Benefits of women in the workplace

Mala Manku, September 2019

What women bring to the workplace
Women in business is a hot topic. Business leaders have grown interested in the benefits of hiring more women, while analysts have been keen to explore what women bring to the workplace.

Search online and you will find scores of results making generalisations regarding the perceived difference in traits and approaches between women and men. Words such as ‘empathy’, ‘intuition’ and ‘optimism’ have been peddled out. Some advise women to ‘act more like men’ to get ahead in the world of work. Such stereotypes help no one. Businesses should employ a diverse set of staff representative of the wider population because it makes good business sense.

Recent years have seen these issues come to the fore. In 2015, The Advocate Group reported that 43 per cent of large UK firms had no female representation at board level. That year, the UK ranked 14th in PWC’s Women in Work Index (it has since fallen to 15th, outpaced by improvements in job market conditions and closing gender pay gaps in other countries) and there was an 18 per cent difference between men’s and women’s median wages. These figures came on the back of targeted action to improve the statistics and demonstrated that the nation still had a long way to go.


Historic prejudice

Since 5 April 2017, British employers with more than 250 staff have been required to publish data on their gender pay gaps. The statistics that followed revealed gaping voids between the pay of men and women working for the same company: figures from Apple revealed that 71 per cent of its top-earning employees were men. The median pay gap at Apple UK was reported at 24 per cent. Ryanair’s gender gap was announced as 72 per cent, and at the time of reporting women made up just three per cent of the airline’s top-quarter earners. There was poor performance across the board, from JP Morgan (with a median gap of 54 per cent) to Telegraph Media Group (where women earn 35 per cent less than men on average) to Sports Direct (whose female staff are paid 6.3 per cent less on a median basis). BP, Tui and housebuilder Persimmon were among those to come under fire over their lack of women in the boardroom.

The reports paved the way for discussion, and the complexities of the situation ignited fierce debate: factors from government spending on family benefits, shared (or lack of) parental leave and occupational segregation have all been cited as contributors to an unfair employment environment for half the population. According to PwC, family-related policies, such as maternity leave and public expenditure on families, are meaningful factors in explaining the gender pay gap across the OECD.

Though the issues are multilayered, prospects for women in work appear to be gradually improving as a result of the data and subsequent conversations. In November last year, FTSE 350 companies were urged to appoint more women leaders and the government reported that the top 100 companies are on track to meet the target of women holding one third of board-level positions by 2020. All-male boards across the FTSE 350 fell from 152 in 2011 to five in 2018, but one in every two appointments to boards for FTSE 350 firms must be women in order to meet the target.

The figures were published in the Hampton-Alexander Review’s 2018 report. Sir Philip Hampton, chair of the review, said: “Over 100 FTSE 350 companies have already achieved – or exceeded – the 33 per cent target for women on boards [by the end of 2020], with a further 50 companies well on their way.

“I would like to thank the business leaders and stakeholders that have driven progress in recent years for their significant and collective contribution. At the same time, too many companies still have a long way to go.

“I am also delighted to see an increase in the number of women in the all-important senior leadership roles and companies working hard for some time now, delivering clear results.”

According to PwC, closing the pay gap could increase female earnings in OECD members by as much as $2 trillion in the long run. In the UK specifically, closing the pay gap could boost female earnings by £90 billion annually – equal to £6,300 per woman. To achieve this, in its Women in Work Index PwC recommends increasing spending on family benefits and childcare, encouraging more female entrepreneurship, and creating greater opportunities for higher-paid and higher-skilled roles.

But hiring more women should not be merely a tick box for businesses: there are myriad benefits tied to increasing female labour force participation.


What businesses stand to gain

Building diversity into teams strengthens team dynamics, bringing fresh perspectives. It can also bring profits. In 2014, an MIT study on workplace diversity found that when teams are split evenly between men and women, revenue can increase by as much as 41 per cent.

And a company’s stance on diversity can directly affect the kind of applicants it gets, too. Global research and advisory firm Gartner found that 80 per cent of American employees consider inclusion programmes an important factor when choosing an employer. Decision-making tracker app Cloverpop found that diverse teams make better business decisions 87 per cent of the time. It also discovered that boards with more women than average outperform companies with below the average by 36 per cent.

Letting go of bias clears the way for women to be better represented and promoted into the roles they are equipped to do – and at the same rate as men. Change needs to come from the top down, with boards and higher managerial levels appointing female leaders.

Women can also be agents of change. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has commented that women tend to only apply for jobs where they meet all the criteria, while men will apply despite possessing only some of the skills required.

Meanwhile, hiring managers can make job listings more attractive to women by using gender-neutral titles, limiting the requirements listed and sharing details of the company culture. Studies have proven that hiring bias is real, so to take things further managers should look at CVs and applications only when the names have been removed by someone uninvolved in the hiring process.

With promises of broad economic benefits, greater business performance and a valuable reputation as a business that values diversity, there can be no excuses for failing to increase women’s participation at all levels of the world of work.

Mala Manku, September 2019

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