With new research by the Chartered Management Institute indicating that male managers are blocking the efforts of companies trying to improve gender balance, alongside the sexist comments that have been levelled at Aviva CEO Amanda Blanc, we clearly have much to do to continue to strive for gender equity across the corporate UK.
While the UK has certainly made significant progress in women’s representation in the workplace, with nearly 40% of UK FTSE 100 board positions now held by women, there is certainly room for improvement. It’s always a good idea for organisations to continue to work with their managers, ensuring that gender equity and inclusion continue to be given the focus they require. So, what should HR professionals and business leaders do to move the dial?
Surveying female employees
If HR teams are to truly understand the challenges that exist that prevent or deter females from progressing in their careers, then the best action to take is to ask them directly. Gathering employee feedback is the first step toward making more informed decisions that impact the organisation’s people. Conducting a survey will mean that women can contribute to shaping the workplace culture and will have an outlet for their thoughts and opinions. Doing so in an anonymised manner also ensures more honest feedback is given. This is a great way to understand, control and improve employee sentiments and workplace culture.
Women are often daunted by the idea of returning to the workforce after a career break, and those businesses that don’t offer any help with easing female employees back to the office may notice their staff retention rates drop in the long term. Studies have shown that fewer than one in five women felt confident returning to work after maternity leave, and more than a third (37%) felt so unsupported and isolated on their return that they considered handing in their notice. It should also be noted that those women who return may lack confidence in their professional skills or suffer from impostor syndrome.
As many HR professionals will be aware, vacancies are through the roof, with recent ONS statistics revealing that the number of jobs from March to May 2022 rose to a new record of 1,300,000. Consequently, many talent acquisition teams are battling a critical talent pool issue. This further reinforces why it is crucial to not only encourage women back into employment but also understand their unique needs and requirements to do so successfully.
One way of easing women back to work is by implementing a returners programme. These seek to support women after they have taken a career break by gradually introducing them back to the workplace and reskilling or even upskilling them. These programmes often take place over several weeks, intending to slowly get individuals back up to speed, reintroducing them to peers and connecting them with new team members so that new starters would be on-boarded. These courses also empower women to feel confident of returning to the workplace, which will likely result in more assertive and confident female leaders in the long term.
Reverse mentoring and sponsorship programmes
A good way of getting the workforce to better understand the daily challenges faced by women and take an active role in supporting female talent is Reverse Mentoring – a practice that I strongly recommend and that we use at AMS. This equips leaders with inclusive leadership skills and cultural awareness by having junior employees from underrepresented groups guide leaders rather than the other way around.
Reverse mentoring programmes connect business leaders with underrepresented talent, helping leaders better understand cultural and gender differences, as well as the unique value-added insights that can come from listening to diverse perspectives.
For this to be effective, having a plan of action is essential. A kick-off meeting where all participants gather is a great way to ensure those involved are comfortable in each other’s company. Establish a timeline for meetings, including frequency, duration, objectives and potential topics to be discussed so that all individuals know what to expect. This also creates a sense of commitment to each party’s growth.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of the process is that it provides a platform for the mentor and mentee to talk about their personal life and experiences, what it taught them and how it shaped their character and outlook on life. This personalised discussion can help your leaders better understand where women may inadvertently feel unsupported by the business.
Improving business outcomes
There are a plethora of reasons why businesses should always be doing their best to improve gender balance as well as diversification in general – not only is it the right thing to do but also there is a wealth of data to show that more diverse companies outperform those that are less diverse. In fact, companies with more than 30% of women executives were more likely to outperform those where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30. In turn, these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives or none at all.
While there is a benefit to the business, diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important factors that many candidates are looking for when job seeking. If your company is seen as diverse, you are far more likely to attract people from all backgrounds to your team, giving your firm the best chance of acquiring the most valuable individuals. Running surveys, implementing return to work programmes and committing to reverse mentoring are all good starting points and will get your business on the right path to becoming diverse, so persevere, and you will start to see results.