The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy has published its mid-way findings as it crosses the halfway point to its aim of achieving one-third women in senior posts at FTSE 350 companies.
The commitment to gender equality in the workplace is at an all-time high with organisations recognising that it is a business imperative. This is reflected in the FTSE 100 where 29% of board positions are now held by women (up from 12.5% in 2011). Yet progress remains slow in the FTSE 350, which may struggle to meet the government’s target unless 40% of appointments over the next two years go to women. Maxine Benson MBE, co-founder of everywoman and an expert in the advancement of women in business, cites three key barriers to change.
We can’t solve problems we don’t fully understand
Many men don’t grasp the barriers holding women back, they believe the workplace to be equitable. As a result, they are less committed to gender diversity. We need men to be as committed to gender diversity if change is to happen.
Cultural change starts from the top, but must be driven at every level
There is strong gender diversity commitment at CEO level, but that needs to be matched at every level of the business for change to happen. Organisations must ensure they have the right initiatives and training in place to ensure that the importance of gender diversity is clearly communicated and fully understood.
Women are at a disadvantage from the outset
Women fall behind early and continue to lose ground at every stage of their careers. Women are hired and promoted at lower rates than men and at every subsequent step their representation declines, creating a distinct lack of role models for women aspiring to progress in their company. The importance of role models in inspiring future leaders cannot be underestimated.
Benson comments, “Organisations are discovering that the construct of their making does not work for 21st-century business. For too long they have clung to an outdated and hierarchical structure which, combined with unconscious bias, has stifled gender diversity. The vocal commitment to gender diversity is progress, but unless it is matched by positive action – making the case for diversity; ensuring fairer HR procedures; employee training; and accountability – we will not achieve the changes that the government has pledged. Whilst we hope the Hampton-Alexander Report succeeds in its bold objectives, this is a big issue that requires long-term commitment. Better that it is achieved through comprehensive understanding of the issues and positive action with measurable results than not at all”.