Kristal McNamara is director of Flexology, a Bristol-based flexible working consultancy and recruitment agency, which works with businesses and candidates to get highly-qualified people into flexible working positions. Kristal has worked in the financial services sector for over 15 years. She is a qualified change and programme management professional (APMG), with extensive experience in project management, business improvement and leading large-scale programmes of organisational change. Here she shares her thoughts on how flexible working could address the gender imbalance in senior roles.
With the move to gender pay gap reporting accompanied by increasing pressure for diversity, firms that lack balance in senior roles are under the spotlight. Often the excuse for the pay disparity is that there aren’t enough women in senior roles.
So how do firms attract, retain and promote more women into senior positions? And why aren’t they there now? We’ve shared our four top tips on how to improve gender balance.
Have a formal promotion process
McKinsey has conducted compelling research that shows inequality starts at the first promotion, particularly for ethnic minorities. Fewer women than men are hired at entry level, meaning that the representation of women further declines at every subsequent step. There is clearly an element of bias at play, either conscious or unconscious, and firms would do well to invest in transforming their recruitment and promotion process. They should ensure there is a structured process, with established diversity among the managers interviewing and making process decisions.
Consider the barriers. Is a lack of flexibility in working hours stopping women from applying for promotion? If so, how can you add more flexibility? Is the lack of representation of women and ethnic minorities at a senior level stopping more junior staff from applying for promotion? Do the women in your organisation have succession planning in place and do they have mentors or sponsors to support them through the process? Put a structured plan in place to address these issues.
Flexible working – have a results focused approach to working hours
Entering senior management and C-suite roles is a key stage in a career which for women often coincides with having children. In an already competitive environment, they then face an added challenge of returning to work after maternity leave and trying to gain more flexibility in their role. The lack of flexible working is a key barrier for women – research shows that 87% of workers want flexibility but only 11% of roles are offered with it.
Firms that are innovative in their approach and focus on output or results-based working (rather than hours worked) will continue to attract women into senior roles. On the other hand, businesses that do not accept the demand for flexibility from talented qualified professionals will struggle to retain them and attract new staff.
Focus on the facts
According to a report by McKinsey, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to achieve financial returns above their industry average. Having one ‘token’ woman is not enough as they will not be able to effect the change of culture or create the right environment that will make real difference. Don’t ignore the stats – use them to help drive the change you need. Taking on more senior women will lead to better financial results for your company.
The 30% Club was founded in the UK in 2010. Members make a clear commitment to having 30 per cent women on boards and they are making great strides towards this goal. Currently the figure stands at 28.9 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent, and firms that make this commitment are seen as go-to employers by senior women. Could your firm become a member?
Communication, culture and mission are key
Competition for talented women is strong, so you need to ensure that you have strong brand values and an established mission. Make sure that your culture is attractive to women (and ethnic minorities) and that you shout about what you are doing, including the flexibility you offer.
Your firm may not be where you want to be. That’s OK. Talk about where you want to get to and the journey you are on to get there. Get potential candidates excited about coming to work for you and help you on the journey. Once they are on board, keep communicating to them and keep them engaged.
If you’re struggling, find a recruiter which understands the benefits that flexible can have in attracting the brightest and best candidates. Good recruiters will have worked client-side, understand what it is to be a business leader, and recognise that to attract, retain and grow the brightest and best talent requires a work environment that brings out the best in people.