THE BLOG

'Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling', A Topic Still Very Much on the Agenda

19/06/2014 16:09 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 10:59 BST

Next week InterQuest are hosting the Women in Banking and Finance (WiBF) group's networking event 'Breaking through the Glass Ceiling in 2014'. Our work as recruiters across the financial services sector, places us in a position to experience first-hand the importance that employers place on gender equality. This has prompted me to consider the progress InterQuest is making and the action being taken by groups like WIBF. Is there a need to re-evaluate the necessity for groups like these, when diversity is clearly current in organisational agendas?

Starting with our own experience, we have taken meaningful steps at InterQuest, appointing three female directors to our operational management team in the last 2-years. Gender equality is at the forefront of what we do, and though we have yet to appoint a woman to our public company board of directors, the task of representation is certainly a challenge we are consciously addressing.

Moving on then to consider these focused action groups. WIBF are a not for profit membership organisation who represent the banking and finance sector; organising a variety of consistently well attended events that address the needs and aspirations of their corporate and individual members to develop, showcase and retain female talent and contribution.

'Women on Boards' are another national action-oriented social enterprise supporting women seeking to leverage their professional skills and experience into non-executive director and other board level roles. They supported Lord Davis of Abersoch to report on behalf of Government in 2010 on issues in women's career progression to Board level. In that report he concluded then that women made up only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies.

More recently it has become evident that progress has been made, given that 20.7% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies are women and in the FTSE 100, 98% of Boards include women. Clearly though, further progress is needed. Lord Davis recently reported that although we have come a very long way since 2011, continued and concerted action is still needed to reach the 25% target set for 2015. There are currently only five countries in the EU - Finland, France, Latvia, Sweden and the Netherlands - in which women account for at least a quarter of board members. So what is preventing professional women from breaking through the glass ceiling?

We must appreciate that the primary barrier to women's progression to the top of organisations can be male-dominated corporate cultures. These behaviours are so engrained that gender bias can be endemic and largely unconscious. They affect recruitment, development and promotion decisions, as well as values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs. Sometimes this can be so culturally deep that both men and women can exhibit what is known as gender blindness. This is not ignorance but rather lack of awareness and acknowledgement of the issue. Ultimately though, it is clear that this can impact on a female manager's progression through the talent pipeline.

Flexibility, work life balance and childcare still dominate glass ceiling debates. Interestingly though Linkedin are reporting only this week that work life balance and flexibility are less of a concern. It must be highly disappointing for talented female professionals that the gender pay gap has widened for the first time in five years. This has reversed a period of ''steady progress'' on closing the wage difference between men and women. The pay gap between men and women is exacerbated by bonus payments given to male managers which are on average double those for women, according to the CMI. The gender pay gap increases with each rung of the management ladder, with male salaries already almost 25% higher than women's before bonuses are even taken into account. These figures show that male managers' earnings across all levels are rising faster than women's for the first time in five years, while male directors' earnings rose 5.3% over the last year, compared to just 1.1% for female directors.

It seems then that the ongoing work of organisations like WiBF and Women on Boards remain crucial in tackling organisational cultural barriers alongside some of the recognised barriers and issues in women's careers. Additionally, it seems that more needs to be done to tackle deeply ingrained workplace attitudes if signs of progress towards female equality are to be maintained. The gender pay gap has to be challenged. Finally, to emphasise what I have said here, InterQuest's own work as recruiters for the Banking and Finance sector has indeed indicated that progress has been made in recent years. But to conclude, and to return to the WiBF's 'Breaking through the Glass Ceiling in 2014' event, the glass ceiling must become a manageable challenge and not an indestructible obstacle.