IWD – Forging Gender Equality in Leadership
In its 111th year, the annual International Women’s Day is as significant as ever – an important day of celebration of women’s achievements, and for advocating continued advancement of women particularly in the professional world. With this years theme being Each for Equal, two of our own inspiring female leaders look at forging gender equality in leadership.
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we asked our own inspiring female leaders about their professional experiences and why they believe an equal world is an enabled world.
“I thought you were Leslie not Lesley”
In 1990, Lesley Reynolds encountered a ‘gender’ moment in her career.
“The boutique recruitment firm I was working for was taken over by a more established firm. When I met my new boss he was surprised – how could the top fee earner in his newly acquired business be Lesley, not Leslie?
I was lucky in that my own experience of the hospitality industry was largely positive. I was a Hotel Manager at 26, but although the hospitality industry is largely meritocratic and huge opportunities exist, there is an issue of fewer women on boards and in the c-suite. In my experience, the reason for this is the unsociable hours and the difficulty in achieving a healthy work and family life balance.
I wasn’t yet 30 when I worked in London as GM of the prestigious Gleneagles Club/Champneys Club. I was there at 6.30am when doors opened and often until midnight, missing many social and family events. My plan to attend a family christening on a Saturday was scuppered by my boss. There have been close scrapes – 2 sick children, a sick nanny, and your first day as MD! You know who your neighbours are when you can deposit two youngsters with a temperature on their doorstep at 7am”.
The hospitality sector has many fabulous female role models – Dagmar Woodward, Jennifer Fox, Amanda Hyndman, the late Robyn Jones and many more. The fact is, like any industry, hospitality needs diversity – a better, stronger culture is created by a diverse workforce. The gender debate has become far more prevalent across society, with companies recognising that a diverse skill set is a valuable asset and research suggesting that diversity improves the financial bottom line. Research such as this should undoubtedly incentivise organisations to actively promote diversity as a strategic priority.
Female representation on boards and in leadership positions allows businesses to harness and utilise an expanded talent pool while building group trust. Organisations that don’t seek to increase diversity in management teams by engaging women for these leadership roles are overlooking a large opportunity.
Simply put, gender equality is good for business. The quality of the leadership team that makes the decisions is largely responsible for the success of a company. Female representation on boards and in leadership positions allows businesses to harness and utilise an expanded talent pool while building group trust. In turn, a balanced leadership team and workplace often attracts more diverse talent, helping to forge an inclusive workplace where women can thrive.
‘Male dominated’ industries
It’s still common to see fewer women in C – level positions in industries that have traditionally been male dominated, such as oil & gas, engineering and construction. Shirley Hursthouse, Director of psd’s Property & Construction executive recruitment practice, has been recruiting for 20 years into the house building sector.
“Over the last 20 years I have seen huge changes in gender balance in this sector. The construction industry was predominantly a very male orientated industry – when I began my career a female Site Manager was unheard of. Clients now have diversity and inclusiveness at the forefront of their agenda. Many clients are requesting for more women on shortlists, which is fantastic but it’s not always possible – unfortunately in some disciplines women are still underrepresented, such as in technical & construction functions. However in sales, commercial and land functions there does now seem to be a balance of men and women.”
Mentoring and role models to encourage diversity
Often a contributing factor to career progression for women is the support of a mentor, whether formal or informal. Mentoring can have a significant impact on helping women feel more connected and engaged in their workplace. The head of psd’s Professional Services executive recruitment practice ran her own consulting firm alongside obtaining her degree. When she came to London and began her career in a well-respected recruitment firm, she found the lack of female leaders alarming.
“I was struck by the limited presence of senior female role models. When the business was sold and I left shortly after, it dawned on me my environment had severely lacked diversity of thought leadership based on an entirely male leadership team – I was the only woman. This realisation was in part how I came to join psd. Having a role model in our female Executive Chair gave me someone to identify with. Diversity is often at the top of agendas, and yet I believe by the time we hit executive grades the horse has bolted.”
I was struck by the limited presence of senior female role models. When the business was sold and I left shortly after, it dawned on me my environment had severely lacked diversity of thought leadership based on an entirely male leadership team – I was the only woman.
This is not due to a lack of ambition. Hays 2016 Gender Diversity Report finds that almost as many women (64%) as men (65%) are aiming for leadership positions. Unconscious bias has a large role to pay in why more women don’t make it to the top level. Women are more likely to encounter resistance and isolation as they move up the ranks. Society and education has played a large role in our unbalanced workforce. Reshma Saujani, an American lawyer, politician, author and founder of Girls Who Code, famously stated ‘We are raising our boys to be brave, but our girls to be perfect.’ To increase diversity, we need to be empowering and investing more in our young people.
Often a contributing factor to women not reaching the top line is motherhood. The role of women in the workplace has developed but there is still a way to go. There is much that can be done to support women in getting back into the workforce after maternity leave, such as on site childcare and remote working possibilities, but also understanding the challenges and discrimination that can come with being a working mum.
Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed that 77% of working mothers have experienced discrimination in the workplace. The research also shows that up to 54,000 women a year in the UK are pushed into junior roles with less chance of promotion. To address these issues, companies need to better understand what challenges women face when returning from maternity leave, so that they can be supported when transitioning back into their career.
Female representation on the board and in leadership roles has progressed, and companies are recognising that a diverse skill set is a valuable asset, while research suggests that diversity improves the financial bottom line.
Gender diversity is an important factor for millennial job seekers, so getting the balance right is crucial when it comes to attracting the best talent on the market.
By embedding diversity and inclusion into company values, providing mentors and advocating for change, we can welcome the next generation of leaders into workplaces where women and men are represented equally in positions of power and in decision making.
The next few years will see high numbers of baby boomers leave the workplace, leaving gaps in leadership from executive to manager level. Organisations that don’t seek to increase diversity in management teams by engaging women for these leadership roles now are overlooking a large opportunity. This could lead to challenges in management recruitment and retaining talent, while risking employee disengagement.
As a leading executive recruitment consultancy, fairness and meritocracy have to lie at the heart of what we do. With the shortage of skills at every level being the post Brexit theme, every sector needs to embrace Lesley as well as Leslie.