While recent research from Grant Thornton showed that 87% of businesses have at least one woman in a senior management role, it also found that still only 29% of leadership roles are held by women. There have been a lot of powerful conversations around women in leadership and ensuring equality in the workplace but, that being the case, why is it still an issue?
We opened up the discussion on breaking down barriers to women in leadership during an event co-hosted with our friends at EmergiTEL, and our passionate panelists shared the following strategies for encouraging and promoting inclusive opportunities.
1. Build a case for female leadership
More and more businesses are seeing the value of inclusion and female development in the workplace. Those that create a consistent approach are the ones that successfully ensure action is taken and results are seen.
To get started, companies need to have structures in place to develop gender diversity in leadership. According to research from KPMG, one of the biggest barriers to success for women in corporate roles is confidence, with only 55% of senior-level professionals stating they felt confident and 36% stating they identify with being successful.
Businesses have a responsibility to acknowledge the value women bring to the workplace and ensure they introduce practices, such as training and mentoring, that will enable women to feel confident and strive for leadership positions.
As Aneela Zaib, CEO & Co-Founder EmergitTEL, pointed out, being able to do so requires us to start by presenting that value as a business case: “There is a business case here, and when it’s presented to senior management, the focus has to be on value. The value is the personalities and the skill-sets that women in leadership or frontline positions bring to the organization.”
2. Introduce sponsorship in the workplace
A major barrier to inclusive leadership is the lack of current female leaders available for entry and mid-level employees to aspire to, as well as formal mentoring and sponsorship programs that give women a platform from which to ask questions, learn and grow. Internal sponsors are particularly important, as advocates that can connect women to promotions and prepare them for leadership positions within the company.
“There’s a big gap for people to cross to get over into leadership roles. Companies really need to focus on helping leaders to become ready.” - Nadia Padassery, Director, Human Resources, Home Trust Company
Businesses should have transparent expectations of leaders, with a framework in place to make sponsorship and mentoring available. However, women also need to create a network of sponsors and champions around them in order to focus on their own career aspirations and goals, regardless of the vision of their company.
As Lucie Jeffers, Senior Consultant at Bright + Early shared, the responsibility cannot all sit with one person or team in the business: “The onus is not just on management, it's not just on men or women, it has to be a collective effort to create an inclusive space. And when that space is there, everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
3. Encourage HR and TA collaboration
At the core of any successful bid for workplace equality is the ability to hire and retain a more diverse range of talent. In order to improve the level of female representation, HR and talent acquisition teams have to be aligned with strategies in place to find, attract, grow and develop more women.
“Our HR and talent acquisition teams have put things in place that will take people from application, to entry level position and right through to leadership roles.” Liana Gavrilkina, Head of Talent Acquisition, Clearbanc.
TA teams can also do more to promote opportunities for women in the workplace, while having measures in place to track initiatives, tie them to a business case, and demonstrate the value for the employer brand.
4. Create a sense of belonging
Feeling that you belong in your business and role is an important step towards building confidence and moving into a leadership position.
“If you create an environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging, you have the opportunity to really thrive” - Lucie Jeffers, Senior Consultant, Bright + Early
Demonstrating a sense of belonging and inclusivity in your workplace can start as early as the job descriptions you use to attract new candidates, offering benefits and using language that is attractive to both genders while celebrating differences.
“The wording in the job description is important and using a balance of words that are attractive to both genders makes a difference - for example, combining words such as ‘build’ and ‘determine’ with ‘collaborate’ and ‘cooperate’.” - Aneela Zaib, CEO & Co-Founder, EmergitTEL
5. Know your data
While we often see the ability to assess a team and feel that it “looks” diverse as a sign of success, as Yiorgos Boudouris, Talent Attraction Manager at Jobber, pointed out it’s not as simple as that.
“Knowing your data is so important, we need to know how inclusion is represented, identify different categories of inclusion, and understand how we are moving people forward.”
Having a data-driven model focused on creating an inclusive environment for all, rather than just trying to balance the variety of people represented, ensures that we build a truly diverse and valuable environment. This, in turn, means we avoid unconscious bias towards certain candidates for leadership roles and allows women to reach their goals on merit, rather than their gender.
Occasions such as International Women’s Day shine an important spotlight on the power and value of women in the workplace and broader community. But with such a disparity still apparent in the representation of genders in the workplace, there is clearly still work to be done to ensure that this narrative is continued throughout the year.
Creating opportunities to discuss the issues that present barriers for women is an important step to overcome them, and we were delighted to partner with EmergiTEL to facilitate this one. Thanks again to our fantastic panelists and engaged attendees for making this such an informative and inspiring event.