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Diversity and inclusion on the road to senior leadership

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As all companies with over 250 employees prepare for their gender pay gap reporting in October this year, the choices organisations have made and make today will have huge consequences for gender parity for years to come. 

Apart from the obvious moral argument, there is a strong business case for having an inclusive and diverse culture in the workplace – better performance, lower staff turnover, diverse perspectives – so it is essential companies ensure more women enter or progress into in leadership roles. 

Kantar’s Gender Diversity Index 2020 uses its GDI (Gender Equality Index) to assess individual businesses across Europe, identifying their gender balance at different levels; executive, supervisory board and board committee levels. The average GDI across all companies covered is 0.56m – a long way away from the ideal metric of 1 which represents gender balance.

In the FTSE 100, there are just six women who are CEOs, and male CEOs earn an average of 17 per cent more than their female counterparts. What can we do to improve better progression and equality, particularly across financial services? 

Understanding the barriers 

It can be said that many of the barriers women face when it comes to progression to leadership positions are the same men face – parenting, work/life balance, inflexible schedules. However, in addition to these factors – which tend to disproportionately impact women – women also face very specific challenges to their career advancement. 

This includes pay gaps, decisions around family building and caretaking, discrimination, bullying, double standards and sexual harassment, and a lack of role models in the industry. 

A recent survey found that out of 350 men and women on boards or at the executive committee level, 33 per cent of women said that someone at work had made disrespectful or insulting comments to or about them compared to just 13 per cent of men. 

Women also face gender stereotypes, such as limiting beliefs of how men and women should behave and the language used to describe desired personality traits in positions of leadership. Assertive women are often seen as ‘bossy’ for example, while men are just ‘the boss’.

Make gender diversity a priority 

How can employers attract female talent and retain and develop women leaders? 

To tackle everyday sexism in the workplace and better support women in advancing their careers, leaders must ask themselves how they provide a safe  environment for employees who want to progress into senior roles. This must co-exist alongside non-bias culture among the wider team which support leadership pathways. 

Do they have strong anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies in place? Do they have an unconscious recruitment bias, fair promotion practices and transparent career paths? Do they have policies in place to protect pregnant women and new mothers against redundancy? Do they include women in their networks and social events?  

From a recruitment point of view, it is crucial employers interview qualified minority and female applicants for every open executive and leadership positions, and offer benefits such as onsite childcare, maternity benefits and mentoring, as well as offer flexible working arrangements when advertising positions.  

…but don’t forget to create an inclusive environment for all

Issues relating to D&I are complex, and different forms of diversity will require different strategies to bring them into balance. Many organisations have made great strides when it comes to improving gender diversity, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do. 

For organisations to best serve their communities, they must be representative of those communities.

Murray McIntosh is committed to improving D&I within the sectors we serve. For more information, on how we can help, please visit the D&I hub on our website.

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