While there are many aspects to diversity, the area currently in most focus is the representation of women in senior management. The latest research findings suggest that a more diverse leadership team means better leadership, resulting in a better run business and ultimately a more profitable bottom line.
It is now understood that women bring a different perspective to the boardroom than their male counterparts. They ask more questions, are more assertive as well as being empathetic and flexible. Female directors tend to be less willing to make decisions without understanding all the different points of view held, so generally everyone feels valued and supported at the end of that decision making process whatever the outcome.
The question facing many established businesses is how they can encourage diversity given their operating structures and culture have developed and become engrained over time.
The first step many businesses are taking to achieve a more diverse leadership team overall, is to look at the representation of women within it. Given that only 25% of senior leadership roles are currently held by women globally the issue is clear. One global professional services firm has looked at its ratio of male to female recruits and then tracked this through the different management levels. This indicated that both sexes were equally represented through the recruitment process and promotion to junior management roles but the representation of women starts to fall away at the middle management grade.
To address this imbalance many firms are now focussed on how to retain women in their businesses through the period when traditionally those women may have focused on their family. Many firms now actively encourage part time and flexible working and are happy to use the improving IT infrastructure to support women to work from home for at least part of the week. There is a clear view among those firms that the value a diverse senior management team will outweigh any required investment.
Running alongside the issue of diversity is the issue of equal pay. Whilst recent disclosures of disparity in the broadcasting industry have made headlines, it is not just public sector or public interest bodies which need to publish this information. The Gender Pay Gap Regulations became effective in April 2017 and require all employers in England, Scotland and Wales with more than 250 employees to publish this information on an annual basis. Whilst not currently in force in Northern Ireland it can only be a matter of time before this legislation is enacted here.
It is clear that it is in businesses’ best interests to recruit, retain and develop the best female talent. To do so in the future businesses will need to demonstrate that their female staff are both fairly represented throughout the organisation, and fairly rewarded compared to their male counterparts. As Sheryl Sandberg stated ‘we cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware we cannot help but change.’