Addressing the underrepresentation of women at senior business level

A quarter of women have changed jobs because there were no relatable role models to look up to

Despite efforts to increase female leadership targets, According to the latest findings, only about 9% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 – a total of 46 – are women. Whilst that’s disappointingly an all-time high, 2022 saw the gap between women and men in senior roles quitting their jobs become the largest it’s ever been.

A possible contributing factor is that one in four women admitted they had changed jobs because there were no relatable role models to look up to or inspire them in their previous roles. Our research also supports this on a broader scale, showing over the last decade, just 17% of Forbes magazine covers featured female entrepreneurs, averaging less than three covers a year that included women.

More and more businesses are setting targets to increase female representation at a senior level; however, unconscious discrimination continues to impact women at all levels. This unconscious bias manifests in unintentional underrepresentation, bias in pay gaps, a lower share of voice and a lack of flexibility.

We know bias is an issue, and mitigating it within our hiring practices will deliver beneficial organisational outcomes. A McKinsey report highlights how the most gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to have above-average financial returns.

So, what processes and practices should we introduce to mitigate gender bias within our recruitment processes?

#1 Standardise interview processes

Interview processes should be reviewed regularly to ensure inclusivity. Candidates should all be asked the same questions and assessed based on skillset instead of a gut feeling. Ensure there is a balance of genders when shortlisting candidates for interviews or creating panel interviews too.

#2 Analyse internal data

Analyse your recruitment records to collect information like the gender balance among all applicants compared to successful applicants. Look at the gender balance in your shortlists and examine performance reviews by gender and role to see if there is gender bias occurring at that level.

Collecting this data will help reveal your company’s true diversity landscape and decipher where you need to concentrate your efforts.

#3 Watch your language

Employers will want to avoid accidental similarity bias, where hiring managers subconsciously gravitate towards those who present similarly to themselves. To prevent this, ensure the language chosen within job descriptions isn’t coded to put off specific demographics from the outset.

#4 Diversify your hiring committees

For larger organisations, an internal hiring board or committee can help alleviate some of the biases one or two people may hold when choosing interview candidates or to whom to send a job offer. This can include a variety of genders, educational levels socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

#5 Assess your pay schemes

Evaluate your company’s current pay structure to ensure you know of any possible discrepancies. By calculating compensation trends, you can gain knowledge of any patterns, inconsistent policies or obvious biases that may be happening.

By recognising these trends, you can make compensation systems more progressive and reflective of equal pay for equal work.

By Katie Howard, Director at New Street Consulting Group.

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