Blog by – Jamie MacKenzie,Director at Sodexo Engage
Recent news that women are still ‘generations away’ from equality in the top ranks of business, politics and law, is a disappointment but is by no means a surprise. The 2020 Sex and Power Index, a report by the Fawcett Society, highlights that despite the growing body of evidence around the subject, the stark inequalities that exist at the top lay bare the dismally slow pace of change.
While it may feel like a mountain to climb right now, employers who decide not to make the journey up are missing a trick. A diverse workplace can boost many areas of a business, delivering better results and attracting new talent. Bold initiatives such as the Hampton-Alexander Review, which is committed to achieving a 33% target for women on boards and in leadership teams of FTSE 350 companies this year, will struggle to make ground without every business playing their part.
Here’s why they should act, now:
Research shows that companies with women in top positions have stronger revenue growth, higher profit margins, and a better share price. Last year, a Credit Suisse report found this to be the case after an analysis of over 3,000 companies globally. Although they noticed positive, organic growth in women in management positions, the trend does not extend to the most senior places. Indeed, the Fawcett Index reports that women make up just over one in 20 CEOs in FTSE 100 companies, a figure unchanged since 2018. But how exactly does gender diversity positively impact profit?
Talent making, talent retaining
Diversity brings different ways of looking at the business; more opportunities might be created, and situations will be handled differently. Christine Lagarde’s comments on the 2008 financial crash, that had it been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, “the world might well look a lot different today”, may sound like hyperbole, but is nevertheless convincing.
Additionally, there’s lots of evidence to suggest that young jobseekers specifically look for employers with an inclusive culture. Having a balanced executive board creates a positive image that is both inspiring and attractive. Further to bringing in top talent, companies with a fair representation at the top can expect to retain their employees for longer. Male-dominant management can be demoralising for employees who see a bias, club-like culture.
What can your business do?
Many organisations looking to act will consider quota-based solutions because of their tangible results and ability to resolve imbalance with speed and efficiency. However, it is unpopular and the argument that forced inclusion leads to people filling positions out of their depth, is convincing for many. The most effective method to a fairer future is to create a level playing field from day-one. Facilitating a natural rise to the top means that every business, small or large, has a part to play.
Firstly, business leaders need to set the right tone. Company culture is driven by the messaging from those at the top, so if they are serious about it, diversity needs to be spoken about and advocated. That’s not to say the rest of the company doesn’t have a role. Getting staff involved at all levels will continue to drive change and put diversity into regular conversation. The more staff that believe in the company vision, the more involved they’ll be.
More immediately, changemakers should ensure the support systems are in place that give women the same opportunities for growth as men. This means having child-support and maternity schemes in place so mothers can effectively manage their home life around their job. Employees who know they can use flexitime, remote working or even on-site day care initiatives will believe their employer wants them to succeed. Again, such policies are an attractive feature for hiring and retaining staff.
Ultimately, businesses are in the driving seat. That knowledge that everyone wins from gender balance at the top, should be a wake-up call for organisations sleeping on the job. Those who decide to act now, will find they have the upper hand in the years ahead.