When it comes to CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, there are currently more men called Dave in these leadership roles than there are women overall. This reveals one of the greatest issues in business leadership today – somewhere, women are falling out of the pipeline and not being represented in those board level seats.
So what can be done to fix this? There are cases for all kinds of techniques, from being aware of unconscious bias to the case for role models, or even positive discrimination. However, one of the most powerful techniques for retaining women in the workforce is mentoring.
Senior women in leadership roles
In my view, senior women have a huge responsibility for mentoring and supporting the younger women entering the workforce. This is particularly important as many women will go through significant life changes during their career, like having children, and during these changes, they can really benefit from same-gender mentors. These mentors can not only aid in their professional development but build confidence and help proactively address challenges that inevitably occur when they embark on their career. I have three children myself and found great support and advice from senior leaders when I first had to find the balance of juggling family life and my career.
‘Having it all’ when it comes to your personal and professional life is no easy feat. In my experience, you certainly can have it all, but not all at once. Having a mentor can help navigate the complexities of when to prioritise your career, or your personal life – and what steps you need to take in the interim to ensure you succeed in both.
Women supporting women
A piece of advice someone once told me rings as true now as ever: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Nowhere is this more accurate than in women supporting women to progress in their careers. There is huge value in having female support and networking groups made up of women at all different levels. It is essential that you build supportive and strong relationships with colleagues and mentors so that they can give you valuable advice and a supportive nudge when things are tough.
Having a mentor can also help to offset the challenges of judgement from other people. By supporting young women as they create a work life/ home life balance that they are comfortable with, mentors can help to normalise this. By doing so, organisations will begin to take notice and enforce more supportive policies, while mentors aid women in succeeding despite criticisms of the choices they have made. And again, it’s just about creating a balance that suits each woman personally, and companies should strive to support them with this. Technology is still very male centred, but in order to change this, women must always guide and help each other to reach their full potential.
Very few initiatives or policy changes can have the impact that mentoring can. By normalising and supporting women helping women, we can create strong inter-company bonds. Having this as the bedrock from which we support female participation and progression in the tech industry will be invaluable in both the long and short-term – as mentees benefit from their mentors’ experiences, and continue to progress and grow towards management level. For women looking to ‘pay it forward’, nothing is as rewarding as helping shape and encourage a young person’s career – and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested!