Hays UK jobs and employment blog


3 recommendations for narrowing the gender divide

By Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

Time and time again it has been proven that more diverse organisations not only outperform those which are less diverse but are also most likely to attract and retain the most talented professionals.

In addition to these benefits of diversity, there’s also the positive link between women in the workplace and a country’s economic growth. Despite this, globally women are not paid or rewarded equal to their male colleagues and remain underrepresented in the workplace, as well as proportionally less represented in senior roles.

Room for improvement

When compiling the recently released Global Gender Diversity Report 2016, we spoke to over 11,500 women and men, asking their views on women in the world of work today.

While the findings vary by country and by sector, we have discovered common themes and sometimes surprising results and have come up with some recommendations about what can be done by business leaders today to ensure that women continue to advance in their careers and achieve better representation at senior levels.

Although we have seen less of a difference in the respective views and experiences between men and women, when compared to our 2015 Global Gender Diversity Report, our research shows that organisations can still do significantly more to narrow the gap of perception and experience.

Business leaders hold the key to advancing women in the workplace and it’s they who have an opportunity and responsibility to continue to close the gender divide.

Here are some of the issues that we have identified with our Global Gender Diversity Report and our suggestions for how they might be resolved:

1. Promote female ambition

Women certainly have the ambition to move up in the workplace, but the number of women in senior positions is still low. While the gender of a line manager should have no impact on male or female employees, employers need to be aware of the effect that a male and female line manager can have on how employees feel about their perceived ability to self-promote their ambition and capabilities, their access to equal career opportunities and equal pay and reward.

A shortage of female role models is detrimental to women's ambition

Our Report showed, the fact of a female line manager directly increases a woman’s perception of equal pay and equal career opportunities. Companies should, therefore, be aware of the importance of senior leaders and role models to female employees. Furthermore, as many senior roles are still typically male-dominated, we can conclude that a shortage of female role models is detrimental to women’s ambition.

The Director-General of the CBI (of which Hays is a proud strategic partner), Carolyn Fairbairn, believes that we shouldn’t just be looking to the boardrooms for our female role models. “It’s important that we broaden the exam question and talk more widely about women as leaders. I believe this, not women on boards per se, is the real issue… There’s no doubt in my mind that developing more women leaders will make a real difference to the success of the UK economy, our productivity and the UK’s future place in the world,” said Carolyn recently.

2. Focus on employee self-promotion

Developed European markets and the United States are lagging behind other nations when it comes to the opportunity to showcase female ambition in business. In Spain (32 per cent), the United States (47 per cent) and the UK (45 per cent) less than half of those women who responded think they have the opportunity to promote themselves or communicate their ambitions. Women in emerging markets feel much more confident in furthering their careers, such as Brazil (68 per cent) and Mexico (71 per cent).

In fact globally, it should be noted that overall men and women across all sectors do not feel they have the opportunity to self-promote and communicate their ambitions. Employers need to make changes to internal processes to ensure opportunities are communicated and that those who wish to put themselves forward have sufficient opportunity to do so.

Managers need to have more training so they are able to recognise and draw out the skills and ambitions of colleagues around them. If the majority of the workforce feels they cannot self-promote and communicate their ambitions this will have a negative effect on motivation and career satisfaction.

Employers need to develop a clear career development plan for management levels and above and communicate these plans so that women are encouraged and supported in developing their careers. This will help ensure companies have a sustainable pipeline of talented and ambitious women moving into senior management/leadership roles.

3. Implement and communicate gender diversity policies

We see the actions of countries, cultures and companies contributing to the building of a more gender-diverse workforce. The expectation of the adoption of best practice and the introduction of new and proposed legislation by governments maintains pressure on companies to make changes.

The implementation of gender diversity policies and initiatives, as well as government legislation will continue to position gender diversity as a front of mind necessity for businesses and thus play a part in helping to narrow the gender divide.

Both women and men who work for organisations with gender diversity policies and practices in place, feel more positive about their ambition, pay and career opportunities. However, 72 per cent of respondents said that their organisations do not have policies in place or as employees they are not aware of these policies. Employers must ensure that they do have gender diversity policies in place and that when they do, the existence of these policies and the opportunities that they provide, are communicated effectively to employees in the organisation.

45 per cent of women do not believe that the same career opportunities are available to all, regardless of gender

There remains a significant difference in the opinions of men and women around the fact of gender-linked issues in the workplace, which can be greatly resolved through more effective communication.

44 per cent of women think that equally capable male and female colleagues are not paid or rewarded in an equal manner whereas only 22 per cent of men felt that this was the case. Additionally, 45 per cent of women do not believe that the same career opportunities are available to all, regardless of gender compared to 23 per cent of men.

This shows that, on the whole, men do not recognise that there is a gender diversity problem in the workplace. There is a slight improvement however when we compare the year-on-year results, so it does appear that more men are becoming more aware of the issues around equal pay and career opportunities.

Men, especially those in management and leadership roles, do need to recognise that there is a significant difference between men and women’s perceptions around equal opportunity and on the back of this be moved to want to tackle these issues. Business leaders can greatly assist in helping to cascade this information. Without understanding and backing from male colleagues, it will be much harder to work towards realising gender equality in the workplace.

Going forward

Employers need to recognise the commercial and societal benefits of a more gender diverse workforce and prioritise actions that will improve gender diversity, not just for their own advantage but for the benefit of their community and country going forward.

In this increasingly competitive and globalised world, where many countries are struggling with considerable skills shortages, it’s important that businesses and countries are making the most of the resources already available to them – in the words of Carolyn Fairbairn, “Where better to look than in the ranks of our own talent?”

About this author

Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.


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