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One third of businesses worldwide have no women in senior management roles. In the UK, female representation in senior business is declining and now sits at a meagre 19%. In the US, the number of businesses with no women in senior roles at all is at its highest recorded level since 2011. Across the EU, in the largest publicly listed companies, females occupy only 15% of executive roles and 5% of CEO positions. At our current rate of change, women will not be equally represented in senior management until 2060.
Yet, these statistics exist in conflict with business research; countless reports link the presence of female board members to significantly greater performance. What’s more, women have become the new majority in the highly qualified talent pool; in Europe and the USA women account for 6 out of 10 university graduates. Which raises the question: why do women remain so under represented at senior level, and what can businesses do to help increase their gender diversity?
The evidence making a case for female-focussed hiring comes by the bucket load. In research conducted by Catalyst, companies with the highest percentages of female board directors demonstrated a greater return on equity, sales and invested capital than those with the lowest; outperforming by 53%, 42% and 66% respectively. What’s more, companies in which women make up at least 15% of senior management are 50% more profitable than those in which fewer than 10% of senior managers are female, according to Credit Suisse reports.
Whilst causation is difficult to assume, research presents a very strong correlation between corporate financial performance and gender diversity. The more balanced a company and its board, naturally the better the results.
Yet, in spite of all of this evidence, the UK will need 1.5 million new female managers in the next 6 years to achieve a 50/50 split of management jobs between men and women by 2024: the challenge to close the gender gap is a huge one.
Currently, there is too much focus on the reporting of data and not enough on the investigation of why. There are a range of reasons behind these statistics, many of which are easily prevented or changed, but businesses remain unaware of them.
The shortage of board-level women can mainly be attributed to a lacking corporate pipeline – with few females in managerial positions and at lower director level, the number of those able to progress up to C Level is very slim. Factors contributing to that come by the boat load; an absence of role models, preconceptions of potential, prejudices and discrimination, pay gaps, gendered behaviours and cultural differences, a lack of mentoring, caring responsibilities and inflexible maternity leave all contribute to the lack of female representation at senior level. Traditional, age-old business stereotypes have led to a palpable lack of infrastructure and support for females in senior business roles. It’s only now that – as awareness of these issues is increasing – companies are putting the measures in place to encourage women to progress in their career and to welcome them just as openly into positions of seniority as their male counterparts.
As more media outlets give platform to these statistics, the more government initiatives, targets and new programmes are being pushed to try and incentivise female talent into top senior roles. Quotas aren’t always the answer; whilst we want more equal representation at senior-level, hires should be based on candidates’ capabilities. We need, instead, a wider shift in culture which encourages more women up to board level and more active initiatives in place which provide women with the opportunities to reach their full potential. In this vein, there are a range of changes companies can make:
Men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the criteria, yet women only apply if they are 100% qualified. By reducing the number of requirements in your job adverts to just those which are crucial, you increase the number of female applicants immediately. Research has shown that women aren’t attracted to the same job adverts as men; employers will do better by avoiding stereotypically ‘masculine’ language (e.g. competitive, assertive) and including lexis that is more appealing to women (e.g. collaborative, team-based). It’s also worth promoting at this early stage that your company provides equal pay and to mention any diversity policies or diversity and inclusivity initiatives you have in place.
Research has shown that whilst men are more likely to overstate their experience and capabilities, women will understate theirs. With this in mind, your candidate interviews should focus on evidence and proof of abilities and you should pay special attention to previous references over candidate’s own self-promotion.
Where possible, you should also enlist at least one female staff member into the interview process, to help to understand female candidates as much as possible and to highlight that your organisation already has women at senior level.
For companies in which female role models may not exist, general mentoring schemes or leadership programmes – especially aimed at young women beginning their careers – can encourage females to aspire for seniority from an early stage and advise them best on the skills they need to develop to do so. These skills can be anything from self-promotion to handling conflict – as women and men have natural personality differences, understanding how best to react in male-dominated environments can be the difference between succeeding and not. Mentors do not have to be females in senior positions, or the schemes be just for women – this initiative can prove beneficial in helping any young person to progress, and even started as early as school or undergraduate level. This is a valuable way of talent spotting and will ensure all employees are pushed toward the right types of projects, challenges and opportunities which allow them to flourish.
For women entering your business at a higher level, dedicate time to their corporate training – alongside men too – and set a clear, transparent career ladder in place that encourages them to apply for C-Level roles. More and more major global businesses are adopting new programmes targeted at getting women in leadership positions, so follow their example and promote that externally. Dedicating time to women specifically, especially within male-dominated industries, is appealing for female applicants as you are showing a commitment to their progress and a clear inclusivity strategy. It is vital to target females at lower managerial level, as it is these women who will form the future of your corporate board.
