Women in business: Empowerment & equality driving economic growth

Women mothers precluded with business

Gender equality initiatives across the United Kingdom have gained momentum over the past several decades.

The changes have been transformational, as evidenced by the inclusiveness and availability of medical, scientific, mathematical, tech and other vocations to men and women. No longer are specific jobs reserved for specific genders.

Attitudes are changing, frameworks are being adjusted, and a social consciousness is firmly in place to accept these changes. It is just as common to see stay-at-home fathers as it is to see stay-at-home mothers nowadays. Approximately 1 in 5 board members of FTSE 350-listed companies are female – this is testament to the tremendous strides that have taken place in gender equality circles. Yet, despite these monumental feats, much work remains to be done.

Equality is about more than numbers. It’s about creating a cultural zeitgeist which recognises, accepts, and endorses true gender equality without reservations. It is a self-propelling mechanism which exists in business circles, government circles, schools and educational systems, and well beyond.

Companies need to embrace and promote gender equality to facilitate widespread change of entrenched frameworks. There are many examples of social consciousness leaders who drive the gender-equality narrative. For example, one of the most outspoken advocates of female empowerment is a graduate of London’s King’s College, and power CEO Isabel Dos Santos.

This Angolan/Russian heads up multinational corporations which actively engage women in the workplace, train women, equip them with the requisite skills and education to advance through management tiers into the highest positions. Her companies include Unitel, Zap, Candando, Efacec and others.

After battling gender inequality for most of her life, Isabel Dos Santos became one of many powerful female entrepreneurs who boasts an impressive resume of service above self, female empowerment, and transformational change. In Angola for example, the existing patriarchal systems were heavily biased against women. Through Isabel’s initiatives, old systems are crumbling and new systems are replacing them.

A Long Ways to Go for Gender Parity

In the UK, a survey compiled by Bain & Company (800 professionals were polled) found that many organisations promote gender equality initiatives, but the results of these programs vary widely. There is widespread concern that males believe that the gender equality issue has been sufficiently addressed and no longer needs to be enforced. This means that gender parity programmes have stalled at many UK companies.

Inclusiveness of women in the workplace is another issue that needs to remain a top-priority. At CEO and board level, companies are diligently working to better understand challenges faced by women in the workplace and in society. Women are also being encouraged to work alongside sponsors to tailor make programs suited to achieving individual and organisational objectives.

Presently, only a handful of UK companies are led by females. Many women remain locked in dead-end middle management positions and lack corporate expertise to advance up the ladder. Change is coming, albeit slowly. Women are now pursuing careers much like men have been doing for eons. In 2013, Bain & Company conducted a survey of 820 UK men and women.

The survey found that leadership needs to endorse and promote gender parity programs in order for them to succeed.

Consider that of all the CEOs it FTSE 350-listed companies, just 3% of them are women. That translates into barely 11 women CEOs at high level companies in the UK. Much the same is true of senior leadership.

Part of the barriers to successful implementation of gender parity include structural and stylistic elements. On a structural basis, women find it difficult to keep their families together while still keeping the careers on track. This is disproportionately skewed against women, and not men.

When women decide to have families, this removes them from the workplace and forces them to forego career advancement and promotional opportunities. There are still many gender stereotypes in the UK and elsewhere. These preconceived notions tend to relegate women and promote men.

Developing Parity Programmes to Support Gender Equality in the Workforce

Male leadership styles are still preferred over female leadership styles, even though those differences have been blurred. Women tend to shine in different areas to men, such as mentoring, consulting, and rewarding stakeholders. Regardless, it is clear that gender equality issues can be fostered by offering gender parity workshops and programmes to fast-track the issue.

Among others, these programs will address issues like networking groups, flexible work arrangements, non-traditional career paths, formal sponsorship initiatives, and coaching programmes. It is essential that executive leadership embraces gender parity programmes and actively works to facilitate a culture of inclusiveness.

This requires putting the right people in the right places to manage these programs, and support parity initiatives wherever they arise. This requires high-level management being able to identify talented females in the workforce, generate feedback from them, and sponsor female empowerment programmes wherever possible.

Most of the time, the biggest obstacle to change is the reluctance to change. Existing frameworks, structures, and systems need to be upended to initiate transformation. Several European countries have already regulated gender parity in the workplace, including Iceland, Norway, and Spain. However, it’s up to individual companies to make gender-equality a reality.