Women in Business: Improving Gender Diversity at Board Level

The discourse surrounding gender diversity at the board level has been steadily gathering more attention over the past decade and now rests firmly under the spotlight. As of January 2021, the Hampton-Alexander review showed that 34.3% of FTSE 350 companies achieved at least one female member on the board, up from 23% in 2016. While this is undoubtedly a victory worth recognising, there is still ample room to improve boardroom gender parity.

Why is boardroom gender diversity important?

The question on many people’s minds is whether gender diversity at the board level improves performance. While there is research to support both sides of the argument, many studies have shown a strong correlation between female boardroom representation and organisational performance. For example, the Hampton-Alexander report 2020 indicates that companies in the top 25% of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the lower quartile.

Having a gender diverse board is essential because:

·      Perspectives and experiences are enriched and more varied.

·      Prevents groupthink whereby individuals think as a single group.

·       Innovative solutions and ideas are heard.

·      The impact of lacking board diversity can prevent business growth if senior leaders are not exercising dynamic and innovative ways of thinking.

How to achieve better gender parity at the board level

There is no one set formula for attaining gender diversity. Each business is unique and must carry out a holistic assessment of the overall organisation to maximise its success.

Cultivate the right mindset

The leadership team should display a genuine commitment to achieving gender parity. It is insufficient to merely hold gender diversity as a distant goal that should naturally come to fruition in time. Instead, companies will benefit by:

·      Setting time-specific targets stating what percentage of the boardroom will be female and by when.

·      Set a challenging but achievable timescale for attaining board diversity.

·      Commit to sustained effort. Gender diversity and inclusion is not a quick fix and will take continued energy to achieve.

·      Flexibility and adaptation are essential for gender diversity success. Efforts should be regularly monitored and remodelled according to the progress made.

The open and positive mindset of the current majority is crucial for success. The collective attitude should set aside any excuses and prioritise achieving gender diversity goals.

Disclosure and transparency

Publicly disclosing your company’s mission can be a daunting task since it puts the spotlight on you, opens you up to scrutiny, and adds pressure. However, being transparent about your current gender diversity status and targets is an excellent method for boosting momentum towards achieving your business goals. Suddenly your mission becomes real, and there is no shying away or procrastinating.

Rethink the recruitment process

Recruitment is undoubtedly a focal point for attaining more women at the board level. When approaching internal recruitment, companies can make a concerted effort to build a strong network of women that can be relied upon to either source candidates directly from or gain referrals. It should be noted that there is immense value in cultivating business relationships with women over time and maintaining an open pipeline that could serve your business in years to come. When using an external search firm, companies can also explicitly ask them to source female candidates.

In addition, companies benefit from being flexible in their approach to recruitment. Instead of simply looking for female candidates who have previous experience in a C-Suite or CEO position, they can open up their search to candidates with the right expertise but without the board experience. As part of the recruitment process, it’s important to establish your non-negotiables but broaden your horizons in other areas. Some businesses find value in hiring candidates from other sectors who bring a new perspective, enriching that of the organisation in different ways.

Reposition your marketing and branding

Diverse and inclusive marketing should be a part of any business’s branding strategy. It is an effective way for companies to convey their diverse and inclusive culture to the external world. A gender-diverse culture can be expressed through imagery, values, messaging, and policies. Although businesses must go beyond their branding and marketing to truly embody gender diversity, marketing is an effective tool for displaying your intention and can help to attract candidates who seek an organisation that values gender parity.

Use succession planning

When considering gender diversity, businesses must look to the future before it arrives. Succession planning is an excellent way of mapping out the exit points of the pre-existing senior leadership team and simultaneously identifying less mature internal talent to nurture and develop, ready to inherit their board-level roles when the time comes. By the time the successor takes on their new role, they will already be aligned with the company mission, and businesses can be assured they have received adequate training to hit the ground running.

Training, mentoring, and sponsorship

·      Training – As part of your ongoing journey to boardroom gender parity, the leadership team should be given training and mentoring, both internally and through external schemes. Training is not a quick fix; it should be sustained over the long term to reinforce the meaning and benefits of gender diversity. This will ensure that leaders stay up-to-date with how the gender equality narrative is developing in the wider world.

·      Mentoring – The leadership team should also be mentored on a 1:1 basis. This mentorship will support them on an individual basis and encourage leaders to challenge their own unconscious bias when it comes to gender diversity.

·      Sponsorship – Formalising a sponsorship programme for women and people from minority backgrounds is essential, particularly if the organisation is traditionally male-dominated. Male sponsorship often happens informally, but organisations need to recognise that is not the case for women and minorities, and therefore a formalised sponsorship programme is needed. According to Mckinsey, wide-ranging diversity policies will not be enough to create inclusivity. It is personalised effort and sponsorship that makes the difference between an organisation saying they have a diversity policy and those who are genuinely committed to shaping a diverse, inclusive and equal place of work.

Aspire for recognition/awards

Aspiring to gain external recognition or win awards for gender parity can help businesses to drive momentum. This sets the team on a collective mission to achieve the business goals through collaboration and sustained effort. Again, this brings the targets to life and turns an idea into something more tangible.

Review your processes

Companies need to review their internal processes and assess how they align with the wider mission of attaining more women at board level. Processes should ensure women are always represented during key decision-making meetings, and there should be a framework in place to assess whether gender parity has been maximised or overlooked in any given situation.

While it is great to have a team that is committed to the company mission, processes provide the necessary structure to guide your team into realising the business aims.

Closing thoughts

Today’s board-level gender diversity is a far cry from the mere 9.5% of female FTSE 350 leaders back in 2010. Whilst this number has almost doubled in the last five years alone, there remains huge potential for these figures to increase significantly in the years to come. What is apparent is the collective and holistic approach that’s required to achieve board-level gender parity. This mission starts with a single vision, but it can only be realised through the combined efforts of your entire team.

For more information on this topic or discuss how we can support your executive search requirements, please get in touch with a member of our executive team or email info@grgexecutivesearch.com.

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