Right from the justifiably strong title, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission 'Sex and Power 2011' report made compelling reading this summer. For all the talk of glass ceilings over the past few decades, we are still 70 years from where we should be on delivering equality in the workplace. The report, which measured the number of women in positions of power and influence across 27 occupational categories, found that more than 5,400 women are missing from Britain's 26,000 most powerful posts. And that advancement towards equality was not just slow but had even stalled in some sectors.
Seventy years is unacceptable. But what would be an acceptable figure? 40 years? 15? Of course we're currently aiming for a minimum of 25 percent representation on the FTSE 350, but we're not exactly hurtling towards that, with a large number of boards still exclusively male. While I don't think compulsory quotas are the answer, I can understand why some are calling for them.
Looking at the report, the difference in representation in the public and private sector supports other studies that suggest a growing gap between the two with regards to opportunities for women. The more flexible working hours and more generous family-friendly policies mean the public and voluntary sectors are more appealing to women looking to balance their work and home commitments.
Just a suggestion, but how about the private sector adopts some of the policies which allow women to contribute more to an organisation? The Women and Work Commission estimates that unlocking women's talent in the workplace could be worth £15 billion or more. In the profit-driven world of the private sector, making use of this talent can surely only be a good thing.
According to the report, excluding women already on FTSE 100 boards, the numbers of women directors and senior managers in all companies on the FTSE listings jumped from 2,281 in 2009 to 2,551 a year later. So even though the progress in the numbers of women on boards has been small, it means there is a growing number of women who will soon be able to step into a board position.
For that push into the upper echelons of management women need to get out there, network and build their profile, both within their organisation and industry, and in other industries. People complain of "The Old Boys' Club" having too much influence in business. This mindset of acceptance, of "this is how it is and will always be," needs to change. Of course you're more likely to do business with people who are a known quantity, with people that you know and respect. So women need to get out there and make networks of their own. Challenge the status quo, don't just accept it.
We were recently in Manchester speaking at the inaugural Asda's Women In Leadership event. This event has been designed to help women in leadership identify what skills they need to further develop and move up to the next level of the organisation. This could be anything from finance training to operational experience. This is a great example of a company taking practical steps to help give women the skills they need to be able to lead effectively in an organisation.
While Asda's action is a step in the right direction, women cannot simply sit by and wait for their organisation to do something similar. You have to take responsibility for your own progression.
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