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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

FEATURE ARTICLE

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GENDER EQUALITY - THIS ONE THING IS DRIVING A MASSIVE UPTAKE IN FEMALE SENIOR LEADERS

When it comes to gender diversity within senior positions, women are still massively under-represented within top-ranking positions. 

In the UK, women hold just 30% of all senior leadership roles, with just 23% holding executive titles and 29% holding senior manager titles. What’s more, women hold just four per cent of all CEO roles in S&P 500 FIRMS, according to research.

And even for those in senior positions, a significant gender wage gap still exists among full-time workers. Women earn just 79% of every pound a man earns, on average. In a McKinsey study of nearly 22,000 publicly traded organisations worldwide, 60% have no female board members.

Whilst these statistics are shocking, there is some more positive news on the horizon; A new a Government-backed study for Zurich Insurance suggested that women are now 20% more likely to apply for senior roles, largely due to the flexibility that has become a standard due to Covid-19.

With remote working, flexi-time and a greater emphasis on work-life balance now generally-accepted methods of increasing physical and mental wellbeing amongst the workforce, the study found that a significant portion of prospective female leaders are feeling confident in applying for senior positions.

Nella Share, Commercial Director at Black Country-based MET Recruitment, has forged a career in recruitment for the last 17 years, a typically male-dominated industry and, prior to joining MET, felt the weight of the glass ceiling scenario finding it increasingly difficult to climb the ladder against male counterparts, she told Prosper, “This was one of the motivating factors for making personal career changes over 6 years ago. 

“As a working mum, director and all of the other things that come with career and home challenges flexibility is key, many women simply would not apply for senior roles with no flexibility as keeping a healthy work-life balance would be impossible.

“I’m very fortunate to work alongside two fantastic male colleagues who fully understand the challenges of a working mum and the need for flexibility around home life." 

Lisa Cowley, CEO of Sedgley based charity, Beacon said, “There are many obstacles to achieving senior roles, both perceived and actual for women and men with outside commitments. 

“One of the silver linings of Covid-19, and we certainly need to look for them, is that our misconceptions about flexible and home working have been shattered. 

“Employees at all levels and in all sectors have demonstrated that we are all able to achieve our professional goals when working from home and juggling caring and home-schooling responsibilities.”

The research - which was carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team, a Government-backed think tank - found women have struggled to progress in their careers in the past.

It found there had been a lack of applications from women for senior roles, many of which had not been available on a flexible basis.

Using gender-neutral language in job adverts also generated "significant change", it found.

"We've seen hugely encouraging results, simply by adding six words to our job adverts - offering flexible working arrangements," Steve Collinson, Zurich's Head of HR told the BBC.

"By offering roles that fit flexibly around family life, employers could open the floodgates to a much wider pool of untapped talent. This will also help women progress into higher paid jobs whilst fitting other commitments around their careers," he added. Since changing its policy on job adverts, the number of women hired for top roles within Zurich has risen by 33%, Collinson noted.

Recruitment boss Ms Share agreed, “It’s refreshing to see the changes Zurich have made leading to a 33% increase in women being hired for senior roles. I’d encourage all businesses to make similar changes and re-assess their hiring processes, this will only pay dividends in the future seeing the doors to a whole new pool of talent being opened.”

Meanwhile Beacon boss, Lisa continued, “Witnessing parents on zoom deftly managing to contribute to organisational strategy discussions, while concurrently explaining Pythagoras theory to their children, has given parents, and especially women, a new respect in the work-place. I also think it has given women new confidence in themselves. Never has emotional intelligence and the ability to nurture effective relationships with colleagues, funders and members been more essential. 

“That nurturing capacity and emotional capital that may have been hidden in the past, has now come to the forefront as we empathise with colleagues who are struggling and seek to offer them a virtual caring hand. 

“People are showing their vulnerabilities more than before and it has become part of the conversation to say how are you or for someone to share they’re not doing so good today. 

“Covid-19 has shattered what we considered normal and made everyone reconsider the way we live and work. It has broken societal and organisational understanding of what is required to be a senior leader. 

“Probably, more importantly, it has enabled everyone and especially women to realise what they are capable of and enabled them to demonstrate the ability to lead and support families, organisations and communities at the most difficult times.

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