It’s important for businesses to promote their engagement in current issues. Countless non-profit organisations and networks exist with the sole purpose of inspiring female leadership, holding conferences and events that businesses can attend and employees can engage with. Networking with high profile women, either in a specific business sector or more generally, can be all the inspiration female staff need.
What most companies do not realise, is that maternity leave can be split 50-50 between mother and father. Most parents are eligible for Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP), which means the care of the child does not have to be taken just by the female, or one parent on their own, and can be split into different blocks and shared by both parties. Many European companies – Nordic countries in particular – are providing bonuses for families that choose to do this, encouraging fathers to take more of an active role at home and more women to stay in work.
By lessening the time away from the workplace, it is easier for staff to come back post-break, whether that be mother or father. What’s more, improving the awareness of this possibility at an early stage in women’s careers will likely increase the number of young women wanting to progress to the top – they know that any future plans to start a family won’t mean the end of their career.
Flexibility - in both work hours and locations - is highly valued. Knowing that a company will permit employees to work from home at short notice, or to take their hours around their home life, is a major factor considered by females undergoing career moves, as many women are their children’s primary caregiver.
Although attracting more female talent is important, new initiatives don’t have to be female orientated. Changes like this can benefit your company as a whole. Many organisations are making this choice to improve general employee retention.
Rhiannon has worked nearly 18 months at APD, running the Marketing and Sales team there. Building her career mainly in IT and Telecomms, she has used her determination to reach board level as her motivation in the workplace.
“But I don’t think hiring female talent should be about hitting quotas - it actually goes against what I believe in, the right person should be promoted into a role. It’s another Sheryl Sandberg quote but I love the sentiment behind ‘In the future there will be no female leaders – just leaders’. I’m very lucky here at APD the MD has hired more females in leadership roles in the last two years than male and we typically have a 50/50 split.
“When it comes to actively hiring more talent I think promoting the benefits that the company offers will make a difference, particularly those who might one day or already have started a family – childcare voucher schemes, flexible working policies etc. Ensure you have a good mentoring programme in place; mentors can make a huge difference to people’s careers and desire to remain at a business regardless of gender. However, studies show that it is harder for women to find mentors with more men being sponsored then women. I’d also consider taking gender off CV’s before passing them through to be reviewed. Again studies have shown that both men and women are more likely to put a male forward to interview than a female – even if the CV is identical. Finally – ensure people are paid fairly for the role they do and the contribution they make to the business. In the last 6 months we’ve seen in the media that the gender pay gap is still an issue even in 2018."
When asked about what attracts Rhiannon to a company, she said, “For me it’s all about the culture. I want to work in company where I can make a difference to the bottom line, the customer experience and to the people that work there. I also look for a boss that has an appreciation of family life and embraces flexible working. Sometimes my daughter will be ill, and I will have to dash off, or there will be a nursery event I want to make. Being able to pop out for an hour or work from home without having to book annual leave means I naturally give more to the company I work for.
“The benefits that I see day to day are productive debates on the best way to tackle a problem or achieve the business plan, new ways of doing things and a change in culture. I’ve also seen the management team develop and grow as we all learn mentor and coach each other. In the last year the percentage of female employees has grown at APD and at the same time we’ve seen growth of over 30% - so changing the gender balance certainly isn’t holding us back.
“It’s widely known that women and men naturally have different skill sets, with women excelling in areas such as relationship building, networking and communication – all of which are critical to growing a business. And reports have recently linked the number of women on the board to better financial performance. Including a study by McKinsey showed that companies with higher gender diversity saw a higher return on equity (10%), higher operating results (48%) and a stronger stock price growth (70%).
“The hardest comments I hear are actually from other women, usually aimed at my parenting skills and how much I work vs being at home with my daughter. If there’s one thing that really gets on my nerves, it’s women not supporting other women - imagine what could happen if we took the energy we use to criticise each other, to support each other instead.
“I’ve worked with people who are full-time mums and feel guilty that their partner is the breadwinner, women who work part-time and feel guilty for being a part-time mum and a part time employee, and women who, like myself, work full time and then feel guilty for not being at home as mum. No matter the decision, there seems to be a lot of guilt involved – the best approach is to pick what works for you.”
Faro works as a Technology Strategist in the Chief Technology Office at Ericsson AB. She has been working at Ericsson for almost 11 years, working her way up through the company, and has noticed a gender imbalance in Technology across all organisational levels.
