Navigating Gender Equality In Leadership

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Cerys Johnson, CEO of REPL, part of Accenture, discusses the ongoing issue of gender inequality in leadership.

Gender discrimination has been a challenge I have faced throughout various points in my career; I would be hugely surprised if there are any women in my generation who would say they haven’t experienced it in some form in the workplace. 

Ahead of International Women’s Day in March, it’s never been more important to address gender equality, navigate the challenges and attempt to balance the scales in business. As a leader – and specifically a female leader – I believe those at the top have a pivotal role to play in setting an example, supporting colleagues and employees in order to lay the foundations for future generations to come. 

Break The Bias

Working in the tech sector in particular, which has long been known as an extremely male-dominated industry, there are preconceptions and bias challenges but it’s an extremely rewarding environment for women and offers incredible opportunities. 

When I stepped up to the CEO role in 2017 only a small percentage of the REPL workforce were women, and, on some teams, there were none at all. This was shocking to me; improving that was very high on my list – there are so many talented women out there and those that don’t realise the value they can bring are an untapped pool. 

One of the first steps we took as a business – and perhaps one of the most important learnings I can share – is listening to those already there. There is no point in hiring to meet quotas and then failing to take on board existing staff feedback, as that is counterproductive. At REPL, we began by introducing flexible working in an attempt to remove some of the barriers that mothers can experience trying to juggle work and family commitments at once. We also extended paternity leave by several months for the same reasons, to help balance home life and address unconscious biases people may have towards women. 

Remote Working Restrictions

Unfortunately, in the past biases have favoured those that work in-office full-time, which has disproportionately impacted women, as well as other groups. The pandemic has relieved some of these pressures, however as we look forward to the future of hybrid working, we must ensure everyone has equal opportunities available to them.

To achieve true gender diversity, it is imperative factors related to hybrid working are considered when it comes to promotions and career progression – if companies are disproportionately promoting those with responsibilities that require them to WFH, they need to address the underlying culture behind this. Transparency in the processes will help alleviate this as well as build the right team culture and environment in your company to ensure people are playing to their strengths, whatever their working pattern or lifestyle.

Showcasing Gender Equality

To maintain a solid employer brand that feels attractive to the best female talent, it’s important to ensure female role models are visible within a business – as well as externally. In addition, encouraging female members of staff to take part in networking or even mentoring opportunities is crucial to showcase true gender equality – and its many benefits – in practice.

Networking can help open doors for individuals, especially when it comes to meeting like-minded women in business. For me, this was key to securing a good mentor, whether that’s inside or outside of the organisation. You cannot overestimate the power of having somebody that has experienced a career in your sector that understands you, the industry and your aspirations. A good mentor can challenge you, help you refine your thinking, facilitate introductions, and generally point you in the right direction. 

Stand For Something

Companies should remain laser-focused on who they are and what they stand for. Organisations know the benefits of diversity, the big companies and industry leaders are all taking important steps to accelerate workplace equality – this involves ensuring there is effective and accessible training, so they build pipelines of talent to fill influential roles, and female employees quite rightfully have influence in boardrooms Providing support and encouragement to women has been one of the key drivers behind a significant uptick in our own gender diversity at REPL and is something we retain as a top priority. It should be high on the agenda for businesses looking to improve – and there will likely always be more that can be done.

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