How can we get more women into top jobs?
The fight for gender equality must start early
“I still meet a lot of women and men who believe that boys should be brought up in a completely different manner from girls,” says Dasha Amrom, founder and managing director of Career Coaching Ventures. The panel agreed that both schools and families have a role to play in teaching young girls that no door is closed to them.
“Parents have a key role in raising their daughters in a way that allows them to believe they can be anything – and by anything, they should spell out that if they want to be a corporate super star, it’s just as fine as being a ballerina or a soccer player,” says entrepreneur and business coach Farnoosh Brock.
Watch your language
“We still find versions of the long-observed language problem for women,” says Sheelagh Stewart from the Fawcett Society. She cites a few examples, such as “he is a leader, she is bossy. He is dynamic, she is pushy.”
Changing the way we talk about successful women would be a huge step forward in the fight for equality. Fighting bias – conscious or unconscious – is impossible when traits that are celebrated in men are seen as negative for women.
“Girls and women are constantly negotiating the double bind; they must be careful not to be too assertive and pushy but also not to be too tentative and self-deprecating,” says Professor Judith Baxter of Aston University. “Negotiating this middle way is hard work and those who make it to executive positions do this well.”
Find a sponsor – and let men play a role
“While skills training and mentoring are important at different times more and more we are seeing the importance of having a sponsor, that is someone who advocates for you internally,” says Jane Dennehy co-founder of the Gender Hub and director of What Could I Be.
Career mentors and sponsors are a huge asset, and their advice and support can help you climb the ladder that little bit faster. Your sponsor doesn’t have to be a woman: it’s important to remember that men have a strong role to play in creating a more gender-balanced workforce. “Something I get stuck with is that women, who suffer from discrimination, are often asked to fix it. How can we make the case to men so that they too join this struggle?” asks Stewart.
Male champions and sponsors could be the key to closing this gap. “At Wise [Women into Science and Engineering] we see some great examples of male champions who make all the difference to the culture of the business and how welcoming it is to women,” says Suzy Firkin, development director for Wise.
“I think it is impacted by generation too. Many young men also want to have a family life and better balance and if encouraged will be vocal about these things and create a much better environment for discussing diversity.”
Companies have a responsibility to face the diversity issue head on
A lack of equal pay is one of the biggest markers of gender inequality, and companies need to take a stand to redress the balance. The panel agreed that direct action was needed, with many supporting controversial approached such as public pay audits and quotas.
“Imagine if all publicly traded companies had to undergo an annual equal pay audit, with the results made public. Women could make an informed choice not to work for the companies that were the worst offenders,” points out Jo Miller is chief executive of Women’s Leadership Coaching and founding editor of BeLeaderly.com.
Julia Meighan, chief executive of VMAGROUP has an equally direct approach. “Unfortunately if we do not get organisations to insist on greater gender balance on shortlist for jobs it will be just a vicious circle. We need to encourage women to apply for more roles.”
Confidence and training can help to create a more level playing field
Research suggests that when it comes to confidence in the workplace, particularly when it comes to asking for pay rises and promotion, men tend to have the upper hand.
“Men on the whole are far better at demanding salary increases and promotions,” agrees Meighen. “They see no issue in negotiating their starting salaries before joining a company, whereas women are far more accepting of what is being offered and expect bosses to recognise their net worth without asking.”
Training can go some way towards bridging this gap, by focussing on negotiation skills for employees but also helping business leaders to understand and recognise bias against women. Sheenah Stewart believes that training programmes can make a significant difference, but must take a careful approach as they can be at risk of creating more of a divide rather than helping women to progress.
“Gender training seldom meets women’s real training needs and often can ghettoise them,” she says. “Training that lets women practise different styles and helps them to handle hostility – without feeling personally to blame – can make a huge difference.”
For more information, please contact Julia Meighan.