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Why are women still under-represented at senior business level?

Katie Howard - New Street Consulting Group

According to the latest findings, only about 9 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 – a total of 46 – are women. Whilst that’s disappointingly an all-time high, 2022 saw the gap between women and men in senior roles quitting their jobs become the largest it’s ever been.

A possible contributing factor is that one in four women admitted they have changed jobs because there were no relatable role models to look up to or inspire them in their previous role. Our own research also supports this on a wider scale, showing over the last decade, just 17 percent of Forbes magazine covers featured female entrepreneurs, averaging less than 3 covers a year that included women.

More and more businesses are setting targets to increase female representation at senior level; however, unconscious discrimination continues to impact women at all levels. This unconscious bias manifests in unintentional underrepresentation, bias in pay gaps, lower share of voice and lack of flexibility.

We know bias is an issue and mitigating against it within our hiring practices will deliver beneficial organisational outcomes. A McKinsey report highlights how the most gender diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to have above-average financial returns.

So, what processes and practices should we introduce to mitigate gender bias within our recruitment processes?

1 Standardise interview processes
Interview processes should be reviewed regularly to ensure inclusivity. Candidates should all be asked the same questions and assessed based on skillset as opposed to gut feeling. Ensure there is a balance of genders when shortlisting candidates for interviews or creating panel interviews too.

2 Analyse internal data
Analyse your recruitment records to collect information like the gender balance among all applicants compared to successful applicants. Look at the gender balance in your short lists and examine performance reviews by gender and role to see if there is gender bias occurring at that level.

Collecting this data will help reveal your company’s true diversity landscape and decipher where you need to concentrate your efforts.

3 Watch your language
Employers will want to avoid any accidental similarity bias, where hiring managers subconsciously gravitate towards those who present similarly to themselves. To avoid this, ensure the language chosen within job descriptions isn’t coded to put off specific demographics from the outset.

4 Diversify your hiring committees
For larger organisations, an internal hiring board or committee can help alleviate some of the biases one or two people may hold when choosing interview candidates or who to send a job offer to. This can include a variety of genders, educational levels socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

5 Assess your pay schemes
Evaluate your company’s current pay structure to make sure you’re aware of any possible discrepancies. By calculating compensation trends, you can gain knowledge of any patterns, inconsistent policies or obvious bias that may be happening. By recognising these trends, you can begin to make compensation systems more progressive and reflective of equal pay for equal work.

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