International Women’s Day is almost upon us: a day where we celebrate all that women have and can achieve.
We’ve come a long way in the 100+ years since International Women’s Day became a recognised diary date, from Parliament passing an Act in 1918 which granted female householders or University graduates over 30 the right to vote, to the #metoo movement which went viral in 2017 and demands an end to sexual harassment and assault against women.
But as well as celebration, IWD is also a day of reflection – sober and searching reflection on our respective workplaces, educational establishments and cultural institutions and consider where women are still under-represented – and why.
We know that European and British Labour laws prevent an employer from discriminating against a candidate or an employee on the basis of gender. And the culture has changed in recent years; we definitely used to hear comments along the lines of ‘We can’t employ a woman in her 30s – what if she goes off to have a baby?’ more often a decade ago than we do today – although, perhaps shockingly, we do come across those attitudes occasionally.
What’s more discouraging is that we simply don’t see the number of highly-qualified, experienced female senior executive candidates that we’d like to. Other than in female-dominated fields such as HR, female candidates can be a rarity, particularly in some of the specialist industries Red Diamond headhunts for – aerospace, for example, and automotive manufacturing.
And what we see at Red Diamond is reflected nationally and internationally. Women hold only 24% of senior management roles globally, and 25% of global businesses have no women in senior roles. (source: Catalyst). The UK’s much-reported gender pay gap “is entirely in favourite of men for all occupations,” the Office for National Statistics reports, as well as revealing that “overall, women’s pay grows less than men’s and also stops growing earlier than men’s pay.”
As a female founder and business-owner, I want answers. I know from personal experience the benefit of working with a team that’s diverse in all aspects, from gender to age and educational background. I’m completely meritocratic in my outlook to executive search – for me, it has to the best candidate for the job, male or female – but if women are finding it impossible to rise through the ranks long before they can be considered for senior roles, then we’ve got a problem. And as employers, we have a responsibility to support our employees’ development and progression.
As a society, an educated, hard-working woman faces a raft of demands, both professional and personal. Many women want to work and achieve professionally but have to balance this desire alongside biological time limits if they also want to start a family. Since 2014, every employee has the right to request flexible working once they’ve spent 6 months in a job, but in reality many employers still resist applications for job shares, part-time hours and other steps towards increased flexibility, especially in senior positions.
Granted, sometimes the nature of their business makes flexibility difficult, but at other times it’s down to cultural blindness (“That’s just not how we do things in the legal sector!”) or a plain and simple lack of imagination. Sometimes employers can’t see beyond the short-term – “But this is going to impact on that major contract we’ve just landed” – rather than thinking about the long-term benefits of offering support and flexibility while an employee’s children are young (as well as the costs of finding and training someone else to take her place if she decides to leave).
How do we move on? Well, the childcare funding situation needs improvement – there simply isn’t enough high-quality, affordable childcare in the UK for working families. Men can help, too – if more men took up their entitlement to shared parental leave, for example, or requested part-time hours after starting a family, employers might stop looking at female candidates and employees in their 30s with so much suspicion.
But in the true spirit of International Women’s Day, I’ll also say this: women are also in a position of power. They can do and demand more. And if you’re looking for inspiration, we’d recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, all of which serve up a big slice of professional inspiration.
Do our values chime with yours? Looking at your senior management team and wondering what skills and experience you’re lacking? Get in touch!