The gender debate looks as if it will again be a topic for consideration in the forthcoming election. The Lord Davies’ deadline for achieving 25% female representation in the UK’s FTSE 100 Boardrooms is due in just over 10 months, and research of 2,000 women by telecoms company O2 has highlighted that approaching 45% believe that women don’t hold senior enough positions in their company, and 48% of those surveyed by O2 believe the organisational decision makers are men.
Are companies doing enough? Are women doing enough? Are men doing enough?
This is not about introducing more policies or procedures, or about the introduction of training programmes. This is about a ‘change agenda’. Change takes time, however setting the right environment, promoting and supporting the debate in the business environment, shows that there is an appetite to change.
The report ‘Breaking the Boardroom: A guide for British businesses on how to support female leaders for the future’, produced in conjunction with the CIPD, explains the benefits of considering 3 questions when laying the groundwork; (i) looking at the gaps; (ii) considering what success may look like; (iii) who the target audience should be. This will be different for every company and should be adjusted relative to the business strategy and direction. The guide highlights the importance of line management, and focuses on common areas of development in
• Nurturing self confidence
• Working the room (networking)
• Embracing individuality
From the research they recommend 5 areas of program delivery:
1. Assign mentors
2. Set clear goals – and a plan to reach them
3. Hold regular peer-to-peer sessions
4. Work with credible external trainers
5. Make sure participants give back
Is this issue about senior women development though? We need to be mindful that some may see the opportunity to just ‘tick the box’ if implementing a program. How do we address the need for such initiatives to be part of the wider cultural adjustment, which includes everyone at every levels?
How about running programs for senior men to help them to understand how women operate differently, and how other companies have benefitted. If ‘all male’ boards or senior leadership teams have not seen or experienced the benefits of a more diverse mix, (or perhaps have had a bad experience) particularly in gender terms, they have nothing to use as a gauge or benchmark. It’s a fact of life that if you have a good experience you will be keen to repeat (versus any bad experience, which we would chose to avoid again). Instead of statistics about women breaking through glass ceilings, how about figures relating to the number of men requesting part-time roles, or choosing house-husband career choices year on year…
Increasingly we are seeing the gender changes in previously stereotypical jobs. Shipping as an industry is seeing an increase in young women in the maritime academies. More of these women are considering a career at sea and there has been an increase in females in leadership positions both at sea and shore. However if you increase females at the bottom of the career ladder it will take time – years in fact – for this to be evidenced up the lines of the hierarchy before it leads to roles in the boardroom.
Often when we ask women to be the role models, and an inspiration to others coming up through the ranks, some will highlight and share the challenge; others will not see themselves as different. Certainly networks such as WISTA have played a great role in support. It would be interesting to hear from male role models who have embraced women and gender diversity, which may include initiatives throughout their organisations, and who can share the comparative experiences positive and negative for both genders at across all levels.
We know that some roles will predominantly suit men from a physical level, and we know that women will continue to be sole providers of future generations (for the foreseeable future!) -however we can celebrate the changes to date, whether this is in education, government policies or business strategies.
Let’s all start thinking outside the box in support of this journey, and enjoy a great gender mix at all levels.
This article was written by Karen Waltham, Managing Director, HR Consulting from Spinnaker Global, pictured right.