In the last seven years, the proportion of women sitting on the board of directors of FTSE companies has soared. Progress has been positive, with 29% of board positions in FTSE 100 companies now being held by women. This is welcomed but while the headline figures may look good, they mask the reality that a lot of work remains to be done.
Britain still trails the US and Australia for gender diversity at the top of organisations, yet research shows that companies with a better gender balance are more likely to have above average financial performance. Management consultants McKinsey suggest as much as $12 trillion, or 11%, of global GDP could be added to the world economy by 2025, simply by having more women in senior management positions.
In order to achieve this, there are some essential things that most companies should do to improve gender balance at the top.
Recognising a problem is the first step to solving it
While there are more women in the boardroom, there are still very few female CEOs of top companies. It’s a well-known fact that there are more FTSE 100 CEOs called David than there are women. There are just seven female CEOs in the FTSE 100 and nine in the FTSE 250. In the UK overall, McKinsey estimates women represent an average of just 12% of executive teams.
Surprisingly, in the relatively young and disruptive FinTech sector the situation is even worse. Women hold less than 5% of top executive jobs in Europe’s top 50 FinTech firms, with only one female CEO, according to a recent Getty survey.
Many FTSE companies have improved their gender balance by adding women as non-executive directors, however the proportion of female execs remains much lower. If we are ever going to achieve gender diversity at senior levels, companies must do more than pay lip service to the idea.
Make your strong women visible to attract talent
The only way to have more women in senior positions is to actively seek to do so.The startup world is dominated by young men, who are typically less risk averse and where recruitment is often relationship driven.
One way to resolve this is to make female role models at all levels visible and directly involve them in the recruitment process. Visible women inspire – it provides something young females can relate to. Companies that clearly demonstrate that women are a valued part of their organisation will attract the best female talent and retain it.
Women need mentors
Mentoring should form a major part of a business’s efforts towards gender balance. It is an important tool for passing experience down through the generations, not only workplace related, but also how to successfully balance career and family.
Many women still believe that there must be a sacrifice, having one at the expense of the other. Granted, we see plenty of examples in the press of “super-mums” that can supposedly do anything, however this needs to be made real for women to be able to relate to it.
Mentoring provides a safe environment where young women can explore these challenges with someone who has managed it successfully. It allows them to form a strong vision for what their life could look like, and having a well thought through focal point makes goals easier to achieve. Companies that invest time here will be able to bring through more talent, as women will feel more valued and bought in for the longer haul.
Flexible working practices help retain female talent
The majority of working women will eventually be faced with the reality of juggling a family. Although good advice and careful planning can help you prepare, once children arrive, life changes. Companies need to acknowledge that, despite the logistical challenges of being the primary carer such as doing the school runs, caring for sick kids etc, many women still have a lot to give to a career and want to continue to contribute and grow.
Companies can support their female talent by promoting flexible working arrangements, for example working from home or working part time. Many women would also appreciate the opportunity to ease themselves back into work during their maternity leave, perhaps working two afternoons a week from home or coming in for a morning a week.
HR departments need to be more creative with their solutions for working mothers; they should communicate properly to understand what arrangement works best for both parties and not just assume a default position.
Teach girls to love tech
Women account for just 14.4% of the workforce in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) occupations. There are a number of reasons as to why this may be the case, however one is that there is still a gender split on subjects taken in schools.
Even those with an interest in more technical topics such as maths, information technology and engineering don’t yet have enough strong examples of female leaders in the field that they can look up to and model themselves on. This year’s A-level data shows that less than 10% of computing students were girls. This clearly shows we are not yet addressing the issue for future generations.
For FinTech, this presents a problem as there are fewer girls in the pipeline with a solid interest in pursuing a tech career. Given the way technology is developing, with the continued trend towards automation and digital solutions, the future is likely to be in STEM fields. As a society, we therefore have a responsibility to do more to encourage both boys and girls into STEM subjects.
In summary, to address the gender gap that is still very real in the tech sector, we need to make a conscious effort. Paying lip service through quotas and public statements is not enough.
Here at Globacap, we are currently 35% female – whilst this number is lower than it should be, we are stealing a march on the industry average of 23%. We actively seek to broadcast the skills of our female tech talent to encourage the next generation of girls.
Without visibility, how can we inspire? A good start has been made in the industry with initiatives like the Tech She Can Charter, of which we are a sponsor, however there remains a long road ahead.