The Road to More Women in the Boardroom

In today’s business environment, gender diversity – and diversity on a broader scale – is essential to ensuring we have the right skills base and talent pool within our organizations.

Below CEO Today hears from Christine Hodgson, UK Chairman and Global Head of CSR at Capgemini, on the challenges women face from the bottom up.

More diversity drives different perspectives, wider skillsets and new ideas that can enrich the decision-making process and, ultimately, lead to better business outcomes. Research agrees; the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy found that shifting from an all-male or all-female workforce to one that is evenly split along gender lines can increase revenue by over 40%.

From what I am seeing, diversity in the boardroom is improving across organizations of all sizes, sectors and countries – with some doing better than others. Targets set are helping to ensure that female representation in the boardroom is front of mind for businesses. However, while these targets ensure businesses take accountability to improve diversity, they will not drive the full level of action needed to take us where we need to be. To deliver the change, business leaders must ensure they foster an inclusive environment and support a diverse workforce. Business leaders can pave the way for this by adopting a few key principles:

1. Be proactive in populating the female talent pipeline, from the bottom up

To achieve a more diverse workforce, companies have to start at the very bottom in the way that they attract and hire junior talent. If the pyramid is imbalanced from the start, there is no hope of achieving diversity at leadership levels.

With a good balance at entry level, companies then need to ensure that they create an environment in which everyone can thrive and in which there are development opportunities for everyone. And of course, beyond entry level, for all vacancies, all training courses and for all promotions, there needs to be good representation from diverse groups within an organisation, and no bias in the selection processes.

2. Establish an active inclusion strategy and create a positive workplace culture where everyone wants to work, and grow

The next step is to create a culture where women – and men – want to work and grow. Flexible working, remote working, and fair promotion opportunities are all integral to creating more balanced workplaces in today’s modern world – and are becoming pre-requisites in the minds of many employees, both male and female. A recent study from The International Workplace Group found that 80% of employees, when faced with two similar employment offers, would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible working. To attain and keep the best female talent, organisations should offer these benefits.

I was recently asked whether I felt that men or women were more “loyal” to an organisation. When I studied the facts at Capgemini in the UK, what I found was they are equally loyal, but the attrition of women tended to be higher at more junior levels and less at more senior levels. This confirms in my mind that it’s essential that we lay out a career path within the organisation for everyone and we show how flexible we are prepared to be at certain times.

Historically, organisations have expected to lose a number of women when they start a family. I suspect that for many women, when they become a parent this may be the moment they leave an organisation, rather than the reason. Sometimes it can feel simply too difficult to juggle parenting and work. Employers need to be particularly flexible for all new parents, men and women, as they adjust to a different life. I firmly believe that being flexible at various key times in an employee’s life when they need extra support, for whatever reason, will help retention and ultimately help keep a gender balance in the workforce.

3. Show female talent that they can get to the top

Last but not least, organizations need to show that women can make it to the top, and the best way to demonstrate this is through relatable role models. If individuals look up and don’t recognise anyone at the top of the house they are quite likely to conclude that their own chances of success are slim.

Of course, role models come in all shapes and sizes. I am blessed to have a senior role at Capgemini and also to be a Mum. I have one 12 year old son who was the most fantastic midlife surprise, arriving when I was 42. I was lucky in that I had already reached a senior position and I think it was easier for me to juggle work and parenting – I felt I didn’t need to prove myself. For younger new mothers who are making their way it could feel harder, and I’m determined at Capgemini to help them succeed, to enjoy parenting and still feel able to develop within the company.

This can be done by developing initiatives to support and champion female employees throughout their careers. Capgemini, for example, has introduced numerous initiatives, including Outstanding Women in Leadership and Mentoring and Protégé Progression, all designed to create an environment that is more nurturing and inspiring for women, and to empower them to reach their career goals.

The road forward

Ultimately, female representation in the boardroom will not change without a broader cultural shift within organizations. However, by building hiring and promotion opportunities that encourage diversity, and ensuring that employees feel valued and supported throughout their careers, organizations will no doubt begin to see more gender balance in their leadership pipeline. One thing is no for sure – no organisation will move the dial without some positive actions.

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