If you are a young woman working for a British business in 2015 you definitely have a better experience than women did 45 years ago. Progress has been made to support the development of women on the same grounds as men with internal women’s networks and the option to request flexible working hours. Recently the UK government announced that couples can now share up to 50 weeks parental leave. It seems that the government is trying to make it easier for women to advance in business, but is this working?
I work with FTSE 100 businesses advising them on gender diversity and developing programmes and events to help them engage and support their female talent pipe line. Most of my clients want to help young women within their organisation to stay and progress onto senior roles but find this a challenging and slow task. Senior women are just not visible in many businesses with only a quarter of Non-Executive Directorships belonging to women and even less on executive level where all the key decisions are actually made. This raises the question of who do the young women have to look up to within their organisations? In addition women still earn, on average 20 per cent less than men. The UN has warned it could take close to 70 years to achieve gender equality at this rate.
Men could simply be hiring more men and not enough women are being invited to interview for board level roles. Young women may not be put forward for leadership programmes as much as their male colleagues or sponsored by an executive. The young women themselves on occasions do also fail to negotiate. A study from Harvard Business School showed that in a class of graduating MBA students half of the men had negotiated their job offers as compared to only one eighth of the women.
I decided to go into business because I want to control how much I get paid for the work I do and it gives me the flexibility to arrange my schedule around other commitments. I have seen an increasing number of professional women I know start their own businesses for that very same reason. Running my own business gives me a good work life balance which will enable me to determine my future career path.
If businesses want to retain young female talent they need to create a business case for supporting and championing women within the business. Businesses will also need to set targets for the number of women they have at board and management level and treating it the same as they would a financial target. Companies who have more women in senior positions do better than those that don’t. The government could perhaps take a leaf out of Norway’s book and threaten to shut down companies who do not have 40% of women at board level.
Managers within business should invest in female talent by putting them forward for MBA’s or encourage them to attend training. Retaining female talent is an area that businesses need to focus on as more women are leaving competitive careers like Law and Finance to start their own business or family. The only way is to show young women very early on in their careers that there is a strong possibility that they could one day secure a senior position with their employer. You have to see it from their point of view: Why would you bother to invest your time and skills in a business where you cannot see a future for yourself in the boardroom? Young women are more ambitious than ever especially millennials so businesses need to adapt and keep hold of this talent before they become competition!