On this International Women’s Day, we have an opportunity to consider how we can #BreakTheBias and do our bit to create a world that is free from stereotypes and discrimination, where difference is valued and celebrated, and real steps for action are taken to promote gender equality.
Creating an inclusive work culture, I believe, is the absolute minimum that we as business leaders and employers can do to not only support women’s careers, but also embed a culture of equality and diversity across the entire organisation.
However, for this to be a reality, it needs to be led from the top. To really make a difference to the workplace culture, businesses, as a rule, need to have a more diverse C-suite leadership across the world’s leading companies. If this becomes the norm, others will follow suit and this will have an impact at junior level - more women and girls will be attracted to roles and industries that have traditionally been more male dominated.
So, how are UK businesses performing when it comes to bias?
We are certainly making progress – and we can be hopeful. The recent FTSE Women Leaders Review found that 414 women held company board roles at FTSE 100 firms last year, up from 374 in 2020. The review’s chief executive, Denise Wilson, has also set out new recommendations to increase women’s representation in the FTSE 350 board and leadership roles to 40% by the end of 2025.
On the other side of the coin however, the research revealed a lack of women in executive director roles, with women tending to hold positions in areas like human resources rather than those positions of strategic importance, like the chair, chief executive and chief financial officer roles.
To tackle this head on, corporates and public bodies alike need to take action. It’s all about supporting and joining organisations like 25x25 – the initiative to increase the number of women CEOs in UK business – that will help to resolve the imbalance in women at senior executive levels.
What more needs to be done to tackle inequality in business?
One of the most pressing issues around gender bias in today’s business landscape – I believe - is funding. A study from UK Domain recently found that businesses led by women on average receive 96% less funding than their male peers. One of the strongest examples to date of gender bias – whether conscious or unconscious – funding is crucial to business success and gender needs to play a greater role in decisions being made when looking at business investment.
Choosing to support women at the helm of a business will by no means hamper its success - indeed, research has long shown that those companies that have a more diverse outlook will perform better. McKinsey recently found that companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30. The same research into ethnic and cultural diversity in companies equally found that that those with higher diversity were more likely to outperform against their peers.
Clearly, the business case for why diversity – across every level – matters in the workplace.
What can business leaders do to make gender, ethnic and cultural diversity a reality?
For me, it’s all about creating a positive workplace culture. All employees need to feel comfortable and empowered in their everyday working routines.
We often talk about women needing to have better equilibrium with their work and domestic lives – with women often the ones most likely to shoulder the burdens of childcare and chores at home. With a workplace culture that accepts home/office hybrid working, women can be empowered to work hours that are more suited to the demands of their daily lifestyles.
We can still go further though. Moving this discussion on, we need to be talking more loudly about why hybrid working is just as important for male parents too, enabling men and women alike to share domestic tasks on an equal basis. This was a clear takeaway for me when I spoke with my colleagues during lockdown – my male colleagues were able to be more present at home and juggle their working and home lives better in tandem with their partners. If a workplace can flex to accept this culture as an everyday norm, this takes the pressure off women feeling like they have to be the ones to compromise their careers for the sake of their families.
In today’s business landscape, where reporting against ESG metrics is critical to business success, there is no longer any excuse for why diversity in the workplace shouldn’t be considered. I hope that in a year’s time, businesses will have made progress against their own diversity targets in the workplace; and perhaps soon it really won’t be too ambitious to start thinking about a 50:50 gender split at board level.