There has been a vast amount of research carried out on diversity in business and how businesses are able to benefit from having a more inclusive workforce. In terms of women on boards and in senior positions, a recent HBR article states: “Research has shown that firms with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences — among many other benefits.

With all the available studies and research with such positive stats and data, why are businesses still slow in adapting their structure to prioritise gender diversity and inclusivity?

Women and the FTSE

There are only five women CEOs in the FTSE 100. There are eight female Chairs and twenty-one Independent Senior Directors in the FTSE 100. The number of committees has seen a rise from 2019 to 2020 from 295 to 393. Yet the percentage of women chairing these has seen a drop from to 29% (from 31%).

There is no doubt that progress on diversity needs to be championed and accelerated from within businesses. Although there has been some progress on diversity targets, for example female NEDs in FTSE 100 companies has reached an all-time high of 40.8% (to June 2020), more needs to be done. Female executives on the other hand have only marginally risen to 13.2% (from 10.9% in 2019).

Interestingly the FTSE 350 was set to achieve its target of 33% females on boards by the end of 2020, although further progression seems to be stilted. The concern is the lack of women at the top is having a negative impact on the future executive pipeline.

Covid and women’s careers

To attain targets for diversity and better representation, companies need to address the long-term effects of Covid-19 on women’s careers. With more focus on flexible working and wellbeing there is a significant opportunity to drive the diversity agenda, which may otherwise have been years down the line without the pandemic. Companies need to embrace new methods before the burnout of valuable and diverse talent in their business occurs.

Another tool to instigate change in culture and change the diversity agenda, is to implement ambitious targets. Expanding talent pools through better recruitment practices and intentional hiring impacts culture.

Is mentoring the key to better female representation?

A recent article in The Lawyer notes that great progress has been made on gender diversity in the legal profession, with almost a 50/50 split between men and women. However, the numbers fall to just one third female representation at partner level. So, is formal mentoring the key to better female representation on boards and equivalent positions in firms?

According to Christine Braamskamp, a partner at Jenner and Block, this is exactly what’s needed: “We need to make sure we focus on opening up networks and ensuring our young women lawyers have opportunities to develop their own contacts. This should be an urgent priority while the workforce remains dispersed.

What are your thoughts on better representation of women from executive level all the way through to C-level roles and boards?

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