Given this worldwide problem, the leaking pipeline of female talent is a real cause for concern to business.
In the UK, approaching 60% of graduates are women. As they enter the workplace, women account for approximately half of new hires yet when it comes to moving up the career ladder, the percentage of women reduces significantly with each management level, culminating in less than 6% of women occupying executive positions on FTSE 100 boards. If you add the Non-executive Director (NED) positions, this increases to 17.3%, although still some way off the Davies report’s target of 25% by 2015. Additionally, the latest updates from Lord Davies and the Cranfield School of Management shows that there has been a loss of momentum over the last 12 months.
Why is it different for women? Surely, they will achieve their potential if they’re good enough, won’t they?
This is where the differences between men and women come to the fore. Overall, research has established that men tend to manage (and invest time managing) their careers more proactively than do women. There is also the fact that men and women tend to behave in different ways, often due to the social norms that we experience around us every day. For example, behavioural studies have found that men are often significantly more confident than are their female colleagues in a corporate environment. To illustrate this, one study of MBA students showed that men were more confident across all age groups, with 70% of males having high or very high levels of self-confidence, compared with only 50% of the women surveyed. Half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31% of men reported the same. The study also found that this lack of confidence extends to a more cautious approach to applying for jobs and promotions: 20% of men said they would apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared with only 14% of women.
Additionally, men tend to ‘work’ the corporate hierarchy much more readily than women, in turn attracting senior sponsors along the way. In contrast to this, women often believe that their successes will not go unnoticed whereas men have a greater tendency to bring their achievements to their bosses’ attention. Comments from men along the lines of “hey, look what I just did!” are probably not that uncommon in many organisations.
On top of this, there is the issue of unconscious bias which means that non-gender-diverse hierarchies often continue to promote those most like them. Things have to change if the best talent is to be promoted and organisations are to thrive in an increasingly competitive world, particularly as one of the key elements of competition will be for talent, regardless of gender.
As author and thought-leader, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox recently said: “The world has never seen a more ambitious, educated and skilled wave of women entering the workforce. Women just need meritocracies — and managers skilled in leading across genders, who understand that the differences they bring to the table aren’t to be fixed. They’re to be celebrated — and used.”
Do women really add to the bottom line or is this just about fairness?
There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates how gender diverse boards (and teams) are more effective, adding tangible bottom-line value for the organisation. For example, a very thorough and credible study (summarised here) by the Credit Suisse Research Institute recently concluded that boards comprising at least one woman have generated 26% more return for shareholders than male-only boards. Additionally, it is estimated that upto 80% of all buying decisions are made by female consumers. Add to that the numerous behavioural research studies that show that gender-diverse teams make better decisions and you have your answer: that is, this agenda is no longer solely about equality. This is about hard numbers and the financial advantages of having a more gender-diverse workplace.
So, what’s happening?
Around the world, governments, commissions and other interested organisations are becoming increasingly engaged and vocal about the need to increase the number of women on boards. Some countries have even defined quotas for the percentage of women that make up a corporate board. Norway, Spain and France, along with some other EU countries, have fixed quotas whereas the UK and US, amongst others, have opted for targets. In 2010, the UK government commissioned Lord Davies of Abersoch to establish what was preventing women from becoming board members, as well as proposing solutions to the problem. One of his recommendations was to set a target of 25% of all FTSE 100 board positions to be occupied by women by 2015. Much progress has been made since then (10.5% in 2010 to 17.3% in 2013) but there is still a long way to go to achieve the 25% target.
Who are some of the key players?
There are more influential people and organisations than ever, who have become involved in moving this commercial and political agenda forward. In the UK, Vince Cable recently wrote to the chairmen of the remaining seven FTSE 100 male-only boards to remind them of their obligations. David Cameron speaks about the subject regularly as do Theresa May and many other government and opposition politicians. From academia, there are many voices, including Professor Susan Vinnicombe (Cranfield School of Management) who is heavily involved with this agenda and provides detailed analysis on progress, as well as advising the government in this area.
Of particular note is Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management. She is highly influential in this space, having founded the 30% Club, which aims to have at least 30% of women on boards by 2015. Over 65 chairmen have signed up in support of this mission, including some of the most influential business leaders in the UK today. During an interview by the Guardian Helena stated, along with a growing number of other voices, that the challenge now lies below board level, in that organisations need to help develop female talent at all levels.
What can be done to help fix the leaking pipeline of female talent?
Without doubt, progress is being made but most commentators would agree that there is still so much more to be done. There is now significant ‘top down’ support for corporate gender balance, both in the form of government initiatives as well as organisational diversity agendas. What’s now required is tangible support and development for aspiring, talented women to help them to realise their potential. This will ensure that organisations have stronger and more capable talent pools from which to fill the key positions of the future. For women, this support will help to level the playing field and enable them to realise their ambition.
How can ABSTRACT help?
ABSTRACT has established a unique and comprehensive development programme, following an extensive period of research into the career traits of successful women. Designed to help fix the leaking pipeline of female talent, this programme takes the critical ingredients that are the pre-requisites of navigating a successful career. The curriculum covers seven key areas that range from building superior levels of confidence and resilience through to accelerating your personal profile and attracting senior sponsors.
This is a ground-breaking programme that continues to receive a very positive response from individuals and organisations alike. If you would like to know more about how we could help to grow your talent, please contact us by clicking here.