On March 8th, International Womens Day 2019 is asking everyone around the globe to promote the campaign #BalanceForBetter. This is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Every year thousands of people attend global gatherings within their communities to campaign for a more gender-inclusive world.
#BalanceForBetter For International Women’s Day
To highlight the importance of this message, we recently chatted to over 30 female professionals across all industry sectors to ask them – why it’s important to promote gender balance in business and their advice on how it can be achieved.
Read on for fantastic insights and advice…
A gender-balance in business is important, but I think the challenge here is to empower women to strive for what they want without worrying about being seen as too bossy or other negative stereotypes that are still associated with powerful women. We need to encourage girls from a young age to be independent and to choose the careers they strive for, even if they might be confronted with outdated stereotypes.
That counts especially for professions and areas that are still rather untypical for women, like engineering or other technical jobs. However, I do think that a lot of organisations need to invest more into family support in order to truly achieve a gender balance and help women succeed in business and family life.
Julia Munder, Marketing Manager for the British luxury brand Maxwell-Scott
My vision is to inspire a generation to ignite and sustain the talents of both themselves and those around them, so they can make a positive contribution to the world. We can’t do that when we are distracted with the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of our gender (whether male or female). So let’s embrace what and who we are right now. Let’s show up fully and get on with making the difference, which our planet is crying out for.
Kate Turner, Director at Motivational Leadership
As we see in another International Women’s Day, I want to take a moment to consider how we can shape the future. My dream is a world where men and women can share childcare responsibilities equally and both can excel at their careers without the guilt of missing out on family life. My vision is that the next generation of children will be able to access spaces like Third Door as the norm, rather than the exception by the time they have their own children. I’m committed to creating a movement to bring about a change in the culture of working families, where it is normal to work near your children and also focus on your own career.
Shazia Mustafa, Cofounder of Third Door
This year International Women’s Day is particularly important for me and others in the legal profession. 2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time. One hundred years on, there is still much to be done to achieve equality for women working in the law and whilst considerable progress has been made, female representation at the top still lags significantly behind.
Our profession is dragging its heels in promoting true equality, so I believe it’s time for quotas to ensure more women are represented in senior management. We also need to do more to recognise the achievements of women.
We must understand the impact of the industrial levels of inflexibility present in so many workplaces and what that means for the progression of women. We must look closely at working conditions and what more can be done to accommodate both men and women with caring responsibilities.
Dana Denis-Smith, Founder of The First 100 Years project
For me, International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to connect with other women, celebrate their achievements and be inspired. Experience has taught me that the lack of visibility of women in senior roles can have a trickle-down effect – the less we see people like us in senior positions, the less we believe we can aspire to those roles. I believe that International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to showcase the many fantastic role models across all spheres of business and public life, and to remind us what women can – and do – achieve.
There are clear business benefits to diversity and I believe there are a number of things businesses can do to improve the gender balance in senior positions. I take a systematic approach to ensuring clients are presented with a truly diverse list of candidates, taking the time to target and persuade female candidates who may be reluctant to put themselves forward for roles that they are clearly qualified for, for a variety of reasons.
Using a combination of my 360-degree market knowledge and insights into clients’ requirements and business drivers, I spend a significant amount of time and effort encouraging and coaching candidates to give them the confidence to put themselves forward. Often, that soft tap on the shoulder can make all the difference to a woman’s confidence, and to her willingness to put herself forward for roles. Achieving diversity of shortlisted candidates is a sure-fire way to increase gender diversity, but my experience has shown that this takes time and effort. However, all the evidence shows that this more than pays for itself in terms of business outcomes.
Sian Goodson, Founder and Managing Director of Goodson Thomas
Preference around hiring, retention and promotion should be based on merits, not gender. However, organisations must also acknowledge that a woman’s perceived societal roles affect their attitudes towards their place in the corporate world. Aside from being professionals, most often, we are also wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, and these other roles we play must be considered as motivators rather than a hindrance to our performance in business.
Women must be encouraged, motivated and mentored, by both men and women, to aim for higher aspirations, and to find the power within them to up their status quo by constantly honing their skills.
If we can walk in stilettos, there’s no job title we couldn’t walk into.
Divina Tumlos, Head of Marketing Citihub Consulting
Just 9% of the UK’s total engineering workforce is female – the lowest in Europe – compared to Bulgaria, Latvia and Cyprus with 30%. A diverse workforce will be especially paramount for the engineering industry over the next 10 years, due to the urgent skills shortage facing the sector: 1.8 million new engineers and technicians will be needed by 2025.
