Give Women More Help to Climb the Career Ladder

“The simple truth is that UK businesses are still not doing enough to address the issue of gender equality in boardrooms and senior positions. The 2018 FTSE Board Report published by Cranfield University contains some good news, and a few disappointments.

Since October 2017 the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 27.7% to 29%. Progress is being made, but is it fast enough and is it reaching every company? The percentage of female executive directorships (as opposed to non-execs) on FTSE 100 boards is just below 10%. This suggests that women are still finding it hard to rise through the ranks to senior positions.
FTSE 250 boards present a gloomier picture. The percentage of women on these boards
is 23.7%. The number of women in executive directorships has dropped from 38 to 30 since 2017, with a current figure of 6.4%.

Why Change is Imperative

Addressing the issue isn’t just about fairness (although that’s a good enough reason in itself), there’s plenty of evidence that companies with more diverse boards tend to outperform those with male only or male dominated boards. More companies with more diverse boards will be good for the economy and society generally.

To bring about rapid change, increasing diversity in senior roles must be priority that is owned by business leaders, in the same way as profitability, growth, shareholder value and risk management.

There are glass ceilings in almost every business and it shouldn’t be up to female employees to smash them. Business leaders in all companies need to systematically make sure they understand what those ceilings are, and ensure they are removed.

Attitudes to Career Growth

The Cranfield research suggests that men and women have different approaches to career growth. Men tend to be more strategic and deliberate in pursuing senior roles, while women are more focused on the content and meaning of their work.
You can maybe decode this as meaning that men tend to be pushier and more vocal in their pursuit of senior positions. So if you don’t have a culture that actively seeks out all talented people and gives them the encouragement, validation and support to grow into senior roles you WILL be missing out on a lot of talent.

This different emphasis to career growth between men and women may also explain why more gender balanced boards look at business issues differently from all male ones. And why they frequently make better decisions that help these businesses grow faster.The research also shows that men are often promoted on ‘potential’, whereas women need to prove their capability. This judgment can prove particularly inhibiting on promotion to executive roles as the demands are qualitatively different, whereas preceding promotions are often to roles which are inherently the same but with increased responsibility.

Mentoring and coaching were seen in the report as vital. Growth-oriented organisational cultures and formal talent processes are effective ways to nurture leaders of tomorrow and provide developmental opportunities for women. It is not only hard work, talent and drive to assert themselves as leaders that has seen women achieve board positions, but also because those in influential positions highlighted their leadership potential.

Moving Forward

There has been a lot of action around gender diversity; in April we saw the requirement for Gender Pay Gap reporting come into play and many businesses are rolling out new policies and initiatives, however there is still a distinct lack of progress.
The ways forward are to put diversity at the top of the boardroom agenda and to have in place talent management, mentoring and coaching programmes that ensure all people with the potential to perform at board or senior management level are given every opportunity and help to do so.

2018 marks 100 years since women won the right to vote; hopefully it will also be the start of a real step change in gender diversity.”

Safia Whitwham  is an Assistant Site Manager