Every day should be International Women’s Day
Sheri Hughes, director of diversity & inclusion at Michael Page
Each year International Women’s Day brings gender equality to the forefront of minds across the world. For a moment, everyone’s mind is focussed on the realities faced by women in business. The ‘glass ceiling’, the barriers to education and training, as well as the gender pay gap resonate with people and there is a sense of optimism and change in the air.
However, 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 concerning lack of women in top jobs 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 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 on International Women’s Day about the need to represent both genders, they need to be taking action every day of the year. 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.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme was Each for Equal, putting a greater focus on driving equality than ever. If we are to take any lessons from this awareness day it should be 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, to help bring them through. 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 make sustained efforts to improve their diversity and inclusion policies, the more positive the outlook will be for future generations of women. A healthy pipeline of aspiring female talent, each driving the person ahead of them to achieve greater success, will inevitably shatter the glass ceiling and pave the way for improved opportunities for women both in business and more broadly.
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