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More women in senior roles boosts business growth

Employing more women in senior positions has the potential to increase productivity and boost profitability, says Jo Feely, Alexander Mann Solutions’ Head of Consulting.

With just three female executives in the FTSE100, and the percentage of women joining boards standing at 17.3 percent, the challenge of how to increase gender diversity at senior management level and beyond has never been more pressing. The finance sector has the lowest female representation in senior roles (22 percent), while the professionals services sector has the highest (48 percent), according to new research from Alexander Mann Solutions and everywoman, the membership organisation the champions the advancement of women in business. The key finding of the joint report, entitled Engaging the full potential of female middle managers’, is that enabling more female middle managers to attain senior positions could generate significant business growth, boosting the economy.

Currently, just 40 percent of HR leaders consider improved business performance to be a benefit of increasing the number of women in senior roles.1 This is a real barrier to the career progression of female middle managers in the UK, some of whom may leave the talent pipeline entirely if lifestyle issues relating to childcare and flexible working cannot be resolved. Some 74 percent of female middle managers agree that lifestyle choices are a major obstacle to career progression,2  despite being happy with their jobs. Many senior roles are filled by internal candidates, so addressing gender diversity issues internally is key. Interestingly, some 56 percent of companies say they have a diversity policy that includes gender, but 60 percent of companies have no diversity budget. Ensuring that female professionals’ capabilities are used more effectively could significantly enhance company productivity, providing a real boost to the economy. With more than two million women in the UK working in managerial positions, we estimate that the potential benefit to the country from unblocking the female talent pipeline could be £5 billion.3  Employing more women helps to drive innovation, ensure compliance with legal and moral obligations, and build more effective team participation. The net result is that companies achieve higher levels of employee engagement, with operational performance improving by nearly 20 percent.

Karen Gill, founder of everywoman, the membership organisation that champions the advancement of women in business, believes that “business and organisations are waking up to the importance of ensuring they have a secure female talent pipeline in place. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to give women the tools they need to take charge of their own career development. We recently launched ‘Ambition Hour’ encouraging women to take an hour a week to focus on their career goals, plan their career path and evaluate their training needs.”

Tackling the gender diversity challenge

Listening to the ambitions and training needs of female employees across the business will help to close the gap between their career aspirations and HR leaders’ perceptions. It’s often the case that they don’t prioritise their own development, believing ability and drive alone will lead to promotion. Women should be encouraged to focus on their ambitions and training needs which they often neglect or consider a luxury. This is why everywoman’s ambition hour campaign is so important. Helping to focus both female employees and HR leaders to work together to plan for their career development and succession.

Extending flexible working options would also help women in reaching more senior roles, as would more effective tracking of attrition rates. Currently, just 22 percent of companies analyse the gender of those leaving the company. Finally, senior female ‘role models’ could potentially be doing more to help other female colleagues progress. More should be done by companies to ensure that role models are relevant and accessible. We anticipate that improving women’s progression from middle to senior management will have a ‘multiplier effect’ by generating a healthy pipeline of female talent for executive and board-level appointments. For now, the responsibility rests with employers to engage with their female middle managers.

1 Alexander Mann Solutions and everywoman report: ‘Engaging the full potential of female middle managers’
2 Alexander Mann Solutions and everywoman report: ‘Engaging the full potential of female middle managers’
3 McLeod’s 2009 report Engaging for Success found companies with high levels of engagement increased profits by 19.2 per cent. High engagement could equate to additional profits of between £70bn and £80bn across UK companies. 2m female managers represent 7 percent of the UK workforce which therefore equates to a £5bn benefit.

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