Why Are Women Behind?

The U.K. Government say more women on boards or else…

But why do have we so few women on boards given that we’ve had the Equal Pay Act since 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act since 1975 right up to The Equality Act 2010?

It’s fascinating on one level that with all the legislation to back us up, we women still regularly earn less than men and are still significantly under represented at senior management levels in so many otherwise forward thinking companies.

Does the fault lie within ourselves? Well, of course, we could all do more to put ourselves out there (and Gloria Feldt, author of ‘No Excuses’ would certainly argue that women are ambivalent about taking power). But I believe it’s more than that.

A recent report from the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed over 3000 managers which revealed that three quarters of the women felt there was a glass ceiling. It discovered several factors holding women back:

  • Women had less confidence and self belief than men e.g. 20% of men will apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women.
  • Women had varied career paths and had to step off career ladder to have children.
  • Women didn’t expect to get senior positions and had lower aspirations than their male counterparts.

Gender Equality Pays

This is potentially a serious issue for business as companies that have invested in developing its women employees have found it pays dividends, which seems to suggest that those which do not are losing potential profits.

In 2008, research from Professor Michel Ferrar of Ceram Business School on companies from the French CAC40 stock exchange index, showed that the more women there were in a company’s management, the less the share price fell in 2008, the crux year of the global financial crisis. The only large French company to record a share price gain in 2008 was Hermes – whose management was 55% women, the second largest share among French blue chips.

Many companies think they have done the right thing by setting up and supporting in house women’s groups but in fact these have often served to ghettoise the problem and probably have contributed in some measure to women and men seeing the issue of gender equality as a women’s problem. If it is to succeed it needs to be an initiative across the board (no pun intended).

Additionally, most organisations have been set up in a very male-centric way. Male ways of behaviour are rewarded and seen as desirable, often by both genders. If you have one gender constantly trying to fit themselves into a structure and system designed primarily by and for the other, it will cause problems. Women should not have to behave like men to get on. What women bring to the (board) table needs to be equally valued.

So What to Do?
Penny de Valk, the ILM’s chief executive says it is crucial that employers who are serious about gender diversity take steps to find ways of nurturing women’s ambitions.

Coaching and mentoring, in particular, have an invaluable role to play. We know that gender diversity drives performance organisations’ financial performance. Business leaders should need no encouragement to ensure their most talented employees move into leadership roles, regardless of their gender

Time to take control, women! Grab this moment with both hands; there may never be a better time to challenge your organisation about its policy on developing women. If women are seriously under represented in your organisation, time to start asking why, of them and yourself…

If you’d like to know more about my Women Ahead programme, specifically designed to boost women’s confidence to progress at work, click here.

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Posted on March 2nd, 2011 by

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