We are seeing a refreshing emphasis on people talking about increasing the number of female leaders, rather than just focussing on the number of women in the boardroom. The latest independent government review, launched this year to follow on from Lord Davies’s report, has confirmed that the focus will be on building the pipeline for female executives. And, in her first key note speech on diversity, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn emphasised the importance of looking beyond boards to executive roles. She urged chief executives to do even more to help capable women progress from entry level to senior management positions.
It makes sense that this is the logical next step. While it is fantastic that there are more female non-executive directors in the boardroom, the very nature of their roles makes it harder for them to be role models, as they are less visible within the organisation. The 2016 Retaining and Advancing Women in Business report by Every Woman studied how exposing women to female role models can drastically improve their chances of success. It showed that role models were a major source of inspiration for 74% of women. Yet in the UK, just 21% of senior roles are held by women and 36% of businesses have no senior women.
The compelling business case for gender equality has been well promoted. Diversity is widely understood to be fundamental to the sustained growth of any business. So how can businesses of all shapes and sizes take steps to build a pipeline of more women progressing into leadership roles?
At Pure we run a Women’s Leadership Programme designed to help businesses create a balanced talent pipeline and to ultimately achieve inclusive leadership at both executive and board level. It doesn’t just develop aspiring female leaders, is also equips women with the ability to go back out to their workplace and to work with their employers to remove any potential barriers or unconscious bias. Here’s some of the key topics of discussion covered by the programme.
Be willing to dig out problems and find positive solutions
The companies who are most successful at building an inclusive talent pipeline are fully engaged with the idea of tackling any potential problems in the first place. They are open to asking questions and try to steer clear of making assumptions. If organisations don’t know why women fail to climb the ladder they can’t dig out any problems and find positive solutions.
Investigate all stages of the talent pipeline
Start from the beginning when exploring the talent pipeline. Are women joining the organisation at entry level positions? Do any changes need to be made to the recruitment process for these roles? Are women in the organisation accessing any programmes provided which would help them progress to senior management positions? Or are more women leaving before they reach senior level roles? Take time to find out the reasons behind any trends discovered, as they could be surprising. For example, a recent study by Ambition UK showed that while it was commonly assumed that women left the workplace due to family reasons, for most women (62%) career progression was their main reason for leaving their current company, followed by salary (49%), company culture (36%), and work-life balance (35%).
Encourage and support female talent
Look for ways to proactively encourage and support female talent. We encourage organisations to focus on supporting a diverse range of high calibre employees to progress their career, to actively look for opportunities to build diverse project teams and to create a culture where everyone’s contribution is recognised and celebrated. All great teams are built around an inclusive culture which enables organisations to display a range of different approaches, experiences and outlooks. Even if a female member of staff doesn’t immediately have all the right skills, if you spot the right potential, attitude and enthusiasm, then back them to do the job.
Find sponsor and mentoring opportunities
Providing a mentoring scheme for female employees will help to build their confidence, encourage them to step up to the next level, speak up about their ideas and to stand up against any issues of unfairness. The Women in Business, Turning Promise into Practice report by Grant Thornton revealed that for the clear majority of the women interviewed, the most significant thing in helping them succeed in leadership was having a mentor or sponsor.
Talk openly about career progression opportunities
Look to create a culture where people talk openly about career progression opportunities within the organisation. Celebrate the success stories of both male and female rising stars and make them more visible within the organisation. This could be through the staff intranet, internal awards programmes or at company meetings. The Every Woman’s Advancing Women in Business report revealed that only 1 in 4 (25%) of female middle managers realistically expected to be in a more senior role in their current company within the next two years. If there are career progression opportunities available in your organisation, try to banish any misconceptions by shouting about them more.