmen: –

  • Strengthen the new principle on diversity in selection to “Comply or Explain”. Any Chairman with less than 20% women on their boards and Executive Committees needs to explain why this is the case in their annual reports. This should apply to all FTSE 350 listed companies. The 20% should be reviewed in three years’ time with a view to lifting it to 30%.
  • Advertise all NED positions in the private sector.
  • Require search consultants to produce balanced candidate lists. 
  • Continue to make the appointments process as rigorous and objective as possible through the use of skills audits.
  •  Use peer-to-peer pressure from FTSE 100 Chairmen to encourage FTSE 250 Chairmen to seek female candidates for their boards.

These are all recommendations that mirror the gender equality philosophy of Thomson Reuters and reflects its approach to the UK Corporate Governance Code’s principle of paying  “due regard to diversity on the board, including gender’.

Thomson Reuters, headquartered in the US and with significant presence in the UK in the Financial, Tax and Accounting, Governance Risk and Compliance, Intellectual Property, Legal, sectors, is a company ahead of the curve when it comes to women in senior executive roles.

Charlotte Rushton is a typical example. At the age of 44 she is senior vice president and managing director, Asia Pacific and EMEA, for the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters.

She leads the Tax & Accounting business operations that serve corporations and accounting firms across the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions, including Australia and New Zealand (ANZ).

In 2010, Charlotte opened the Tax & Accounting business’s regional office in Singapore, where she led the team that launched ONESOURCE corporate tax solutions in China, Korea and Taiwan and ONESOURCE global solutions, including indirect tax, in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia.

Ms. Rushton, a member of the Thomson Reuters operating committee and the Tax & Accounting executive leadership team, previously served as Senior Vice President, Global Consulting, for the business. In that role, she was integral to the development of global strategy and expansion plans and led strategy and organisational development across multiple business units.

She moved to London in August 2012 to take on her expanded role leading operations for both EMEA and Asia Pacific. As head of a multi-million business Charlotte has a positive approach to what needs to be done.

Q     What needs to be done in the sector to bring about change?

A     Certainly increasing the diversity on boards should be recognised in the sector as imperative, the studies have shown that it leads to better company performance because of the improvements in decision making that result. Some European countries are starting to impose quotas to boost the number of women on boards but this can have a detrimental effect if the women appointed are seen as tokenistic. The UK Government’s voluntary approach is showing that the number of women in senior positions can be increased without having to resort to regulation.

        The world is changing. Attitudes are changing. Progress will be led by business leaders changing attitudes from within their organisations. Effectively, we are talking about identifying and employing the best talents, and people for the job throughout an organisation, regardless of gender/diversity. This is not about quotas. It is about opportunity and ability and building the pipeline throughout companies which will ultimately drive higher proportions of women at the top.

Q     How do we attract more women to apply for board positions?

A     There are many talented women out there, ready for the opportunities. As business leaders change attitudes to their recruitment processes and commit to a level playing field, then more women will seize the opportunity. The ‘comply or explain’ policy can help with this but this is not a quick fix process. We need to ensure young women entering the workplace understand that there are opportunities, and that they can get to the top, and that the talent pipeline is nurtured throughout organisations to really effect change.

Q     How important is work life/balance?

A     Of course it’s a important factor. Juggling the competing demands of work deadlines, meetings, projects, family responsibilities, home, and health is demanding. There was a time when the boundaries between work and life were clear. Today things have changed. We live in 24/7, technology driven world. Many people are putting in extra hours, or using their smartphones to be on call when they’re not physically at work.

       We must be aware that today, work/life balance is not just a female thing. It is a challenge for men as well.

       Everyone, men women, young and old, need to evaluate their relationship to work, what they want to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. Being a senior executive is not for everyone.  By having a clear understanding of what you want from your work, life, family and what you need to commit to achieve a realistic balance is fundamental first step.

Q     Do companies need to change their infrastructure to accommodate new ways of working?

A     Business evolves to accommodate the pace of technological change. It evolves to manage environmental issues, global communications, travel / mobility. It took less than a decade for email to become the way for companies to communicate.

       With the drive to meet the demands of global markets, in differing time zones, more organisations will be open for business 24 hours a day. The migration to a 24/7 culture will involve considerable infrastructure and operational change that could involve night-time child-care provision, as an example.  The government could help – for example with tax breaks on childcare, which in my mind is a legitimate business expense within the ‘business’ of a household managing both childcare and career.

Companies are already investigating corporate involvement in education, many offer flexible working and childcare assistance. Businesses are already thinking ahead and changing but it is certainly an area which needs focus and attention.

Q     What changes do want to see brought to the sector?

A     The Cranfield report points not just to the low levels of female representation on boards but also on the Executive Committee at the largest companies. The proportion of women in companies generally reduces as you get to the more and more senior levels, meaning the pipeline for both Executive Committees and Board of Directors is too small.

We know that women are just as capable as men at filling these Executive levels, and we have seen the evidence of the improvements in performance in companies that do so, so the focus should be on increasing that pipeline right through the organisation to get long term change, which will ultimately benefit individual companies, and the sector in general.

Highlighting and talking about the benefits of diverse talent pools all the way to the top, and putting much more focus on the ‘why’ of lower representation is the starting point to changing attitudes and ultimately changing the results.

Q     The role of women is changing, who were your role models

A     Early on in my career I think I was naive about the challenges women faced getting to senior levels in business, and had plenty of role models around me in my early jobs. It was only as I advanced to become a Partner in a consulting organisation that I really began to notice that I was in the minority.

  Thomson Reuters has been a breath of fresh air because of the real focus put on the value of a diverse workforce, one of our core values, and a number of senior women to look towards as real role models – for example Susan Taylor-Martin previously President of the Reuters business and now President of our Legal division, and Monique Villa, head of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  All are very inspiring leaders who are authentic in their leadership style and have demonstrated the true value of diverse thinking, perspectives and approaches to a large corporation.

 For similar reasons I really admire Christine Lagarde and Catherine Ashton – what they’ve been able to accomplish with their collaborative and nurturing styles has been truly inspiring, and they have demonstrated that high EQ is as equally important as high IQ.

Q     What do you think are the three main characteristics for a successful woman?

A     To be successful in general you need to be good at what you do and give it your all – be dedicated and passionate about your work.  One thing I’m also a big believer in is focusing on your strengths and playing towards them.

For women specifically I think some of the traps we can fall into (and I’m generalising – of course this is not always the case) is expecting those around us to notice how good we are and promote us or give us opportunities based on that.  We have to put ourselves out there more, point to our successes and our strengths and be continuously looking for opportunities to develop and take on bigger responsibilities.

I personally think it’s also important to be an authentic leader – diversity in the workforce as well as in the corner offices, is becoming increasingly recognised as an important driver of a company’s success and what many women can bring to that is a more nurturing, collaborative and inclusive approach which gets results through the power of the whole organisation working together more successfully.  If this is your strength, don’t think you have to hide or suppress it – celebrate it!

Q     What advice would you give to any student looking to enter the sector today?

A     Look for organisations like Thomson Reuters that are committed to change. Look at their structure and make up. Check out their commitment to gender and diversity equality.

Also look at the career paths of their senior women leaders – I have been with Thomson Reuters for seven years and in that time have had two promotions and been able to take on increasing responsibility, for example I was recently appointed to the Thomson Reuters Operating Committee.

I’ve also had the opportunity to travel and work across different countries and cultures, which I really enjoy – and have lived in New York, Singapore and London.  Putting myself forward for these assignments, and having a company that supports my development, has been a really fantastic and rewarding experience.