Championing Women Leadership: 9 simple steps your business can take now
Mar 4th, 2022
“In the future there will be no female leaders – there will just be leaders”
The theme for this years’ International Women’s Day is ‘breaking the bias’. Even with the most inclusive cultures, biases may exist, so it is an important time for leadership teams to look at the steps that they can proactively take to remove them and balance leadership opportunities for women.
The latest Government-backed data on women in leadership positions show a real mixed bag of messages. A promising headline statistic that 40% of all FTSE 100 board positions are filled by women, is contrasted by the fact that only 18 of the FTSE 350 companies have female CEOs.
A McKinsey report showed that companies with the best gender balance on their executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability, which means that the majority of businesses in the UK are not reaching their full potential.
Here are 9 ways you can change your business so that you are part of the solution in ‘breaking the bias’ and creating a culture that is balanced and equal:
1. Diversify your leadership team and talent pool
‘Similarity bias’ can often be found influencing business leaders’ decisions over who to hire, promote or give opportunities to. In much of the corporate world, the nepotism of personal networks and recommendations still drives recruitment and we are hard wired to favour people who are similar to ourselves. Undertaking a review of your recruitment panel to ensure there is a diverse mix of people and backgrounds involved in the process can make sure you are considering a more diverse mix of qualified women for the roles you have available.
2. Measure your progress
When asked, most business leaders will say that increasing diversity, equality and inclusion is a priority for them. Where many fall down though is in failing to turn their good intentions into defined, measurable targets with specific timescales.
If this is a priority for you, then consider committing to specific targets, then regularly sharing data and details of the progress being made towards achieving those. Provide accountability by giving a member of the leadership team responsibility for delivering this with the tools and freedom to make that happen.
JLL’s newly appointed CEO, Stephanie Hyde, has publicly committed to improving the firm’s ratio of 27.5% of senior executives who are women.
3. Ask people about their ambitions
‘Perception bias’ is one of the biggest risks to women achieving their ambitions. At times we may make decisions on career progression opportunities from judgements that are based on inaccurate assumptions. To remove this you need to ensure you actually know the ambitions and aspirations of your team members and what they are prepared to do to make them happen.
I frequently coach women executives on influencing and part of that is clarifying and communicating their ambitions so they can navigate their career path, and be offered the promotions and opportunities they aspire to. This only works if they have the forum within their company to set out those ambitions. Make performance reviews matter so there is dedicated time to express ambitions and feel heard.
4. Ensure middle management promotions are equitable
There are currently 8 female CEOs in the FTSE 100 and 10 in the FTSE 250. One of the reasons why there are not enough senior women in the C-suite is the lack of promotions at middle management level. This needs to be more equitable and broadening the scope of development programmes to include financial acumen, strategic thinking, digital awareness, will be important for these general management roles.
It is important for women to have role models to see what is possible and as more women take up the most senior roles in businesses, this inequality should naturally start to balance out. Taylor Wimpey, one of the largest listed housebuilders in the UK has just appointed its first female CEO, Jenny Davey, whilst GlaxoSmithKline is led by Dame Emma Walmsley.
5. Take responsibility for mentoring
Seek out to mentor a young woman at the beginning of her career. There is no greater pleasure than playing a part in the success of another person’s career – be the champion you would have liked in your early career and make a difference.
Encourage woman entrepreneurs. Currently 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK are women and the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship highlighted to the government in 2019 the economic gains from levelling this up.
A recent survey by the Mentoring Circle, which specialises in mentoring newly qualified female professionals in the property industry, reported that when those being mentored were asked ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ the most common response was “I would run my own business”. Be part of the change that makes this happen by mentoring a budding female entrepreneur.
6. Encourage flexible working for all
The pandemic forced everyone into doing what working mothers have done for a long time; embrace flexible hours and managing home and work demands. This has helped dispel the stigma around flexible working.
Giving employees clear direction on performance outputs and the flexibility of achieving them in a way that works with their personal circumstances, will increase loyalty and retention.
I have had many conversations with male executives who have appreciated the impact on their family life that flexible working has afforded them. Encouraging them to speak openly about this will go a long way to removing the bias against some working mothers who need that flexibility by normalising the situation. Last week I spoke to a female business owner who acknowledged that she declined a client meeting that clashed with the school run, but felt it necessary to withhold the reason why for fear of being judged.
7. Break our own biases
We all have biases about ourselves – pre-existing ideas about who we are and what we are capable of – that can impact our ambition and drive. I recently had an update meeting with a client I first worked with a year ago, who had been promoted 3 years earlier than she had anticipated. At the time she was concerned that she wasn’t capable of doing this role. She was the youngest and only female member on a regional board and with the responsibility of bringing up a young family, she felt she was out of her depth. We worked through her biases and ‘inner critics’ that were causing those doubts. One year on she is running the company’s most successful division and is a role model for other women in the business.
Her line manager believed in her and gave her that opportunity based on her talent. Sometimes we need to trust that belief that others have in us, even if we don’t quite believe it ourselves.
8. Promote success and balance
One narrative that I have seen from male and female clients as a result of the pandemic, is that many have come to the realisation that they want to succeed in their careers, but not at all costs. More and more we are accepting that prioritising home life and family doesn’t make us less ambitious or less able to be successful business leaders. This wider acceptance of work-life balance and how that is integrated into management practices, can go a long way to helping overcome one of the most common biases that working women face when it comes to motherhood.
It is often our home and family life that motivates us to succeed in business. A client recently returned from her maternity leave to take up a new leadership position in her company. We spent time together mapping out her core motivations and how they tie her career and family together which helped clarify the work she most enjoyed and excelled at, which will influence her continuing success and happiness.
9. Educate your company on the impact of bias
Bias is the act of making quick decisions based on a previously held opinion, and assumptions that may be wrong. This is demonstrated in this short video by the Royal Society. I recently attended a workshop on diversity where I recognised some of my own unconscious biases, and became aware of some of the challenges colleagues I had known for years had experienced in their lives
Making any of these changes will go a long way to influencing women to feel that their voices are being heard and their own ambitions are being supported by the businesses they work for.
If you feel your business or team could benefit from some of these changes, I would welcome exploring this further with you. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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