Women in business has been one of the hot business topics of 2013 from maternity leave (or lack off), to "leaning in", to quotas, there has been a lot to say, and rightly so. Since we set up Inspire in 2008 we have met with a number of individuals from organisations across the globe. They have all said the same thing; they wanted to see more women in senior positions and sitting on company boards. This got us thinking - why aren't there more women in senior positions? What are their motivations for opting out of corporate life? And where are they going?
Recent reports from Lord Davies and the Cranfield School of Management have shown that there is still a long way to go to get more women into boardrooms. Only 16 per cent of board members in Europe's top companies are female, yet 60 per cent of university graduates are women. There must be something discouraging women from remaining in corporate organisations. Businesses all around the world are losing their best and brightest talent long before they even get a chance to smash through that glass ceiling. Significant numbers of women are leaving big companies at middle and senior management level.
This may not matter to the women concerned. They are often stepping off the corporate ladder in order to do other, more fulfilling roles where they can take more control over the balance they strike between work and non-work responsibilities. Be this setting up their own business or putting family first. However it does matter for the companies they leave.
We recently did some of our own research to find out exactly what organisations were doing, weren't doing and needed to do to ensure female executive directors are not in short supply.
Of the 600 CEOs, executive directors, non-executives directors and other senior business leaders interviewed for our Balancing Act report, an interesting fact emerged. Both men and women were clear about what would persuade them to stay longer in an organisation - cultural change.
This is why Vince Cable was wrong when he stated we do not need to see a cultural change to help women reach senior business positions.
More than 60 per cent of women would stay longer in their jobs if there was a change of attitude. Well over half - 58 per cent of senior executives (both male and female) - say their productivity would increase by 10 - 25 per cent if their organisations played a more active role in helping them balance their work and non-work lives.
Almost a quarter of respondents singled out male-dominated culture as the single biggest reason women are under represented at the top. These behaviours are so deep-rooted that gender bias is largely unconscious. This bias affects recruitment, development and promotion decisions, as well as values, behaviours and beliefs. This is not a 'woman's issue' as 25 per cent of men seen the shortage of women in the pipeline as the biggest barrier to getting more women into senior positions. Just one in nine respondents felt their organisation was successfully developing this pipeline, and many respondents thought progress would only happen once change-resistant male executives have retired.
Cultural change is key to creating the successful business and workplaces of the future and moves to improve working life cannot and should not be ignored. There is clearly strong desire for a cultural shift from both male and female employees. Now is the time to make it happen.