There are many successful and trailblazing women who are smashing through the metaphorical glass ceiling to achieve boardroom status. I work in an industry that is rich in female ability and which welcomes swathes of intelligent and accomplished businesswomen every year. Despite this, women hold only 16% of CEO positions in market research, and there are just two female CEOs on the FTSE 100 list.
This sort of statistic resonates across all industries, and despite groundbreaking recommendations from Lord Davies and many thought leaders addressing the problem through discussion and education, momentum is slowing and it is as problematic as ever.
I became managing director at Facts International at 35, an achievement which I worked incredibly hard for. I appreciate that not all businesses treat their employees fairly, and in that respect I am very lucky to be working for an understanding company, that encourages, supports and grows every one of its employees, regardless of gender.
Other businesses aren't so cooperative however, and despite having talented and ambitious businesswomen in their midst, still have male-dominated boardrooms. There is often a lot of advice to women telling them 'how to reach the top', but I don't believe the problem lies with the wrong attitude, or lack of ambition in female employees. The solution to under-representation lies within the institution of business itself, and without institutional reform, the progression of professional women will remain static.
Why should businesses actively pursue a diverse board? Because diversity creates a more innovative, dynamic boardroom, that incorporates more of the varied skills that make a business successful. So what can be done do to get more women into senior positions?
- Introduce flexible working: Cloud and mobile devices make it possible to work from anywhere. Women don't have to give up work to be able to have a family - they can fit this into their professional lives by working outside traditional office hours. Whilst flexi-time would be beneficial to both men and women, it will encourage women to stay in employment during the years they have young families, and prevent them from having to choose one or the other.
- Confidence is key: many women experience self-doubt and therefore have concerns about taking on new challenges. Address this by giving tailored advice to all employees to boost their confidence; provide regular appraisals that focus on strengths and future challenges.
- Get out of the comfort zone: progressing an individual's career isn't just about opening doors for them, particularly for women. It's also important to incentivise them with challenges that take them outside the comfort zone, allowing them to enhance their skills and aspire to the very best of their ability. Push female employees out of their comfort zone so they can prove to everyone else what they are capable of.
- Have a mentor scheme: young women entering the job market now lack role models in high positions. Expose them to success stories, show them how it is possible, and this will give the future leaders the confidence needed for success.
- Support networks: A network of support is also critically important for women during their careers; if a woman can support others and equally be supported, then they will feel valued and respected.
I'd like to thank the First Women Awards in association with Lloyds Banking Group for recognising pioneering women across the UK. Unfortunately women are still facing an uphill struggle when it comes to achieving true gender diversity, and despite the noise surrounding this debate, nothing has changed. The key to change lies in businesses recognising that equality is a way to drive commercial success and gain competitive edge.
Emily Kettle is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.