“Companies have got better at implementing policies that ensure that there is no discrimination. Almost all companies in Sweden offer maternity and paternity leave, a high percentage of the companies even pay 80% of the salary for the first 160 days [out of 480 days offered by the government per child] and they all secure one’s position upon one’s return. Recently, to encourage equality, there is also a bonus given by the government to couples who equally share their maternity-paternity leave. A few years back we even had a company-wide leadership target to reach 30% of women in leadership positions.
“There is an imbalance [in my industry] and not only in senior level, but across the organisation in all levels. To attract [women] I would definitely recommend getting engaged with academia from an early stage. A declining number of females want to study technology. Engage students in summer projects and make them aware of the company's culture from early on.
“To retain, my advice is to continuously challenge the female workers and support them to move on in a company, because usually – as I know from experience – us girls have to be 100% -120% certain we will be able to do the task at hand before we even consider applying.”
Danielle has worked in both the property management industry and facilities management industry, building her career by following her interests and not being afraid to take on new challenges.
“My first boss was female, and she was a huge role model for me. I worked for a small, family owned business and was given many challenges but I was also provided with a high level of support to ensure I didn’t fail. This enabled me to form a great career foundation and the confidence to succeed.
“My advice to all women in the world of work – especially on their way up the career ladder – is don’t be afraid to challenge anything, or to ask questions when you’re unsure. You need to ask questions to learn and grow; working well in business is all about finding a common language with the people you work with.
“I’ve found, from experience, that generally women do not always appreciate the value they bring to an organisation. The biggest shift in change will be women seeing that! I’ve also found that young women accept the first salary offer they’re given whereas their male counterparts do not. Women tend to find it harder to negotiate, just given their natural temperament, and young people never undergo the training to teach them how to. My advice to these people would be to do your research – challenge when you think you need to. Understand your skills and your value – be willing to have that conversation and to negotiate. For employers – put negotiation training in place! Gender diversity needs a corporate commitment – top down – with everyone on board, and steps like this shows a commitment to career advancement. The US has recently passed legislation which means employers and recruiters cannot ask candidates their previous salary – this is one way they are trying to tackle to pay gap and level the playing field.
“Managers need to encourage their employees to promote themselves and to promote their team members too. Management training needs to be in place to ensure managers understand the importance of this and how to go about it. It is 100% acceptable for women to take pride in the work they do. Women should raise their hand to be recognised and shouldn’t be shy in promoting their strengths and achievements.
“Another way that employers can help bridge the gap is through formal mentorship programmes – not just for women but for everyone in the organisation. These are rewarding for both the people being mentored and the mentors themselves, mainly as they can see the progression they’re influencing. A previous employer hosted an informal book club – to review business books. This has allowed for the integration of all levels and for interactions across disciplines and stations, giving everyone in the organisation a chance to network and gain exposure across the organisation.
Organisations need to embrace diversity; otherwise ultimately they won’t see success. When I have a team around me, I don’t want to be sat around a table with 3 people just like me – I want a diverse group of people, as that balance and different perspective is what will get the best results.”
Whilst the few changes we have suggested are easy to implement, they need to be marketed correctly: in plain sight on your company website and in relevant sector PR campaigns. Perhaps more crucially, they will not prove effective unless coupled with a general change of attitude in corporate business culture. The main reason so many women do not reach C Level is not for lack of aspiration or ability, but rather the prejudices they face in the wake of male colleagues. By openly encouraging diversity, and being transparent in your reasons for it, companies can get fully on board with any changes and begin to break down the social barriers playing a role in the board level gender gap.
The issues debated here are as much about improving business performance as promoting equal opportunities for women. There is a strong business case for balanced boards, not least the better productivity and profitability that can come of it, but gender diversity should not be forced: senior hires need still be based on capability and this won’t always mean a female hire is best. What can be – and needs to be – addressed is the existing corporate culture which sees many capable women either turned away or put off from company boards. Employers who aren’t providing their female employees with the right support and opportunities they need to reach the top are missing out on the skills and leadership potential of a whole generation of women.
CSG are actively working with companies across multiple industries – particularly those which are traditionally male-dominant – to help reduce the gender gap. We support many of our clients with female-focussed hiring strategies and, additionally, offer an Employer Brand service which works alongside clients to market and promote them in a new light, with a focus on attracting certain demographics to work within their business.
If your company would benefit from any of our services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 333 323 2000. Alternatively, you can read more about our specialist consultants and our value added services on our website: www.csgtalent.com.
Catalyst, Women in Management, 07.02.2017
Economia, Number of women in senior business roles declining, 08.03.2017
Catalyst, Companies With More Women Board Directors Experience Higher Financial Performance, According to Latest Catalyst Bottom Line Report
The Telegraph Business, Britain’s most successful companies have women in senior roles, 19.01.2018