8 March 2019 | By Mala Manku Community

The benefits of gender diversity

As we approach another deadline for gender pay gap reporting, Cavendish Interim Management’s Mala Manku reminds us why hiring more senior women shouldn’t just be a box ticking exercise

Building diversity into teams strengthens dynamics and brings fresh perspectives. A 2014 MIT study on workplace diversity found that when teams are split evenly between men and women, revenue can increase by as much as 41%, highlighting the tangible profits of workplace diversity and inclusion.

A company’s stance on diversity can directly affect the kind of applicants it attracts. Global research and advisory firm, Gartner, found that 80% of American employees consider inclusivity an important factor when choosing an employer. Decision-making tracker app Cloverpop found that diverse teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. It also discovered that boards with more women than average outperform companies with below the average by 36%.

With promises of broad economic benefits, greater business performance and a valuable reputation as a business that values diversity, there can be no excuses for failing to increase female representation in the workplace.

Yet search online and you will find scores of results generalising the perceived difference in traits and approaches between women and men. Words such as ‘empathy’, ‘intuition’ and ‘optimism’ are rife. Women are advised to ‘act more like men’ to get ahead in the working world.

Historic prejudice

In 2015, The Advocate Group reported that 43% of large UK firms had no female representation at board level. That year, the UK ranked 14th in PWC’s Women in Work Index (it has since fallen to 15th) and there was an 18% difference between men’s and women’s median wages.

These figures came on the back of targeted action to improve the statistics and demonstrated that the nation still had a long way to go.

Since 5 April 2017, British employers with more than 250 staff have been required to publish data on their gender pay gaps. The statistics that followed revealed poor performance.

A systemic challenge

Reports pave the way for discussion, and the complexities of the situation ignite fierce debate: factors from government spending on family benefits, shared (or lack of) parental leave and occupational segregation have all been cited as contributors to an unfair employment environment for half the population.

According to PwC, family-related policies, such as maternity leave and public expenditure on families, are meaningful factors in explaining the gender pay gap across the OECD.

Though the issues are multilayered, prospects for women in work appear to be gradually improving due to the data and subsequent conversations.

In November last year, FTSE 350 companies were urged to appoint more women leaders and the government reported that the top 100 companies are on track to meet the target of women holding one third of board-level positions by 2020. All-male boards across the FTSE 350 fell from 152 in 2011 to five in 2018, but one in every two appointments to boards for FTSE 350 firms must be women to hit the target.

According to PwC, closing the pay gap could increase female earnings in OECD members by as much as $2trn in the long run. In the UK specifically, closing the pay gap could boost female earnings by £90bn annually – equal to £6,300 per woman. To achieve this, in its Women in Work Index, PwC recommends increasing spending on family benefits and childcare, encouraging more female entrepreneurship, and creating greater opportunities for higher-paid and higher-skilled roles.

Letting go of bias

Meanwhile, a non-biased approach to recruitment clears the way for women to be better represented and promoted into the roles they are equipped to do – and at the same rate as men. Change needs to come from the top down, with boards and higher managerial levels appointing female leaders.

Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg commented that women tend to only apply for jobs where they meet all the criteria, while men will apply despite possessing only some of the skills required.

Hiring managers can make job listings more attractive to women by using gender-neutral job-titles, limiting the requirements listed and sharing details of the company culture. Studies have proven that hiring bias is real, so blind CV sifting is crucial to progress.

Hiring more women should not be merely a tick box for businesses.

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