The solution to getting more women into engineering lies in redefining the way that we recruit and attract engineering talent. This can be achieved in three ways:
- Promoting STEM education and careers is key to smashing industry stereotypes and makes the engineering workforce more visible and welcoming to women. Lend your company name and support to initiatives such as International Women’s Day to let female engineers know you recognise the importance of getting women into engineering and work with organisations such as the Women’s Engineering Society to engage more young talent.
- Build the confidence of individual female employees – Dedicate time to the women in your company, support those who doubt their own abilities, and discover what they need to help them along their career path. Listen to the female engineers in your business, speak to women across the sector at networking events and research female-driven studies online, to understand the policies and brand values that appeal to female engineers when job seeking.
- Assess whether your own internal HR and recruitment processes are doing enough to attract, engage and continuously benefit female workers. Look into policies such as flexible working, upskilling and learning opportunities and promotion scheme structures. Don’t just focus on family-related policies such as maternity leave, but ensure skilled, ambitious female engineers are presented with the same support and opportunities as male engineers.
Aimée Treasure, Marketing Manager at VHR
I believe that there is a need for a more diverse workforce – and whilst orthopaedic medicine is slowly becoming more inclusive – there are still only a total of 4 black female Orthopaedic Surgeons in the UK.
It’s always still a shock to me to hear ‘you’re the first person to do this’ or ‘the first person to do that’ because it’s something that’s been a part of my work and should be the norm. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, be realistic in your choice and take time to know yourself.
Samantha Tross – Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at The Princess Grace Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK
Running a jewellery business with my husband, who is also my business partner, has been an interesting experiment and learning curve in gender balance. We’re both trained goldsmiths with similar levels of experience and skills. Until we had children, we always shared workloads equally and designated tasks based on the individual’s workload at that time and who was most skilled in that particular area. Both times I had a baby, I was forced to take less of an equal role, simply because I was exhausted from being awake in the night with the baby (I was breastfeeding).
I found this very difficult and thankfully, once those first few tough months were over, there has always been a shared balance of working and looking after our children, it definitely doesn’t fall more to me because I am a woman. I feel lucky in that I am considered to be a vital part of the business as my partner is and my contribution is equally as valuable and meaningful as his. I also feel fortunate to run my own business, where I get to dictate the gender roles and ensure there is equality.
Jana Reinhardt, Founder of jewellery company Jana Reinhardt
It all comes down to visibility. Representation is crucial in the fight for gender balance – many young girls and women don’t see a career in STEM industries as something they can realistically pursue until they identify people they can relate to and see them achieving success and recognition first. If you can’t see it, you simply can’t be it.
Gender equality isn’t about giving one group an advantage over the other. It’s about levelling the playing field and making sure that we’re doing our absolute best to show that your professional success is yours to pursue, regardless of who you are or where you’re from. It’s about making sure people aren’t just paid equally, but treated with the same respect as everyone else, recognised for their achievements, celebrated, encouraged, and never made to feel like they don’t belong.
The small steps we take towards empowering women are just as important as the bigger ones. Support comes in many forms. Not letting other women deflect well-deserved praise, reclaiming the conversation when we’re cut off or interrupted, reminding each other that we don’t need to apologise for asking questions, having an opinion, or making suggestions—the list goes on and on. A major part of expressing solidarity with female professionals is just being vigilant, acting as a guardian by helping them to cast off the minimising behaviours we’ve been taught over centuries.
Zoe Morris, President of Nelson Frank
It’s important that we continue to see an improvement in diversity within business. Women and men are equal but they each can bring different opinions, skills and voices to the table. It’s already been proven that companies with more gender-balanced leadership perform better so it makes good business sense too.
In order to improve diversity within businesses, there are three areas that are important to me:
- To see more companies actively supporting gender diversity by offering a more flexible work environment
- More efforts to help women get to senior positions and reverse the funding gap for female founders to give young women more role models, to prevent ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ thinking
- To see businesses leveraging the support of men and women to make this a definitive change.
Emilie Bellet, Founder of Vestpod
Women think it is important to have a gender balance as we are inspired by people who look like us. Having women role models within business motivates younger women as they feel that they can achieve the same. I think that employers need to include women on interview panels so they have an equal representation in recruitment and selection.
