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Four ways businesses can clear women’s paths to leadership

There are many compelling reasons why organisations must become ‘gender intentional’. According to McKinsey & Co, businesses with diversity in executive teams are 25 per cent more likely to outperform others. These companies outperform others largely because, in a fair and equitable, respectful environment, employees are engaged, motivated and deliver a great customer experience.

Now’s the time to focus on the measurable benefits of attracting and supporting more women to senior positions.

Progressive organisations are striving to overcome gender disparity at the C-Level. As Lizzo would say, it’s about d*mn time. One LinkedIn study found that women’s paths to leadership start to diminish after their first ten years in the workplace. For every woman who is successful in reaching a leadership position in her first decade of work, nearly twice as many men do.

There are many compelling reasons why this needs to change and why organisations must become ‘gender intentional’. According to McKinsey & Co, businesses with diversity in executive teams are 25 per cent more likely to outperform others. They point out that greater diversity in corporate leadership doesn’t ‘automatically translate into more profit’: these companies outperform others largely because, in a fair and equitable, respectful environment, employees are engaged, motivated and deliver a great customer experience.

Future progress depends on equity – right now
Not all industries are starting at the same place when addressing gender disparity at senior levels. In telecoms, for example, one report  found that, of the telecoms companies surveyed, just one had more than 40% of female directors, while four had none at all. 42% of women in the technology industry have considered leaving for other industries as they continue to face barriers. Unless we unite to address the issue as an imperative, progress and growth will be limited.

We should all be concerned about a lack of diversity across the sector, given that telecoms and tech have the greatest influence on the digital transformation we’re experiencing across society, in our homes and workplaces. Without the industry’s remarkable digital capabilities and incredible technical expertise, the pace of change would progress at a steady rate rather than the breakneck speed that’s needed to ensure the digital economy flourishes. As a technology pioneer of the digital age, the industry has to address the next big challenge: to make sure its people reflect the diversity of the global markets it serves.

Set measures and hold your business accountable
The United Nations has set gender equality in its top five ’17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030’. Businesses must create a framework with which they can drive change – but having this in place isn’t enough. They must prioritise resources to support these frameworks. The 2022 Workplace DEI Report from Culture Amp found that only 34% of companies have enough resources to support D, E and I initiatives. With the economic squeeze, businesses are likely to reallocate funds across the business, so these initiatives slip down the agenda.

Working with colleagues at an industry group called the TMForum I’ve led the creation of an Inclusion and Diversity Score that provides a transparent way for our industry to measure its Inclusion and Diversity performance and offer candidates and employees a window into a company’s values and culture. Transparency and accountability set a real benchmark for change.

Remove the stigma from workplace taboos
Businesses must make it easier for women to succeed in senior roles: not just at the point of recruitment but also in supporting women who face barriers in successfully carrying out these roles.  Women over 50 are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. At the same time, more than one in ten women have left their job due to unmanageable menopause symptoms. 44% say that the menopause has impacted their ability to work. Yet the topic is still taboo in far too many boardrooms, and if we don’t do something about it, we risk women being side-lined or unable to apply for top jobs. Progressive organisations are raising awareness around the menopause through internal events and initiatives, from sharing experiences to inviting guest speakers and sharing resources. Showing you’re there, listening and talking about this is really important for women to feel supported and encouraged to apply for senior roles.

Listen to the mood music
People entering the workplace now are more socially and politically aware than previous generations, guided by a strong moral compass and sense of what is just and unjust. Values and purpose are not just ‘nice to have’ – they are deciding factors for candidates seeking employment. Research by recruitment platform Monster found 83% of candidates say that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer. Businesses must be transparent, open and authentic if they are to attract the best talent.

Keep on learning
68% of men in tech believe women have equal progression opportunities, but only a quarter of women feel the same. There’s clearly a disconnect – but a great opportunity for education and allyship. At Colt, we recently participated in a Masculinity in the Workplace conference. The conference addressed some critical challenges that can create barriers to diversity and inclusion. Our attendees came away from the conference with a deeper understanding of their own biases and privileges and how these can impact their interactions with others. They also learned practical skills like how to recognise and interrupt microaggressions and how to be an active bystander.

A culture of continuous learning helps to address this disconnect and drive change. Coaching and mentoring, manager inclusivity and bias training, support policies, Inclusion and Diversity Councils and employee support networks can make a real difference.

The road is long… the journey worthwhile
While progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. The digital skills gap is widening: it is estimated that the telecoms industry, in particular, will need to fill three million digital roles by 2025. Research has found that the number of women accepted onto full-time STEM undergraduate courses in the UK increased by more than 50%, which is as encouraging as it is exciting. All industries are responsible for progressing those undergraduates’ career paths and nurturing and retaining them.

The shifting parameters of the traditional workplace give businesses the ideal opportunity to reassess their D, E & I strategies. Hybrid working gives some women a chance to step up – to go for roles they couldn’t have otherwise applied for. Businesses must make a clear commitment to driving change to address gender disparity, to benefit businesses, industry, economic growth and the long-term pursuit of a fair and more equitable world for all.

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