How companies can support women’s growth and success in the workplace

Three cheerful businesswomen walking together in an office

Article by Sheri Hughes, UK DE&I Director, PageGroup

With recent celebrations for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month bigger than ever, it’s clear how important the emphasis on supporting women in the workplace needs to be.

Whilst strides have been made in the professional world in recent years, there is still serious work to be done to ensure the success and growth of all employees.

Supporting employees from day one in their role is crucial to their professional success. But for marginalised groups like women, those with a disability or people of colour, barriers in the workplace can be stifling and the support offered by employers needs to be visible and clearly defined for it to be effective. That’s why it’s essential for companies to fully understand and subsequently remove any obstacles – creating opportunities for the whole workforce to shine.

At PageGroup, we are continually exploring ways to shift away from the traditional idea of a linear career path, which can often subconsciously house bias, particularly against women. Many organisations have a meritocratic approach to career progression, with tenure and loyalty being rewarded as a priority. Unfortunately, due to decades of systemic gender inequity, this traditional career advancement and the path to leadership can too often come as a result of simply being male. A more fair and equal approach to progression is to start right at the bottom and create opportunities for women in their early careers or within middle management positions. This approach means these employees aren’t immediately on the backfoot, continuing to hit the lower rungs of the ladder all the way through their careers and instead have a much clearer, defined view of how their career is likely to progress.

The workforce is only getting more diverse as time goes on, but there is a noticeable stagnation when we hit the upper levels. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was “break the bias”, but in order to truly encourage a diverse workforce and break all biases, there must also be diverse leadership to fully understand how to show up for colleagues and commit to breaking biases from an authentic standpoint.

For example, how can a company support its female colleagues if there are none in leadership positions making decisions about what they need? Lived experience is a must and representation can be a powerful way to drive change. Some employees may be reluctant to discuss the accommodations they need from their employers if they can’t see proactive efforts to create an inclusive atmosphere – but visible, diverse representation can change this. Actions speak louder than words and culture is a major player when it comes to workers gaining the confidence they need to succeed, clearly demonstrating that genuine diversity is crucial.

However, one of the key barriers to a diverse leadership team is that roles at the top do not come around very often and when they do, it becomes a queue-like scenario, whereby the next person in line simply advances into the next role (and the problem with this is that the next person in line can often tend to be male). We know how important it is to overturn this model and ensure there are better and more equal opportunities for women within business.

Put simply, if your leadership team is not representative of the population, your success is unlikely to compare to businesses that embrace a more diverse workforce. An effective strategy to combat inequity of all kinds is giving under-represented groups more opportunities to move into leadership positions earlier in their career. This type of model would see colleagues bypass the typical chronological order of career progression and move up based on merit, getting rid of the ‘bottleneck’ style rankings to leadership positions. Of course, this is by no means a cure for the issue of workplace inequality, but businesses must be willing to shake up the status quo and evolve into new, more equitable strategies – for women in business, but also for other groups that are all too often overlooked, such as workers with disabilities.

Equity is a very complex issue. It’s about opportunity, involvement, training, mentoring programmes, flexibility, data, visibility, measurement and so much more. There is no quick fix, but in order to accelerate incredible female talent, and give women the opportunity to rise up in line with their abilities and experience, companies must be open to rethinking their traditional models. Being mindful that women themselves aren’t a homogenous group, therefore acknowledging the multiple marginalised identities they may also hold, let’s embrace intersectionality and speed up the representation of all diversity.

Sheri HughesAbout the author

Sheri joined PageGroup in December 2002 as a consultant and then progressed to manager and associate director by successfully managing regional UK offices.  In January 2015 she moved across into the Diversity & Inclusion team and was promoted to UK D&I Director.  Since then PageGroup’s D&I agenda has gone from strength to strength.  In 2018 alone, they were the first recruitment company to achieve: Times Top 50 Employers for Women, Stonewall Top 100 and BITC Gold Award for the Gender benchmark.

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