Many employers can attract more women by looking at their policies especially around flexible and agile working so more women are making a positive choice to work with them. When women see that employers have thought of their needs they are more likely to stay and commit to an employer.
Ruth Kudzi, Coach, Mentor and Author
I believe that the communications industry is currently not sufficiently promoting gender-balance. Now more than ever it’s very important to guide the new generation of women on how to achieve success in senior roles. I come from an agency where most employees were women yet men dominated the senior managerial positions. With my agency, Nineteen94, I aim to inspire women and send the message that women are fully able to take those senior leadership roles. I believe that we should never stop fighting for a more balanced business world and I would like to see other agencies following this path.
Francesca Cullen, Founder of Nineteen94 Agency
As with all aspects of life, I believe it is vital to have gender-balance in the workplace. At Harley Street Fertility Clinic we have a wonderfully diverse team of men and women, from all ethnicities and backgrounds. I feel this diversity is very important for the clinic and allows us to provide the highest quality care to all of our patients. I believe one should always hire the best person for a given role, whether they are male or female, black or white. Ironically, the ratio of male to female employees at the clinic is 3 men to 23 women!
I hope that all businesses see the value in hiring a diverse workforce. Thus, the balance will start to shift by its own accord. Hopefully in time, gender will no longer be an issue that needs highlighting via events like International Women’s Day, but for now, it is something I very much support.
Dr Venkat of Harley Street Fertility Clinic
Gender bias, or any prejudice shouldn’t exist, but it does and it’s important to speak up about it and keep it top of mind. It’s important for women to push through bias, and even more important for companies, small and large, to review their practices and company culture to prevent bias.
The gender pay gap is an obvious sign that gender bias does still exist in many industries, and I think a contributing factor to the current pay gap relates in part to women’s tendency to ask for increases and negotiation less than men. I feel strongly that companies should have fair processes to mitigate human bias. I’ve always ensured Waldo has complete equality when it comes to pay and we strive to have a diverse team, in every sense of the word.
Ashleigh Hinde, Founder and CEO of contact lens direct-to-consumer start-up, Waldo
Gender balance in the workplace is an issue that has been on the agenda for years, and sadly something that we are still not cracking. By women coming together across the world to highlight the inequalities that still exist, we are a step closer to overcoming barriers across the board. As the mother of two sons, it is really important to me that they understand that men and women are 100% equal, and I can only hope that when they enter the world of work, jobs will be awarded on merit, rather than gender and that this will no longer even be a consideration.
Natalie Trice of Natalie Trice Communications
When a company’s board is more balanced, the business performs better. From profits to shareholder value, a business that offers knowledge and leadership from both men and women reaches greater success. Why is that? Simply put, men and women can bring different skills to the table. Celebrating our differences shouldn’t hinder the fight for gender equality, it should champion it. It’s a moral imperative that women should be able to take their rightful place in the working world. The next generation of young women and teenage girls need to see more female role models at ‘the top’ to fuel their belief that anything is possible.
Although we have made inroads in the past sixty years, progress is too slow. The only immediate way of creating gender balance within the workforce is to introduce quotas. I see this as a temporary solution to bring about permanent change. Many men and women may argue that quotas stifle women from being promoted due to their achievements. However, I think this is a red herring. I don’t want any woman to be hired or promoted simply based on gender but by building quotas into hiring and promotional shortlists, women would simply be given more opportunity to be visible and join the party. If the current system is supposedly working on merit, then why are so many talented women not being given the platform they deserve?
Jane Kenyon, Founder and CEO of Girls Out Loud
If you want a gender-balanced business, you can’t just sit back and hope the right people come to you. When hiring, make sure you request a gender-balanced mix of CVs, and always bear in mind that women sometimes play down their strengths. Try and make sure the interviewing panel is a mix of people too – otherwise, we tend to hire people who are similar to ourselves. It should go without saying, but a mix of genders in every business is the only way to ensure your output is creative, inclusive, and representative of (and interesting to) our society as a whole.
Tess Elford, Account Director at BMB
Gender balance at senior levels (which is where it is often worst), is hugely important: because if you don’t have balance here – you are harming your business. Studies from Credit Suisse, McKinsey and Vanguard have all shown that companies with gender-balanced boards outperform those who don’t. So you are losing out to the competition if you are not actively promoting and recruiting women into those C-suite positions.
