This article was written by Jo-Ann Feely, Alexander Mann Solutions’ Head of Consulting.
With just three female executives in the FTSE100, and the percentage of women joining boards standing at 17.3 percent, the challenge of how to increase gender diversity in the workplace has never been more pressing. But how should HR directors go about it? What are the main issues holding women back, and importantly, how do companies stand to benefit as a result of employing more women?
Barriers to career progression
Currently, just 40 percent of HR leaders consider improved business performance to be a benefit of increasing the number of women in senior roles. This is a real barrier to the career progression of the many thousands of talented female middle managers in the UK, leaving some dissatisfied with their jobs, concerned about career progression, or even tempted to resign. Also, as most senior management positions are filled by internal candidates, the internal talent pipeline is clearly not delivering true gender diversity.
Business case for boosting the female talent pipeline
Ensuring that female professionals’ capabilities are harnessed more effectively could significantly enhance company productivity, providing a real boost to the economy. With more than two million women in the UK working in managerial positions, we estimate that the potential benefit to the country from unblocking the female talent pipeline could be £5 billion.
Employing more women helps to catalyse innovation, increases the representation of consumers in employee teams, ensures compliance with legal and moral obligations, and builds more effective team participation. The net result is that companies achieve higher levels of employee engagement, with operational performance improving by nearly 20 percent.
So what can businesses do to ensure that more female middle managers achieve their full potential?
Karen Gill, founder of everywoman, believes that: “There are a number of practical steps business and organisations can take to boost the female talent pipeline from extending flexible working to improving mentoring schemes. However organisations and women themselves, need to ensure they are taking the time to focus on their development, pinpointing areas for improvement and taking their careers and businesses to the next level."
Increasing gender diversity at senior management level and beyond
Recognising that gender diversity has a positive impact on company performance is vital to unlocking the full potential of female staff and multiplying the number of diversity initiatives in place.
Listening to the ambitions of female middle managers will then help to close the gap between their career aspirations and HR leaders’ perceptions. We recommend that HR professionals focus on the training and development needed for female middle managers to succeed, as it’s often the case that they don’t prioritise their own development, believing ability and drive alone will lead to promotion.
Extending flexible working options would also be a great help to women in reaching more senior roles. While 74 percent of female middle managers are satisfied with the level of flexibility in their current jobs, they agree that lifestyle choices are a major obstacle to career progression. In some cases, women with children who can’t achieve the work-life balance they desire may leave the pipeline altogether.
Finally, senior female ‘role models’ could potentially be doing more to help other female colleagues progress. More should be done by companies to ensure that role models are relevant and accessible.
We anticipate that improving women’s progression from middle to senior management will have a ‘multiplier effect’ by generating a healthy pipeline of female talent for executive and board-level appointments. For now, the responsibility rests with employers to engage with their female middle managers.
About Jamie Lawrence
Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.