Most businesses are conscious of, if not actively engaged in, addressing gender balance in the workplace and at board level. Having a diverse workforce enables us to offer clients a range and depth of knowledge and experience, as well as helping us to work more in a more innovative way. Several organisations are now focused on tackling the issue internally, implementing bespoke programmes, formal quotas or employing initiatives to drive a cultural shift.
But what if that’s only solving a small part of the problem? It’s natural that a person’s aspirations begin to develop whilst they are at school. It’s during these years that raising a young woman’s aspirations and eliminating misconceptions about what can and cannot be achieved as a woman in business is critical for tackling gender imbalance at its roots.
All children need support and guidance to give them the ambition and qualifications to succeed in their chosen career path, and this is particularly true for girls who aspire to enter what are currently male dominated industries.
As part of its award winning school partnership programme, international law firm, Pinsent Masons runs a girls’ mentoring programme which aims to raise the aspirations of 14–16 year old girls and help prepare them for higher education and the world of work.
Female staff from across the organisation have the opportunity to volunteer and become role models and mentors to the next generation of female leaders. The programme which is closely aligned to Sky, the firm’s initiative to address gender imbalance at senior levels, offers personal development benefits for the volunteers, enabling them to hone mentoring skills which are transferable to the work environment.
The programme is targeted at schools in economically disadvantaged areas where there are high levels of pupil premium and students are less likely to have an working role model at home. At Cockburn School in Leeds, 90% of Y10 students on the 2014/2015 mentoring programme maintained or improved their EMS grades. 100% had attendance of 96.6% by the end of the programme and 95% had maintained or improved attitude scores.
Since then, the mentoring programme has been rolled out across the UK, also supporting young women in schools in London, Manchester and Birmingham. In 2015, the girls’ mentoring programmes were supported by over 70 employee volunteers who donated over 440 hours to helping the next generation of women embrace their future. In line with the objectives of Sky which aims to create a better workplace for all and a level playing field, it is important to note that the firm also now supports a boys mentoring programme with male volunteers from across the firm.
As important as it is to address gender balance issues in the workplace today, instigating a change in mindset at the very core of the problem should also be high on the agenda. Providing strong female role models to the next generation should become an integral part of the strategy for organisations which are flying the flag for gender balance but it is important to make sure young men are on board too if we are to truly create equality of opportunity for the next generation.
“I really benefitted from this programme because it gave me an insight of the possibilities of my future and further education. I am now more positive about the future and determined to achieve the best.”
Mentee, Sarah Bonnell, London