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How HR can support women to reach board level

8th Jun 2020
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Creating gender equality throughout business has been a hot topic amongst HR leaders for some time now. While we have made some progress with increasing female representation, and have certainly encouraged many debates and discussions, there is clearly a lot more work to do until true parity is reached.

Earlier this year it was revealed that one in five of UK's top FTSE 350 firms were warned over gender diversity. Unfortunately, many of these leading businesses are nowhere near the Hampton-Alexander Review’s target of having a third of board-level and leadership positions to be filled by women.

According to data from Women in Recruitment, an APSCo initiative supported by other stakeholders in the recruitment sector, which aims to provide talent acquisition firms practical support in attracting, developing and retaining their female talent, recruitments firms are performing no better. Almost a third (30%) of talent acquisition companies have less than 5% female leaders at board level and another third (32%) only have between 21-50%.

Women in Recruitment’s Benchmarking report

This data was taken from Women in Recruitment’s new benchmarking report, which was put together with insight from respondents representing businesses of various sizes, though the majority have up to 50 staff. The report aims to aid firms working to improve gender equality within their organisations by measuring progress, as benchmarking success against contemporaries is arguably one of the most powerful catalysts for driving change. 

The report also revealed that representation at board level is in single digits for many firms despite over two thirds of recruitment companies (70%) having more than 50% female representation at support staff level and two-fifths having more than 50% at recruitment/ resourcer level.

Additionally, over two fifths of recruitment firms have an overall attrition rate of between 21% and 100%. When focussing on female attrition, a third of those (33%) are women within sales functions, while only 16% are females within support functions.

Shockingly, only just over a quarter (26%) of respondents said that they had specific programmes aimed at retaining women in the workplace, which included being part of initiatives such as Women in Recruitment; family friendly policies, working around school hours and female role models & mentors. While Over 80% of recruitment firms offer some form of flexible working ranging from remote working from home arrangements, part time & flexible hours and job shares, less than a quarter offer any form of enhanced maternity benefits.

How HR leaders can help support more women reach board level

To ensure that women are reaching their full potential and both genders are being treated equally in the workplace, HR leaders could not only discuss the inequality that exists in so many firms, but also look at introducing the right processes to support women.

Having flexible work practices available is crucial, however mentoring is also an extremely powerful tool which is often overlooked. Mentoring is a proven approach to driving learning and development both in mentors and mentees. In fact, recent research from the UK Government’s Equalities Office highlights how a ‘champion or mentor’ can counteract some of the disadvantages that women habitually face in the workplace.

Having access to experienced mentors can equip female employees with the skills, guidance, motivation and emotional support needed to help them climb the ladder with confidence. However, other key aspects such as enhanced maternity benefits are also certainly helpful in attracting and retaining skilled female talent.

Why increasing female representation at the top is so important

Increasing female representation at board level, and throughout the company, is not only the ‘right’ thing to do, it also makes complete business sense. This creates teams which have greater diversity in thought, which can allow targets to be reached with creativity and more efficiency. A blend of female and male talent often results in better decision-making and plays an essential role in a company's long-term success.

Various research studies suggest that businesses that respect and value diversity, brought by both women and men, are better able to attract and retain high performing employees and improve operational performance. Therefore, it is in a company’s best interest to encourage their female employees to actively take on positions of leadership, while ensuring that their recruitment practices are fair and equal.

Our responsibility

We should all accept responsibility for keeping the companies and the businesses we partner with accountable for the prejudices that may exist within firms. While having a lack of women at board level may not be intentional, without actively working to remove the barriers that stop a number of women reaching the top, businesses cannot progress to where they need to be.

While it’s encouraging to see that we are moving in the right direction, and companies are being criticised for not doing enough to increase representation, there is still so much further to go. We must all ensure that we are taking action to truly become diverse and inclusive.


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