On Tuesday June 9th 115 years ago, as suffragettes were starving for the cause of women’s liberation, men’s reactions recorded in the newspapers were: ‘Let them starve’. Are we seeing a similar reaction in the views expressed in the Hampton Alexander report on gender balance?

You could be forgiven for thinking if not as early as 1888 then definitely in the 1950s judging by some of the excuses mooted by business people for the lack of female representation on company boards in the UK. The interim report from Hampton Alexander into gender balance revealed some jaw-dropping views. Some of these views seem incredible in 2018 with responsible business people expressing such outdated and cynical comments. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths described them as ‘pitiful and patronising’…..but did they all fall into that category? I believe they didn’t and the one ‘excuse’ which resonated with me, was: ‘We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector.’ – a response which I whole heartedly agree with.

Undoubtedly there has been significant change over the past few years, with some companies faring better than others. But that will always be the case – there will be those organisations that lead and who are at the forefront and the ones who follow and those who simply stand still and do nothing. The benefits of having a diverse board of directors including a significant representation of women have been well documented. There are many barriers to women which exist including organisational culture, unconscious bias, gender pay gap, lack of succession planning and the corporate pipeline.

We know from extensive studies which have been carried out that women enter the workplace with equal energy, enthusiasm and optimism as men but that over time women’s aspiration levels drop by 60% compared to their male counterparts. A recent study by the CMI showed that women in the UK comprise 60% of junior managers, 40% of middle managers, 20% in leadership roles and only 10% in board positions. Interestingly a PwC study has also shown that the stereo-typical view of women sacrificing their careers early on to start a family isn’t a driving factor – so maybe biology isn’t to blame? Other interesting studies have identified challenges to female talent being identified as women being overlooked for development opportunities, behavioural traits (women undervaluing their own skills and abilities), differences between how women and men are sponsored and the relatively low number of female senior role models.

Is it any wonder that there is a lack of female leaders when we are losing so much of that capable talent earlier on in their career. A real commitment to building a robust corporate pipeline, underpinned with a sound culture which advocates and celebrates diversity in all its forms, is vital and combined with senior leaders who walk this talk.

Follow these steps to build a significant corporate pipeline:

  • Unconscious Bias – Decisions are often made on underlying assumptions – these need to beuncovered, tested and reframed. Develop your people to understand what unconscious bias is and how to guard against it.
  • Succession Planning – Identify and develop potential new leaders who have the current skills or the potential to develop these skills and who can replace their predecessors when the time comes. Judicious use of performance conversations, informal and formal development strategies and creating opportunities for movement will help to achieve this.
  • Equality of Pay – the gender pay gap disclosure makes for depressing reading. Ensure right from the start of employment there is parity between the sexes for doing the same job.
  • Support to re-enter the workplace – it is crucial to have formal support in place to help those employees who wish to take career breaks for whatever reason. Make sure it’s in place before the individual decides to resign…by then it will be too late.
  • Communication – Keep the lines of communication open with your people. Don’t just rely on formal performance conversations. Question & listen to your employees and keep an ear to the ground at all times. Ask women what they need and avoid making assumptions about what will help them to reach their goals.
  • Corporate movements – Instigate a change of culture from the top to encourage gender diversity. Introduce a movement which everyone relates to and endorses to help bring about significant culture change.
  • Help employees build their network – This is not just about training and development but about providing opportunities for networking both internally and externally. Provide coaching, peer to peer learning and opportunities to engage with senior stakeholders.
  • Mentoring – Enabling access to senior women for support and guidance is crucial. Develop your female role models and utilise their breadth of experience and wisdom to help grow the next generation of talent.

Ensuring gender parity throughout an organisation is everyone’s responsibility. In the UK, women represent just under half of the workforce. If we continue at the current rate of change it will take an anticipated 70 years to achieve gender-balanced boardrooms in this country. Research tells us that those organisations who have achieved increased gender parity are more successful, profitable and probably much better places to work. So, do all of us women need to starve, tie ourselves to railings or lie down in front of galloping racehorses to make our voices heard? Hopefully, we’ve moved on and by 2020 we will have achieved the target set by Lord Davies not just for the good of women but for our country’s economic prosperity as a whole.

Whilst on the subject, we would like to invite you to our next event which is taking place on Monday 11th June at 6pm in Central London. Are you OnTrack to meet the 2020 target of 33% FTSE 350 boards being female?

What better time that the ‘Year of the Woman’ is there to discuss the challenges that face many organisations in meeting the suggested target from UK Trade Minister Lord DaviesSign up now to save your space!