The First Women Working Party provided a platform for this year’s awards finalists to address fundamental challenges that women continue to face daily in their professions.
It set the ball rolling to create a compelling agenda for the 2017 Summit programme, which will take place on 28 February.
Deliberations took place in four sector-based groups: financial and business services; public service; consumer and media; and science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM). In these clusters the party tackled various themes around business diversity and, crucially, the gains SMEs can make from embedding a culture of inclusion and flexibility into their workplace.
Financial and business services
From private equity, to legal professions, male domination was identified as the common thread among these sectors. The general consensus was that it inevitably breeds a competitive and aggressive environment. CEO of The Consulting Consortium Joanne Smith said: “Men play a different game. They created and understand rules of engagement in this world and we don’t. There is more politicking in a male environment than female one.”
It can be a challenging environment for young women to operate in, not in the least because of long hours and a culture of presenteeism, the environment is not family friendly and there’s a concerning lack of female role models.
The female void in c-suite and senior roles, despite the 33 per cent government targets for FTSE 350 companies, is still evident. In both private equity and legal, reps Hazel Moore, FirstCapital, and Donna Sewell, Legal Edge, have seen incoming bales of women at junior levels, many moving through the ranks to middle management, before they hit a wall as they approach upper and partnership level.
Here female representation becomes more or less infinitesimal, indicating that the problem is not pipeline related but is more one of progression. The group looked at three key ways to address these issues.
Promote message of diversity and inclusion across all levels of organisation
Pushing diversity and equality may not feel natural but it needs to get to a stage where it no longer needs to be discussed. Companies should ensure every person at each level endorses the same message.
Empower mid-level managers
In larger companies, diversity and inclusion is generally a top priority for the senior team. When you reach mid level, this message becomes lost as middle managers have pressures coming down from the board, and pressure coming up from below.
Organisations should look to empower middle managers in several ways. In terms of recruitment, Anushree Bagrodia, MasterCard, said the focus should be on ensuring that they have receive enough applications from both men and women. Unconscious bias training will also help recruiters to select the best candidate for the job.
From another angle, women in middle management, who are often just becoming parents, are dealing with maternity related challenges and facing worries about coming back to work, how has company moved on and how will they fit back in? To counter this shaken confidence, more schemes should be implemented to keep women involved while they are away on maternity leave and help to prepare them as they return to their jobs.
Confidence is key
Diversity should is not just about pushing men off the boards. Employers and networks need to support women to give them confidence to put themselves forward for senior positions. Jan Flawn, PJ Care, said the healthcare industry, which is a female dominated career path, epitomised this conundrum. “As you reach senior management,” she said, “Women are taken over by men.”
Training and development programmes can boost women’s abilities and, indeed, knowledge of their own capabilities to step up to the plate. We should also create opportunities for experienced women to have alternative paths to work. In the case of women returning to work after taking some time out, flexibility is key.