With all the hype around the gender pay gap I wonder if we are losing sight of the real problem, surely the issue is the lack of women in senior leadership roles. With less than 25% of UK board level positions being held by women.
Organisations need to look at how they are address the gender diversity gap across the full employee life-cycle, and the Human Resources function play a huge role in this.
This article explores my own observations made over 10 years as the only female on the leadership team. In addition, it draws on interviews conducted with numerous female leaders as well as recent research on the subject.
Having worked as a Global HR Director for over ten years, I was responsible for recruiting numerous senior leadership roles. During this time, I must have filled over 50 positions either directly on the senior leadership team or reporting into one, less than 10% of these were women.
But why was this the case? Primarily there were far fewer females appearing on our search results and far less that progressing to interview. This is both down to the lack of aspiring female leaders and women pulling out of the process for fear that they do not match up 100% to the job requirements. This is opposed to research which shows that men will put themselves forward when they believe they meet 80% of the requirements.
In addition, women would generally place themselves at the bottom of the pay scale, whereas men would command the top end. Men were much more likely to negotiate the offer, whereas women were much more likely to accept and be grateful for the opportunity.
I started my first Global HR Leadership position back in 2006; I was the only female on the leadership team within Europe and experienced challenges when it came to finding my own mentor, but also in helping our aspiring female leaders find mentors (I simply couldn’t mentor all of them).
For a time I was being mentored by a male colleague, we would often pop out for lunch or meet for dinner. It was not long before the rumours started in the office, clearly we must have been having an affair why else would a male and female colleague go out of the office together. Whilst rumours should not influence business decisions, it can undermine senior managers.
The further a women climbs the corporate career ladder the more difficult it is to find a fellow female mentor. This, unfortunately, is not just down to the lack of senior female leaders, but sadly some women are keen not to be seen to be supporting other women. As a women progresses in her career, the more likely she is to want to fit in with the team (mostly male), and therefore not want to be seen with employees outside of this team.
Men can be put off from forming informal mentoring relationships with female colleague, for worry about what it will look like to their peers and the wider organisation.
This is not simply and issue of attraction, but also of the retention of women in leadership roles. Through interviewing a number of women who have left corporate leadership roles, the most commonly reported issue has been lack of flexibility (work/life balance) which in some cases has led to burn out. Lack of recognition and feeling part of the team were also reported as having a large impact on deciding to leave for self-employment and in some cases taking less senior roles.
Female leaders are leaving organisations in their droves to start up their own businesses, an increase of 45% between 2013 and 2016 according to data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). The success of these small businesses and the women running them is plain to see, yet despite the battle for sourcing and retaining talent in the UK, many corporate organisations are letting this potential leadership talent escape through lack of flexible opportunities.
So what can HR do to support their organisations? A few thoughts!
Gender diversity needs to be considered a priority throughout the whole employee life cycle, starting with how you recruit into the organisation.
Among the first steps however, HR must first seek to understand if there is an unconscious bias within the organisation at leadership level towards men of a particular profile. They must raise the topic and provide training and coaching to address this bias, which will not just sit with the male members of the leadership team. Unfortunately, we are still seeing that women are holding other women back and favouring male applicants.
HR should promote strategies which support female workers, such as flexible working including working from home in doing this they should be encouraging men to take up such working practices in order that this becomes a normal way of working is widely accepted as the new norm. Many men want to be more involved at home, but feel they have to comply with the traditional view that men don’t work flexibly. When we break this stereotype we may see more equality in opportunity for all.
- Promote female friendly policies within the job advertisement.
- Coach those involved in recruitment process on the importance of gender diversity within the business.
- Actively discourage any assumptions that a women may not be up to the job. (yes this still exists)
- Consider implementing a formal mentoring program, with the appropriate training for mentors. Look outside the organisation if necessary.
- Call out the non-supportive women
- Ensure there are appropriate recognition policies in place so women are consistently recognised for a job well done. Women can be very self-critical, and often deflect success on to luck, or the team support etc. Women that feel they are doing a good job will be more likely to believe they can seek out the next level opportunity and are capable of doing so.
- Learn from exit interviews with women, and consider corrective actions.
- Consider options for flexibility with an open mind to keep hold of talent. The traditional view of “job share doesn’t work” or “We don’t trust people to work at home” is limiting. For those working flexible, the motivation from being able to achieve life balance means productivity can be higher than those traditional 9 to 5’s. Being present does not automatically mean being productive.
In a time when organisations need to be lean, efficient, innovative and competitive, losing or not utilising female talent is a huge risk. The Gender pay gap is great, but until we open our minds to new ways of working and support women to believe in their ability we won’t experience equality in the work place and reap the benefits of more women in senior roles.
Kate is also HR Director and Leadership Trainer with radius 360 ltd, advising organisations on strategic HR initiatives and delivering leadership development programs.
Kate is the co-founder of Her time is now. The company has a mission to inspire, encourage and empower women to step out of the shadows and unlock their true potential. To step up into leadership roles, and challenge the culture of their companies to encourage more women to follow.
Kate is leading our HR Directors Boardroom event in Milton Keynes on the 9th November on this very subject – so please let us know if you would like to attend to join to debate.
To attend this event or enquire about the event please email Emma Warner