I don’t think of myself either as a feminist nor as a non-feminist, and I’ve never found myself needing to debate questions of gender at work. It’s not that I’m comfortable with sexism. It’s just that I’ve never needed to deal with these issues in my job.
I suppose I’ve been lucky because I’ve always been rewarded for my achievements. I’ve never seen a less deserving male employee promoted ahead of me.
I think it’s signficant that my first company was owned and managed very successfully by women. The second was a large corporate where all of the top performers were women and women represented 50% of the board members. In my current role we’re strictly 50:50 and our CEO is also female. So I am lucky that I’ve never come close to sexism in the workplace.
However, it’s not an issue anyone can ignore, and especially given the publication of such provocative literature as the Davies report, which is calling for a voluntary female quota of 25% on PLC boards by 2015.
Now this report is putting recruiters, especially executive search companies, right at the heart of making of this happen.
And so here at Poolia we’ve been debating what recruiters can do to help increase the number of women reaching senior management.
The stark statistics don’t give much hope. Even though there is now a fairly large body of research to suggest that companies with more women at senior management level perform better – well, there aren’t many of those around.
Last year only one in eight FTSE 100 board members was a woman – and that figure hasn’t gone up very much since 2004 when it was just under one in 10.
Things are getting better – but very, very slowly. At this rate, it will take 70 years to get the same numbers of men and women in the boardroom.
Having said that, talking to our clients we know companies are keen to employ more women. The issue is not necessarily about demand, it’s about supply.
If we want to increase the number of women on boards then we need to find ways to keep talented women in the workplace for longer.
The review quotes research that shows that the same number of men and women take entry-level positions – the gender imbalance is more of an issue at mid to upper management level.
Whilst the Davies report turns to executive search companies to provide the solution, I believe general recruiters can also help keep women on their career path and indeed, help anyone irrespective of gender to have access to wider opportunities.
We can assist by encouraging candidates to plan their careers in the long term, to think about when they may want or need to take a career break and how they can minimise the impact of an absence from work on their careers.
In fact, there is scope for a career break to be used to enhance a candidate’s appeal to potential employers, through new experiences and the development of skills outside the workplace.
Taking a long term view can also affect how a candidate may view specific job benefits. For example, flexible working may not seem important when someone is taking that first career step. It may not even seem like a benefit at all, but it may of course be very important later.
This could have an impact on the types of jobs, sectors and even companies that a candidate may apply for. Recruitment agencies are well placed to explain these options, their implications in terms of personal development and how they may affect choices later on. Candidates are therefore better placed to make informed decisions about the opportunities available to them.
Much has been written about the fact that a long maternity leave can be damaging to a woman’s career.
But maybe with planning this doesn’t need to the case. After all, if you’re a good manager before you have a baby, you’ll be a good manager afterwards as well. You may require refresher training, but that would be part of the planning.
To a certain extent, much of this assumes that it is possible to have open conversations. In an ideal world it would be great if employers and candidates could speak candidly about their expectations and intentions. Will this ever happen? Is there scope for recruitment agencies, as impartial third parties, to facilitate this?
Perhaps we need to find new ways, even at the recruitment stage, to plan for an employee’s long term plans without any prejudice.
I think it’s also true that much has already changed. After all, I’ve been working for 9 years and as I say, I have never had to deal with gender inequality in my job. I don’t think I’m alone.
There are more women running businesses, and I believe that most of those responsible for shaping the people practices of organisations have diversity and equality well in their sights.
The Davies Review may be provocative but to my mind it is achievable.