How do you do it? Ensure you have an outspoken advocate on the board for doing this who will actively champion it. Start succession planning now; identifying future talent in your business and being involved in their career progression. Review your hiring and promote process, and practice unconscious bias training; how appealing are you making a role on the board, to the widest pool of candidates possible?
Take a good hard look at your culture – is it one that is supportive of women; how flexible is it; what are people rewarded for (hours at a desk or output and impact)?
Talk openly about the desire to increase representation at a senior level and canvas opinions through your business about the barriers (perceived or real) to achieving this. Act on the feedback. Review and track how you perform year on year in the number of women in senior positions in your company as well as how this is positively affecting your bottom line!
Charlotte Bunyan, Head of Strategy at Collider
Gender balance in the workplace still has such a long way to go, and until women can feel that having a family and a career isnt something that is mutually exclusive then it will remain a challenge. I would like to see more equal parental leave and more initiatives led by men to encourage men to feel they don’t have to rush back to work. I also feel that when women do come back they often struggle with the work/life balance so more proactive flexible working is a must – and it must come from the top down so as to set the example within the company.
Lara Asprey, CE at Asprey Introductions
I believe a diversity range in opinions, perspective, experience, and ways of thinking is essential to the success of a business venture as I think it fosters growth. I don’t think men and women are too different in many instances and both need to challenge their own existing biases and let that filter into their work environment. It begins with flippant comments around gender stereotypes. If we hold ourselves to a higher standard but also challenge our environment in a dignified way it will go a long way. Not everyone will be in a decision-making position in terms of hiring and promoting but everyone does have an impact on their immediate environment.
We often read or start the approach as a hierarchical top-down view rather than something that each individual actively needs to take ownership off as when they can. Consider how we raise our children for example? Are we raising them with values and perspectives that we would like to encounter at work or in our private lives? It runs a lot deeper and I also believe different ways need to be explored and implemented simultaneously as many naturally rebel when they are told to do something rather than consulted and asked for their input and being part of the change. So, in short, it requires a combination of approaches beyond the obvious of simply hiring as no one wants to be part of the token quota.
Melanie Jones, Owner & Publicist Melanie Jones PR
I believe gender balance is very important in ‘business’ as it stands as the flag of respect between the sexes; that females can succeed and contribute in equal capacity to men – that women are seen as equally valuable physical and spiritual which in turn educates sons to view women in a worthy light, as it does girls with the choice to build self-respect and purpose beyond the value of looks or nesting.
This, in turn, should build better relationships, where women are without the frustrations that have carried, and men without the imposed gender rules that have limited their viewpoints, which in turn I would hope could filter its way to making a better future’.
Julia Suzuki, Fashion Designer, Author and Businesswoman
Gender balance is critical now. Women leaders do lean towards creating a kinder, more nurturing culture in companies. I spoke recently at an event of 30 high-level women and they all struggled with some of the male authority. They felt the company were losing the opportunity to bring in new talent as graduates were seeking a more inclusive, open and kinder place to work.
Talent acquisition is a massive issue in the board rooms of companies, and we should ensure that we create a place for new thinking and new attitudes; in a world where we are overwhelmed, financially challenged and lack close relationships due to work-life balance, work has to be more like a family. Families need the male traits and the female traits and I believe the same is true in business.
Penny Power OBE
Gender balance should be a priority for any business. Having worked in the accountancy profession since I was 18, I have witnessed a huge shift in culture and attitudes. When I first started there were very few females holding senior positions, but I am pleased to say this is no longer the case. Many of my female colleagues and I have demonstrated that it is possible for women to rise through the ranks whilst having other responsibilities outside of work. Having these role models is key in order to inspire the next generation of leaders.
For BDO, we want a workforce that reflects the make-up of society and this needs to be mirrored at the top too. This can be achieved by committing to targets of females in senior positions over a period of time, as well as looking at the policies that help create a more inclusive environment such as flexible working and shared parental leave. Things will not change overnight but we are making positive steps.
Wendy Walton, Head of Global Private Client Services and a member of the Leadership Team at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO
I’m not altogether comfortable with the concept of ‘promoting’ gender balance. Empowerment suggests that equality takes place at the whim of a leader; that it can be handed-out like an end-of-year bonus. I prefer to think in terms of developing an environment that is unquestioningly inclusive. That every person has a voice and a right to grow, irrespective of seniority or gender. At LDS, we do not promote balance. We happen to be a group of leaders, partners, lawyers and professional support staff who encourage each other to be ourselves and individually and collectively to aim high.
