Real progress on gender balance targets for FTSE 350 firms but organisations must not ‘rest on their laurels’

CIPD Voice On... findings of the Women Leaders Review by Claire McCartney, CIPD’s Senior Resourcing and Inclusion Adviser.

In its second report, the government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review found that FTSE 350 firms had reached the gender parity target three years earlier than the proposed deadline. 

The report tracks the progress being made by Britain’s largest companies, with more than 30,000 employees on boards and in leadership positions, in efforts to break down barriers to progression for talented women into senior roles. 

This progress has also secured Britain second place when compared internationally with 11 countries striving to improve gender balance. 

Building a pipeline of female talent 

However, the report shows that there is still more work to do to achieve gender parity, and the focus now needs to be on increasing the number of women in executive committee roles and their direct reports to build a strong pipeline of female talent for the future. 

With the proportion of women in leadership positions – defined as the executive committee and direct reports to the committee – at 33.5% for the FTSE 350, the firms now have a ‘critical’ goal to achieve a target of 40% women in leadership teams before 2025.  

So what actions should organisations be considering to support greater gender equality at work?  

Employer actions to drive change 

Every organisation is different and will be experiencing different challenges when it comes to gender equality and progression. Start with your own data to see where to focus your efforts and to target your actions to achieve the most effective results.  

Once you have an understanding of the areas you need to focus your efforts on, it’s important to look at the evidence of actions that work to support gender equality at work. The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) have produced evidence-based guidance to help employers do just that, and we summarise the most promising actions below. See also the CIPD’s guidance on inclusive recruitment, written by the BIT.

1. Set internal targets for gender representation and equality – targets are most successful when they are specific and clear, time-bound, challenging but realistic and monitored, with progress being tracked and reviewed regularly.

2. Appoint equality diversity and inclusion leads and/or taskforces – having an equality, diversity and inclusion lead is linked to better representation of women and minority groups in organisations. Diversity leads and taskforces should be able to review hiring, progression and talent management decisions and ask for justifications for them to create accountability.

3. Offer flexible working in job adverts – advertising new roles or promotions as open to part-time or job-sharing by default increased applications from women to senior roles by 19% at Zurich Insurance and 35% at John Lewis & Partners, and few hiring managers opted out.

4. Use structured interviews for recruitment and promotions – compared to structured interviews, unstructured interviews are more likely to allow unfair bias to creep in and influence decisions. Use structured interviews that ask exactly the same questions of all candidates and grade the responses using standardised criteria.

5. Use skill-based assessment tasks in recruitment – during recruitment, ask candidates to perform a range of tasks they would be expected to perform in the role they are applying for. Using tasks that assess a variety of skills and abilities may help to reduce differences in how men and women are rated overall.

6. Make expectations around salaries and negotiation clear – women are less likely to negotiate their pay, on average, which can lead to women having lower starting salaries than men. These differences persist over time. Employers should clearly state the salary range available and whether the salary is negotiable.

7. Increase transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes ­ ensure openness about processes and criteria for decision-making so that employees are clear about what is involved to get a pay increase or exactly how promotions are decided. Managers also understand that their decisions need to be fair and objective because they will be reviewed by others.

8. Share local support for parental leave and flexible working – flexible working arrangements and generous parental leave attract diverse talent and employers need to ensure that take up is encouraged. Men may privately support other men taking longer parental leave and working flexibly, but incorrectly believe that their male colleagues think differently, so share local support.

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