Recent research from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) revealed that while the construction industry could lead the way in closing the gender pay gap, companies must do more to attract, retain and include women.
And this reality is not unique to the world of construction.
Women make up only 11 per cent of the construction work force today – a statistic that mirrors long-standing trends of other industries, including engineering (9%) and technology (26%). When it comes to the world’s top jobs, women hold only a quarter of senior roles, up a mere 3 per cent over the past 6 years. As for retention, we know that roughly 37% of highly qualified women will voluntarily leave the workplace at some point in their careers – with 82% seeking the freedom to ‘be themselves’ at work.
Our efforts to pay women fairly are crucial, but they are only part of the solution when it comes to gender parity.
We must also challenge ourselves to create workplace cultures underpinned by inclusivity; cultures where women want to work, can advance and thrive. This includes identifying and minimising the often hidden biases that shape decisions regarding who gets interviewed, hired, sponsored, mentored, promoted, and given access to the information, projects and people that accelerate career success.
One powerful starting point is to challenge dominant thinking about what ‘talent’ looks like in an organisation. What words and descriptors are used to describe high potential and performing people? What adjectives and skills do we cite when creating our job descriptions? What are the leadership profiles that we hold up within our business? How might these archetypes of success exclude segments of your talent pool, including women? What are the costs? It is up to us, as HR professionals, to challenge the way that we define and talk about talent in our organisations. In so doing, we can inject greater objectivity and fairness into the most important decisions that affect a person’s career trajectory – a powerful catalyst of culture change and a key to women’s success in the workplace.
The next time you’re discussing talent at work, make it a priority to ask compelling questions that inspire new thinking. For example, ‘What capabilities do we lack today that will help us to succeed tomorrow?’ or ‘What different perspectives are needed to help us innovate or evolve?’ Taking a proactive approach to interrogate the unwritten rules that dictate success in your business will help to tap unlocked talent.
HR leaders have the power to influence a more inclusive and flexible mindset when it comes to talent. The reality is that women are increasingly growing attuned to, and less accepting of, inequity in the workplace. This trend is particularly true among millennial women, who place significant emphasis on working within inclusive cultures that invest in their potential as leaders. Let’s continue to ensure that women are paid fairly – and at the same time, get under the very decision-making that created the pay gap in the first place. Only then will we see the composition of our workforce change to include more women at all levels, so we can create a culture where women and diverse talent can thrive.