Quotas, positive discrimination or female-only sections may hinder the march towards equality in business, according to experts at the top of their industry
Walk into any FTSE100 boardrooms across the country and you should find at least one woman present – which in itself is a 14 per cent improvement in five years. But what does this mean for equality and encouraging more women to take up senior roles? The term ‘glass ceiling’ was first coined over 30 years ago, yet even in 2016, numerous reports from the government and think tanks suggest that the gender pay gap is still stubbornly in place, and that women are still underrepresented in senior leadership positions.
A woman’s place is the boardroom
Does lack of opportunity for women in senior roles stem from an underlying and perhaps unspoken corporate bias, particularly at the executive and board level? According to Tina Wilkinson,global head of product at Lombard Risk, in the financial services sector, it’s less about breaking into an old boys’ club and more about “staying ahead of the game.”
“There are more opportunities for women today than ever before,” she says, outlining four key reasons why women should get involved in the adrenaline-inducing world of financial services.
Team work and variety: Some industries require you to work alone or in silos but in this day and age, financial institutions require you to work not only with your section team but also teams responsible for different sectors to ensure successful delivery. At 9am I may be speaking to teams here in London; in the afternoon I’ll be dealing with what’s going on in the US. There’s variety in the role and you get to work with people from all different backgrounds
Buzz: Staying ahead of new technology, new regulation requires speed and efficiency which gives you, and the wider team, a real buzz. There is never a dull moment and I am constantly learning and am kept on my toes
Rewarding: The work can be incredibly rewarding whether this be personal or company growth. There are lots of opportunities to develop skills across the board and work with some of the greatest minds
Skills: Women’s skills make a valued contribution in a male dominated environment and these skills are in demand. Offices with teams that exhibit a broad range of skills, and have diversity of background and culture have been proven to be more successful and financial institutions are embracing this.
The confidence conundrum
Rather than speculating about what businesses can be doing to engage more women in their work and propel them into leadership roles, employee engagement specialists Best Companies spoke to multiple women at the top of in a report on equality and diversity in the workplace, and what is really needed for game-changing progress to happen. Confidence is key, according to Kate Gaskin, the director and founder of Right Angle Events, and previously a Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police for 21 years. “Overall I think self-belief is a tough one for some women. Women are less self-promoting, less likely to ask for a pay rise and more self-deprecating in applications,” she shared.
In support of that, numerous studies have found that a greater percentage of women face confidence breakers at the early years of their employment. A recent study by management consulting firm, Bain & Company revealed this strange and saddening corporate phenomenon. Young women enter the workforce full of confidence, but in two short years, their bright-eyed and bushy-tailed outlook is replaced with self-doubt. According to that study, women report a 60 per cent decrease in ambition and a 50 per cent decrease in confidence to reach the C-suite, while men report no change in their aspirations and only a 10 per cent decrease in their confidence to reach the same roles. What is wearing our women’s self-confidence down? Women with more experience have reportedly struggled to fit into the “typical stereotype of success” in an alpha-male driven workforce, for one.
Gaskin, who also organises the Norwich Women Business Network, advised: “Companies being aware of that can get them to see that they can be as good as another individual who is more self-promoting. I don’t believe we should have quotas, positive discrimination or female-only sections, but we can encourage application, look for rising stars and dangle things in front of them.”
Hire from within
Organisational hierarchy, coupled with the mindset that ‘new is better’ may lead many businesses to seek external talent when hiring for senior management roles. In order to attract and retain top talent, it is essential for organisations to have a defined career path for individuals in order to improve their employer brand and become an employer of choice.
Noting the “good intentions” behind businesses seeking to diversify their workforce, Hayley Smith, founder of Boxed Out PR, said: “there doesn’t always seem to be enough policy in place to make it happen.
“Career mapping from an employer can add value and loyalty, and create equal opportunities. Mapping can remove the chances that women will not be aware of opportunities suited to them.”
Another gender gap study, PwC’s annual Women in Work Index, reveals that the UK could boost its GDP by 9 per cent (£170bn) if it could increase the number of women in work to match that of Sweden, the highest performing country. Of course, in Sweden, it is mandatory to have women at the board level across all businesses. Beyond this quota-led approach, there seems to be a larger need for motivating talent to stay.
Avoiding occupational stereotyping
According to recent Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) figures, the gender gap in undergraduate engineering programmes has actually increased, suggesting that occupational stereotyping is alive and well.
The biggest gap between male and female students was in computer science, which has 13,085 more male students than female, followed by mechanical engineering, sport and exercise science, electronic and electrical engineering and economics.
Just as it is in engineering for women, far fewer men are choosing the arts and languages. Dawn Bonfield, chief executive of the Women’s Engineering Society attributes this gender stereotyping as societal rather than sector-based, calling for a cultural change to limit gender stereotyping in all areas. “Gender parity is about having equality of choice rather than all being equal: we should all be able to choose the colours we wear, the toys we play with, and our future careers based on our individual choice and suitability and irrespective of our gender. This is crucial if we want to close the gender pay gap, which persists because women are encouraged towards jobs in the lower paid end of the careers spectrum, and not encouraged sufficiently to reach the top of their profession,” she said.
Linguistically, business titles and jargon can afford to be more inclusive, she argues, which “involves changing some of the terms that we have become familiar with to become gender neutral then this is exactly what we should do.” Titles like chairman, fellow, and even Lord Mayor are all male by default, which suggests women in these roles is an exception rather than the norm.
At the heart of human rights, whether based on gender, age, or racial parity, is the belief that everybody should be treated equally and with dignity – no matter what their circumstances. International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, ultimately reminds decision makers and influencers of both genders just that.