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How businesses can support women in leadership in the workplace

How businesses can support women in leadership in the workplace

Women make up less than a quarter of FTSE 100 directors. While the representation of women in the boardroom has increased slowly, how can more women be encouraged to reach for the top?

The Women and Work Commission recently found that if all women were able to perform to their full potential, they could contribute approximately £23 billion to the economy. Additionally, research conducted by McKinsey & Company found that companies with more women on their boards significantly outperform companies with no female representation.


The need for role models

Leading women executives observe that specific obstacles continue to prevent women from rising to the top. One of these is the perception that women have of themselves, and how likely they believe it is that they can achieve their goals.

Anne Godfrey, Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), said: “Having ‘real’ role models is essential as they make the possibility of achieving the same seem more obtainable. Add to that the desire to be there and the drive and ambition needed to reach that goal. 

“Equally important is an environment that encourages diversity in all its forms and offers equal opportunities, and an even playing field, for senior female executives,” she added.


Commitment to gender equality necessary

Other high-flying women in business have echoed these comments, proposing that companies adopt diversity policies that empower women within the organisation and show a commitment to gender equality in the workplace.

“There is unconscious gender bias still in existence that will always be there unless we step up to consciously override the old patterns and assumptions,” says Dannie-­Lu Carr, co-founder of The Five Gateways. “Companies need to fully commit to the investment and implementation of women’s leadership initiatives that empower the top talent and senior females within their organization. The responsibility to make this happen needs to be shared between both genders.”


It has also been suggested that there may be other factors leading to a lack of confidence that prevents women from combatting the ‘glass ceiling’.

“Women need the skills that enable them step up and smash through the glass ceiling of limitation, said Ms Carr. “For example, it is an inherent belief for many women that they need to be ‘perfect’ and already skilled up before they apply for new roles or speak up at work. They need to dare to get stuck in regardless, like the men.”

Chief Operating Officer of ClearlySo Claire Braithwaite agreed, saying: “I see men as more confident than women and more likely to put themselves forward for senior roles. It's important that managers and mentors in organisations recognise this and encourage and support talented women in the step up.”


Workplace quotas for women might be beneficial

Julia Meighan, Chief Executive Officer of VMA Group, offered a more direct approach to address gender representation. “I think we need quotas in companies to ensure that women are on the shortlist for jobs,” she said. “This works well in other countries, and whilst many women are against quotas for fear of being chosen as ‘the token woman’ rather than being promoted based on merit, if something is going to change then we need to take a different approach.”

“Quotas need only be a temporary measure until there are more female role models and greater diversity of gender balance within senior management teams,” she added.


The need for role models and encouragement for women professionals to aim for the top seem to be recurring themes in the methods suggested by leading women in business to help improve gender representation in the workplace.

Currently, the statistics are changing slowly but surely; Lord Merwyn Davies’ 2015 women on boards report revealed that one in four FTSE 100 directorships are now held by women, an all-time high. However, it is clear that concrete changes in the attitudes of employers and of businesses in general are needed.

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