When discussing the topic of women in business, you’ll likely hear phrases such as ‘glass ceiling’ or other metaphors used to indicate the barriers to the progression of female talent.
In fact, as recently as November, the Hampton-Alexander Review highlighted that there are just 25 women in chair roles amongst FTSE 350 companies – with even fewer chief executives.
The lack of women in top jobs is concerning and should not be acceptable in today’s society. Women add a valuable, diverse perspective to senior level discussions which must not be ignored. Underrepresenting their voice, especially at the highest levels, sends a worrying message to half of the population.
Despite an increased media focus on the need to improve the number of women in business, there is still a lack of understanding about how to achieve this. Research from Page Executive showed that 22% of CEOs in the UK don’t even know what D&I means. This alarming lack of awareness speaks volumes as to how businesses are approaching gender equality – despite the ever-increasing spotlight on discrimination through measures such as Gender Pay Gap reporting.
It is no longer good enough for organisations to pay lip service to the need to represent both genders, they need to be taking action. However, rather than just making strategic hires to parachute women into senior roles, businesses need to look at representation at all levels of their organisation, fostering a strong pipeline of female talent that can grow and develop within the company, to harbour sustainable diversity.
There are many benefits to this approach, from strengthening company culture to delivering ongoing rewards from staff investment and creating an ambitious, engaged workforce. Putting the emphasis on developing female talent at every level, and demonstrating clear path to progression, also shows a lasting commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace.
With this year’s International Women’s Day theme being Each for Equal, the focus on driving equality is stronger than ever. I would argue that equality in the workplace should be the goal every day, not just once a year – and for me, the most important step is paving the way for future talent.
As well as ensuring female talent is represented within a business, companies should be seeking to nurture those women already employed. Mentoring partnerships can hold significant value, particularly when women in senior roles share their insights and business wisdom with more junior female employees. Additional resources, training opportunities and tools should also be made available, with women encouraged to advance within the business.
Andrea Leadsom, the former Business Secretary, said: “Diverse businesses are the highest performing”. The more businesses recognise this and move to improve their approaches to diversity and inclusion, the better the opportunities for women in top roles become. With a healthy pipeline of female talent each driving the person ahead of them to achieve greater success, businesses will see women shatter the glass ceiling and thrive at the highest levels.
About the author
Sheri Hughes is the UK D&I Director at Michael Page. In this role, she is responsible for all D&I in the UK with a focus on creating a more inclusive working environment in order to achieve better diversity.