Laura Devine, Managing Partner of Laura Devine Immigration Law
Equality can only be achieved if we take an inclusive approach. I’m very much for celebrating women’s achievements and believe all women groups provide a great forum for championing and supporting women. However, to really make a step change we need men to be part of the conversation.
We need positive role models regardless of gender. The importance of a supportive working environment that offers the same rights around childcare, flexible working and maternity/paternity leave – to name a few – cannot be overstated. We need to remove stigmas surrounding men occupying the role of primary child carer or indeed sharing it equally with their partner. Organisational changes like these would benefit both employees and the organisation as a whole, creating a more diverse workforce – particularly in senior roles – which also has proven business benefits.
For me, and I’m sure for other women in business, it is vital to have a supportive network around you and an employer who understands that even though circumstances may change throughout a person’s life, their commitment and enthusiasm for their career may not. What’s more, employers need to embrace the ‘authentic you’, ensuring employees are emboldened, moreover they should be encouraged to feel proud about who they are and their circumstance. Embracing diversity, in all its forms, will lead to a happier and more productive workforce.
Rachel Aldighieri, MD of the DMA
Gender balance in the workplace is as important as equality, and to achieve this, companies must have inclusive workplaces that respect and protect the principles of fairness, dignity, diversity of all workers. To achieve this, business needs to engage the women in senior management and leadership positions so they can input and speak on behalf of other women. The equal participation of women and men in all areas of the workplace is a positive step in the right direction and will empower the next generation.
Gender-balance is something we are seeing being addressed in business more and more. But, for real change to happen, we need more women at the top. It should no longer be the exception to the rule that there is a female founder, CEO or a woman sitting on the board, we need to make it into the norm.
For change to occur we (and I speak of men as well as women) must be our own champions. We simply can’t wait for others to do it for us. After all, it is these actions that will be counted towards a gender-equal future.
While we can debate about women holding senior positions at FTSE 100 companies, there is much to be said about the role entrepreneurship plays in levelling the playing field. By encouraging more women entrepreneurs, we are building a foundation of future businesses, which naturally incorporate a more gender-balanced culture – one that benefits both men and women.
Clearly, we still have some way to go but we, as women, must change business culture by creating something for ourselves. It won’t be a quick fix and may well take several more generations before we get there. That said, the actions we make today not only build on the foundation for future generations to further close the gap.
Neeta Patel, CEO of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation
Some 51% of the population is female, yet this is far from matched at senior levels in the workplace. Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that customers want to buy from companies that are more diverse – in fact; a study by McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
To bring about change, leaders need to believe in the business case for gender diversity and turn words into actions. Measuring and publishing the results on gender balance is an important first step, but businesses also need to focus on gender inclusion in the workplace. Attracting female talent is one challenge, and retaining them is another. The case for gender diversity has never been stronger, and I think advocates within business is key to making genuine progress.
Rose St Louis, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Zurich UK
For women in the 21st Century to feel confident in business and further feel empowered with decisive strength is very important. Male dominance in the workplace with fewer opportunities for women, it can be often intimidating and daunting. However, all genders should be constructive and supportive of each other despite inequalities and the disparities.
In the arts, media, design and entertainment, women are more prominent and are great as courageous role models. By working together, and finding more ways to lift the glass ceiling. We can coach younger women to give them the inspiration and encouragement they need, with more power to their elbow.
Corrine Bougaard – Founder/Director/Choreographer UnionDance
I believe companies with more female leaders perform better. Under-representation of women in the workforce is often presented as an equality issue, but it is more than that and has consequences for individual businesses, the UK economy and society as a whole. This is a broader issue than that of fundamental equality of representation; having more female influence at senior level can deliver tangible benefits for business and organisations.
One obvious difference between the career paths of men and women is that women’s careers are often less linear than those of men. This is because women’s careers are more likely to be interrupted, to involve more side-stepping or lateral movement, for a variety of reasons, including caring, studying, or undertaking other unpaid occupations.
If, as a country, we do genuinely have a growing skills and talent gap, then perhaps we need to move away from assumptions that women are not ambitious or do not seek opportunities to contribute. We should, instead, consider that they have wide-ranging experience, plus valuable skills and abilities critical to organisational success and the country as a whole.
Liz Sebag-Montefiore, Director of 10Eighty HR Consultancy
‘We will never have true civilisation until we have learned to recognise the rights of others’ – Will Rogers