Ask a group of people for names of historic leaders who have most inspired them. If any women make it to the list, they’ll typically be less in number, or perhaps not quite as well-known as their male counterparts. Compare how well-known Emmeline Pankhurst and Rosa Parks are with Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela for some examples of the global reach of historic male leaders.
There’s no doubt that there have been many memorable female leaders, but isn’t it time that our perceptions of inspirational role models are balanced by the true diversity of our population?
Gender Equality isn’t a reality yet
Sadly, that may not happen just yet as there are still many barriers to women achieving senior positions. Research from CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) shows that the proportion of females at Board level (23%), is half of those at senior management level (46%), indicating a strong barrier to those reaching the very top jobs.
Although diverse workforces have been proven to be more successful, productive and creative, gender equality is still far from being a reality in UK organisations. Many organisations are still experiencing gender pay issues, disparity in promotion processes and a lack of female representation on UK boards. Women still often report that their voices are not being heard. And despite changes in flexible working becoming more acceptable, balancing a successful career and family life remains a significant challenge. All these factors continue to result in many talented women continuing to drop out of the career game.
What can organisations do to change things?
There are many practical and measurable activities that organisations can do to change the status-quo and ensure that gender equality becomes more of a reality:
- Reviewing reward and promotion processes
- Conducting engagement surveys for feedback (and being open to the feedback received)
- Initiating focus groups to understand barriers to progression
- Running a mentoring scheme
- Ensuring talent spotting is gender balanced and bias-free
- Adopting and encouraging flexible working practices for everyone
- Showcasing great female role models
- Offering coaching for women who are returning from maternity leave
Investing in leadership development is another solution for organisations and is critical in strengthening gender balanced leadership teams of the future. Women need to have the same opportunities to develop their influencing skills, learn how to think strategically, lead change, and motivate teams to success.
It’s about working together
Bringing people together at all levels of the organisation can help enormously in identifying barriers and finding solutions to women’s progression. This can help create engagement and energy for change and can trigger real shifts in an organisation’s culture. Leadership teams can play their part by creating, embracing and pushing for opportunities for women to be recognised for their talent and given a chance to shine.
Together, we can hold ourselves accountable for gender change and ensure that future leadership teams feature a balance of men and women. Hopefully, when the next generation asks which leaders have inspired them, there’ll be no shortage of inspirational women to add to the list.