Companies across the UK are increasingly focused on attracting more female applicants and introducing them to their teams – but if the numbers are anything to go by, these efforts have yet to have a notable impact on the opportunities and quality of life afforded to women in the workforce.
In 2018, government legislation compelled over 10,000 companies and public-sector bodies to report the extent of their gender pay gap. The data collected revealed that women were being paid a median hourly rate that was 18.4% less on average than that of their male co-workers – with more than 3,000 organisations reporting an even greater pay gap. The figures also showcased that women were under represented in top-paid jobs in 82% of British companies.
The ramifications of this affect every aspect of women's lives. A report released by the Government Equalities Office noted, "historic differences in labour market participation mean that women aged 55 to 64 are almost 20% less likely to have a private pension, and those who do have almost 40% less wealth held in it." And of the 1.7 million people financially struggling in retirement, a staggering 70% of them are women.
However, while the need for a well-balanced workforce is more pressing than ever, a lack of understanding around the resources needed to support such teams (or the willingness to dedicate any) has been many companies' pitfall. So how can we do better? Well, let's start off by making sure we understand the most fundamental aspect of this conversation: why equality matters.
Bluntly speaking? You need the talent!
With the uncertainty brought by Brexit coupled with the shortage of tech talent in general, it is more crucial than ever that your company is able to attract and retain female employees. After all, the number of degree-qualified female workers continues to grow – UCAS revealed that 732,340 women applied to university just last year, nearly 200,000 more than male applicants (an interesting but unfortunate side note: the Department of Education and the Institute for Fiscal Studies determined that university-educated women still only earn at a similar income level to male non-graduates).
And don't be fooled – job candidates are definitely scoping out your company for signs of an imbalance. Two-thirds of female workers confirmed that they take a company's gender pay gap into consideration when deciding on a place to work, according to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In addition to this, 58% of women admitted that they would be less likely to recommend their present employer as a place to work if they had a gender pay gap.
It's no surprise then that Fortune's "most admired" companies have twice as many women at the senior management level than others, as discovered by the GFP Index. They're also more likely to innovate – producing an average of 20% more patents than teams with just male leaders. Which leads us to our next point…
Perspective empowers you.
On the whole, tech companies produce products and services aimed at an end market broader than just the tech community. So, if your internal team under-represents 50% of the planet, how can you hope to empathise with the end user?
In order to tackle the Law of Diffusion of Innovation and 'cross the chasm' to achieve majority market penetration, you need team members who can understand and offer perspective to the different demographics that make up your audience – while not coming across poorly to any demographics outside of it either! An equal gender balance in the workplace helps ensure that your organisation doesn't overlook both subtle (and in some cases, glaringly obvious) social nuances.
Such perspective is important within an organisation as well. A balanced workforce can contribute to more holistic meetings, a wider breadth of ideas, and new approaches to processes – ranging from hiring to team building.
Diversity = success. Yes, really.
The above segues directly into our next reason for actively working toward workplace equality: it directly impacts your business's profitability! The Equality and Humans Rights Commission study also revealed that 50% of women say that a gender pay gap would reduce their motivation in their role, and 60% of them shared that it would make them feel less proud to work for such an employer.
In addition to this, it's a well-documented fact that companies with more diverse representation in senior management often see more success, as proven by institutions such as McKinsey & Company as well as the Peterson Institute for International Economics. As analysed by Forbes, findings reported by McKinsey confirm that gender diverse companies are increasingly more likely to perform better – with the likelihood of them experiencing above-average profits growing from 15% in 2014 to 21% just three years later (also worth noting: companies with executive teams that were also culturally and ethnically diverse saw that number rise further, to 33%).
Supporting this, the Peterson Institute for International Economics determined that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net profit margins:
"A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders," the report notes. "By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability."
Given all this evidence, it would be irresponsible (and some other slightly less polite words) to not actively and consistently work towards achieving gender equality within your business.
Talking about 'attracting women' or 'diversity quotas' may feel uncomfortable – it essentially admits that there's a shortcoming in your company's workforce – but it's important to understand that the vast majority of tech companies suffer from excluding certain demographics of jobseekers. Why not reframe how you see the situation and take pride in the fact that yours' is aiming to do better?
While there's no definite step-by-step procedure on how to get started (every company is different, after all!) there are some key areas to consider.
Examine your office culture. But for real.
It's impossible to make any real advancement if you and / or your team are unable to critically delve into your current company culture and identify key problems. It may also be apt to have upper management attend workshops or training sessions (which are offered by a number of great organisations, such as Like Minded Females) to better understand the nuances and impact of workplace sexism, as well as to equip them with the vocabulary needed to navigate such discussions.
