Cardiff Business Club interviews Vikki HeywoodDate Posted: 08 May 2018
On 23rd April, we were joined by Vikki Heywood CBE, Chair of the Royal Society of Arts. The event, which was held at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and sponsored by University of South Wales, was the sixth in the current season. Ahead of her address, Vikki took time out to be inerviewed by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, managing director at ClearlyPR on behalf of the Club.
Here is what she had to say.
With the royal society of the arts you were first person to be asked back, why do you think that is and how much of a big deal is it, and does it put pressure on you as well?
It was quite a big deal for the RSA in the sense that they had to change their articles of association to do it. So, they had always imagined it to be a three-year term but I think they began to realise over the free year period that having a chairman who was really going to work with the board to get to grips with a long-term strategy that three years went by in a flash and we had really begun to get very far.
So, it gives you the opportunity to look more at the long-term plan rather than short-term and try to get as much done in three years as you possibly can, isn’t it?
Yes, because I think the difficulty with a three-year chairmanship is that often chairman feel that they’re saying goodbye just at the moment when the fruits of their labours are being seen.
If you’re going to get to know your organisation - and there’s 29,000 Fellows - there’s a lot of people to get to know. It’s a big brained organisation - more of a small university because it’s not just looking at the arts - there’s commerce, manufacturing, all elements of global influences that we are all worried about today. It’s important to understand all of that before you try and put your mark on it.
The gender pay reporting which came out the end of March and it was quite interesting to see the reports coming out about the Arts sector has one or the narrowest gender pay gaps out of any of the industries – around a third the national average. Why do you think that is?
I could be quite mean here and say that’s because arts and arts organisations live the values they want to see. I think art organisations take their charitable status - and most of them are charities - very seriously.
They recognise the fact that probably 60% of their expenditure is on the people and the nature of their work is incredibly hard. Holding a mirror up to the rest of society is part of what arts organisations are very proud of and it’s been absolutely the case that gay people and women have not suffered the kind of disadvantages in terms of employment that people find in other industries.
Women in leadership roles is still an issue and there is still a massive gap between the number of men and number of women taking leadership roles for various reasons but is there anything that you think. You’re obviously the top of your game at the moment, what advice can you give to them who are maybe following your footsteps within the next few years or so.
I think it’s important to remember the moments to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I find sometimes talking to women they won’t put themselves forward for positions because they wouldn’t know every piece and part of how to do it. And actually, that’s not the point and actually most men wouldn’t worry about that.
To generalise wildly but, I very rarely have found myself having to give career advice to men when I’ve said, “Ooh maybe you want to push yourself, what about that job?” I have to admit that when I left the RSC and set my cap at becoming the chairman of something, I didn’t actually think I was going to wind up being the chairman of four things all at the same time. That wasn’t actually the plan.
It was interesting how many conversations I had with head hunters who would say ooh well I don’t know I mean chairman you haven’t been chairman before. And I’d say okay but I’ve been deputy chairman twice, I’ve reported to endless boards professionally I know the difference between executive and non-executive directorship. I don’t know what else apart from being deputy chairman you can do to become chairman.
Does UK Plc benefit as much as it could by having senior figures from the cultural sector on its boards?
If I’m going to say where I think there is a challenge and I think this is not just a women’s issue, but I think an issue is that businesses rarely think of inviting onto their boards members from the cultural sector. Yet people from the cultural sector see the absolute advantage of having business leaders on their boards.
I have to say every business leader that I’ve brought onto my board, after two board meetings has said I am learning so much that I am taking back to my boardroom. I honestly believe that that exchange - the interplay - between business and culture is far more powerful and valuable than people realise.
I remember someone saying to me Oh God, you don’t want to go onto a business board we just talk about money and customers and sales - I said what the hell do you think I used to talk about at every board meeting at the RSC..money, customers and sales and product! If you have to stretch every penny until it’s a pound you really know how to run a business and that’s what most cultural organisations do
What do you think is the most important thing you have learnt in your career?
Listen to your instincts. So many people override that at critical moments of their career and that’s usually when they fall down the heffalump trap that they kind of knew was there but were ignoring as for various other influential reasons they were going forward with something that they didn’t really believe in and your professional stomach talks to you and it tells you things.
And don’t be over-influenced by other factors that actually when you come down to it are white noise in terms of what the decision is you should be making on behalf of your business.