Think Women: encouraging a workforce where women thrive

Discover what you can do to support women in international roles. Join us at our Think Women Lunch on 6 March to discuss how inclusion, leadership development and education can promote more opportunities globally for women and girls.

Does International Women’s Day still matter? With women making progress in corporate and public life, why do we need to mark the occasion?

The answer is that while there have been improvements in some areas, progress is not universal. Not all women have access to quality education and opportunities for training and promotion. Women’s career progression, mentoring opportunities and pay still lag behind those of men.

Gender equality: time for change

Even at the highest levels of companies, men still occupy many of the most important roles, thus setting the tone for the culture of the organisation. For example, the government has set targets for 33% of board members to be female by the end of 2020. Data released in November by the Hampton-Alexander Review for its 2019 report shows the FTSE 100 is unlikely to meet its target by the end of next year.

“Four years on, too few women are being appointed into senior leadership roles in the FTSE 100, with around two-thirds of all available roles still going to men,” the report says.

“Unless the appointment rate of women is nearer 50% in the coming year – that is half of all available roles going to women and half going to men – the FTSE 100 will not achieve the target by the end of2020.”It’s a similar picture for smaller UK companies – those in the FTSE 250 and 350. Yet research consistently shows that having a diverse workforce where women are fully represented is likely to lead to greater profitability. “In 2019, our dataset continues to show a significant link between diversity and financial performance, with companies in the top quartile for executive team diversity 15-24% more likely to outperform,” says Vivian Hunt DBE managing partner, UK and Ireland at McKinsey & Company.

Work: what can be done to empower women?

So, what are the ingredients for a business where all employees – women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ – can be empowered and promoted? Suki Sandhu is founder and CEO of Audeliss, a global boutique executive search firm specialising in diverse appointments. He received an OBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list for Services to Diversity in Business and is a Stonewall Ambassador. He set up INvolve, a global membership organisation and consultancy championing diversity and inclusion in businesses.

Mr Sandhu believes that diversity and inclusion strategies are still failing to be fully representative of the communities they are meant to support. For example, while talent pipelining increasingly focuses on gender, it’s often the case that ethnic minority women are largely left behind.

Double glass ceiling

Research from McKinsey’s 2019 study, Women in the Workplace, shed a light on this ‘double glass ceiling’ in stark detail. While women only occupied 22% of C-suite positions as of 2019, just 4% of those women were ethnic minorities, remaining largely unchanged, while the number of white women in leadership positions continues to grow over the past few years.

“At Audeliss, we have a saying that we like to refer to by Verna Myers (inclusion strategist),” Mr Sandhu explains. “Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. It’s simple and effective, yet so true. I don’t believe you can ever truly have diversity without adopting an inclusive environment, and this comes from the genuine care of your team.”

The role of managers is to adopt inclusive and purposeful leadership, says Mr Sandhu. “This comes from knowing your team and adapting your principles to ensure that their work and lifestyle are fully supported,” he adds. “Offering a flexible style of working to your workforce helps to support the wellbeing and work-life balance that is required for the demands of modern life.“

Audeliss recognises that people are at the beating heart of the business and inclusive leadership means supporting everyone to continue their growth – both personal and professional.”

Gender pay gap and company values

Some industries are worse than others. The financial services industry has one of the biggest bonus gaps, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters. For every £1 of bonus money paid to men working in finance, their female colleagues will take home 65p. There are still more men called Steve on the boards of FTSE 100 companies than there are women, according to research by INvolve.

“Company values cannot be standalone,” says Teresa Boughey, founder and CEO of Jungle PR and author of Closing the Gap – 5 Steps to Creating an Inclusive Culture. “They cannot just be written down; they must live and breathe within an organisation. They form part of the company’s identity and will set out principles, beliefs and philosophies – they help others to know who you are and what you stand for.

Relocate’s Think Women lunch will be held on 6 March at the Institute of Directors, London as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Day. Hear from, and network with, inspiring women and men. Support women and girls to progress in international careers.

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