Then, provide a safe, easily accessible way for your team (particularly the women in it!) to share where they think there's room for improvement. You might not like what you hear, but accepting some harsh realities is the only way to take your business forward – and no organisation can claim perfection! For example, a report published by The GEO revealed that 20% of mothers have experienced harassment or harmful comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their colleagues or employer. In addition to this, many workplaces encourage unrealistic expectations around overworking and constant availability, all of which conflict with the unpaid caring responsibilities which still primarily fall on women.
Consider your social activities as well – do they all revolve around after hour drinks down by the pub? What opportunities do you create for staff with personal commitments to connect with the rest of their team? This can be doubly problematic if your company doesn't lay out a clear pathway for promotions. When internal progression is decided by the strength of one's networks, those unable to attend (or uncomfortable attending) the events that facilitate these are the ones that suffer. The GEO's report also points out that those in power often champion candidates that look or act like them – which immediately disadvantages women, who are often less likely to be seen possessing such "qualifications".
Put your money where your mouth is.
All of this learning, and the internal restructuring that should hopefully come about as a result of it, will cost you time and money. However, if you aren't willing to invest in the future of your team, you can't expect your business to thrive either!
After all, supporting and retaining your female employees is just as important as attracting them to work at your company in the first place. With this comes the need to shift your culture towards one that's not only immediately inclusive, but offers them long-term career prospects.
If you lack women in upper management, the message you implicitly broadcast is that only men get recognised enough to progress to such a level. Because of this, it's important to set up mentors and role models, especially at C Level. Our own Abbie Pullman notes that this is something a lot of companies tend to overlook:
"It's human nature to gravitate toward people who think and sound like us - we're hardwired to stay close to our tribe for protection. This is dangerous territory when it comes to hiring though, and can play out as your all-male board hiring another male manager, non-exec, or mentor.
This self-perpetuating cycle alienates (and is utterly uninspiring for!) women and anyone who falls outside of that demographic. It gives them less to aspire to, with obvious retention repercussions. Actively seeking external advisors from different walks of life will push you to view and tackle challenges in brand new ways - we all acknowledge that discomfort is where personal and company growth happens!" Abbie Pullman, Head of Strategy & Products
And on the flipside, it's also worth re-evaluating how your business handles reviews and performance planning. For example, parents – of any gender – may not always want to aim for promotions, given the additional pressures that often come with them.Strive to offer more flexibility and better-quality work (with feedback, fair pay, and more engagement) – which in turn can lead to increased productivity and better performance. Just as crucially, you'll need to destigmatise part-time and flexible work by promoting them as the norm; provide training for line managers to ensure they can support flexible and part-time workers.The added benefit of this is that these changes will benefit everyone across your business – not just women and carers! Once established, such improvements in the organisation of work can also help reduce overhead costs, such as by saving on office space.
Be an authentic ally.
Once you put in the work, shout about it! Let potential applicants understand where your culture's priorities are by celebrating any progress towards fostering a more inviting workplace with both transparency and grace. If you don't know how to start, consider speaking to the women within your team to understand how they'd like to be communicated to if they were still jobseekers. Visibility plays a much larger role in decision-making than most people fully realise:
"It's tough when you go onto a company's website, click on 'Who Are We?' and just see a row of white men. I don't think that's very appealing to women, especially those at the start of their careers or even in mid-level roles, because you then think, 'Am I going to be the only woman on the board? Or the only female manager there?' That can create a lot of pressure, wondering if you're going to have to work against a very male-driven culture." Lija Rahman, Finance Manager
Establish an active presence at networking events or social media initiatives around women in technology, and use these to fuel your own knowledge (and identify potential hires!). Think ahead to the future as well. Is there a local school who have a 'Girls Who Code' club? Does your local council run a kids' coding programme? Offer to present about tech at such places! Girls are statistically far less likely to continue studying STEM qualifications than boys – in 2017/18 only 22% of A-level physics students were girls and just 9% of those starting STEM apprenticeships were female. By supporting an end to gender norms and gendered work, you can help your own industry thrive.
Remember, the goal is not to be instantly perfect, but to continuously improve! Dedication and being genuine to your values are what will take your company far.
Of course, there's still a lot of progress to be made and far more to be learnt – but creating a truly inclusive environment means constantly adapting and re-visualising how your company works as we evolve away from what was once an exclusively male-centred rhetoric. For example, up to 47% of the UK workforce will experience menopause transition during their professional careers, yet we've still not gathered enough data to determine how this may affect them.
And while it will certainly require additional effort, it's one of the most critical ways to help your business find success with each passing year. Remember, the future is female (inclusive, in case that still needs spelling out) – and it's for that very reason that your business needs to be too.