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Good for women, good for business

SimonHaskel.jpgSimon Haskel on tackling the continuing gender gaps in company recruitment, promotion and pay

Most of my career has been in the world of business and it is here that there is much to do to improve the lives of women. But there is also much benefit to be had – something captured in the United Nations theme for this year’s International Women’s Day: ‘Equality for women is progress for all’.

Some people have tried to show that companies with women on the boards produce better financial results. I have long been sceptical of this, primarily because there are so many other contributing factors. But businesses with a greater diversity of staff reflect society and a good business serves society, and perhaps that’s why greater gender diversity leads to better results. 

It is this attitude of serving society that enables businesses to embrace diversity rather than just help women fit into a male dominated culture. Men then benefit from more flexible working patterns and spending time with their families, and women can use their knowledge, skills, and abilities benefit the company.

So how do you do make this happen?

The Chartered Institute of Management’s (CIM) paper Women in Management quite rightly points out that gender diversity is not just about board membership but about women in all parts of the business and unlocking the career pipeline that allows their talents to flourish. It’s not just about breaking the glass ceiling. It is also about getting over the hurdles and around the obstacles that hold women back.

Employers who embrace flexible working understand that results are more important than merely being present. It means creating supportive networks and mentoring opportunities for female managers, and providing them with management training and qualification opportunities. Plus career development in their forties when there may be less family pressure. Earlier this year, and with the aim of helping both employers and employees, ACAS published a guide to handling requests to work flexibility in a reasonable manner.

CIM has also looked at the lack of female role models in both public life and the workplace. Part of good management training is for line managers to set an example across their wider organisation. After all, this is how you engage young people and improve the performance of business.

An important part of embracing gender diversity is to close the pay gap, including on bonuses. The average bonus given to male directors was double that for women. Some say this is due to women pursuing different career paths. Both the pay and bonus gaps are more pronounced at senior levels, as at lower levels women make up the majority of the workforce.

The way to tackle this is to measure and report on pay equality and the percentage of men and women at different levels of a company. A useful joint government/business led initiative, Think, Act, Report encourages employers to do this, helping them consider equality in a systematic way on such issues as recruitment, retention and promotion. Ministers should do more to publicise the scheme and encourage wider take up.

If nothing else, companies now face a financial imperative to hang onto women entering the world of work. Many at graduate level, many highly qualified, but also many leaving in their 30s and early 40s – leaving because the workplace culture has been developed and designed by men and doesn’t work for them. What a terrible waste of talent.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer 

Published 6th March 2014

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