Women only account for a sixth of those in senior roles at the UK's top companies, according to the Financial Times. However, women are 35% more likely to go to university, a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute reveals. So, if women are more qualified than they have ever been before, why are they still struggling to secure the UK's top jobs?
Paula Tinkler, Commercial Director at Chemoxy, has come up against some of the challenges women face when trying to move up the career ladder, but now holds a senior role. Here, she explains how we can help more women to do the same.
Instil confidence in females from the beginning
Increasing the number of women working at a senior level is a long-term project, and it starts with instilling more confidence in females from childhood. From the very beginning, they need to see that there's fun in leading and being gutsy.
Often, when they're young, girls are told to be good while boys have to be brave. This conditioning is usually applied to children unintentionally at school and by parents, but it can have an impact beyond childhood.
However, industries need to support women to realise their potential, too. If we give those who are at university and just beginning their careers plenty of opportunities to lead and be involved in projects that are visible to the executive team, they will thrive — I've seen it happen.
Often, when recruiting, managers will see that men aren't shy when talking about their attributes, while many women have a tendency to note their weaknesses before their strengths. This is simply a case of similarly qualified candidates telling their stories in the way they have been taught to. So, while women should certainly make an effort to speak up about their skills, it's also important that recruiters look past these differences and take the time to really get to know their candidates.
Offer more flexibility
Women who have access to flexible working arrangements are more likely to succeed and be offered promotions, according to joint research carried out by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women.
There is a growing demand for flexible working opportunities across the board. For example, people now work much later into their lives than they previously would have, and older employees are likely to benefit from working in a flexible capacity. Plus, nobody can deny that millennials have very different expectations when beginning their careers than their parents would have.
However, according to the research carried out by Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women, workplace flexibility is especially beneficial for women. This is because, if flexible working was to become the norm, couples would find it much easier to share their responsibilities at home, freeing up more time for women to pursue their career goals.
Forget the idea that career advancement means longer hours
Some managers believe that their employees' commitment correlates to the number of hours they spend in the office. But, for me, career advancement has never been linked to working long hours.
Of course, spending a few extra hours in the office might be necessary when working on a specific project, or if an important deadline is looming. However, it shouldn't be routine.
In business, people are our greatest resource, and it's important that they are given enough time to step away, rest, and reflect. Often, women will have more responsibilities at home, so will struggle to spend night after night at their desks. Therefore, it's important that companies pay more attention to the quality of their employees' output, rather than how many hours of overtime they rack up.
If employees take on all of these suggestions, they will be well on their way to helping women achieve their full potential in the workplace. Many companies hold on to old-fashioned practices that were devised when women rarely worked. So, if you want to ensure your workforce becomes more diverse and well-rounded, it might be time to make some changes.