SME spoke to Pinky Lilani, founder of the Women of the Future Awards to discuss the future of diversity in business
According to the Office of National Statistics, 77,000 more women made the decision to be their own boss in the last quarter of 2014 than the same period in 2013. In February 2015 it was also realised that the number of female millionaires had increased by a third - but why is gender diversity such an issue, and what is being done to address this?
How important is it to have a strong gender diversity policy?
I think it is really important to have a balance. Too many women don’t feel motivated because there is no-one like themselves. You know there is the old school boy network and the workplace can be very male dominated and women need to be inspired. We all need inspiration and motivation. It is important to have role models and to move forward with that agenda.
What skills can women bring into the workplace?
I think women are very collaborative and they do tend to love to work together. I think different dynamics come into place when people are working together – the results are much better. Women tend to think of solutions whereas men can sometimes be focussed on proving how great they are. It is a basic generalisation, but that is the kind of feedback I get from a lot of women.
Why do you think more women are going into business on their own?
I think there are a couple of reasons. One of these is that several people who have worked for big corporations and are women wanted to have families or they were fed up with the politics in the corporate world, which is why they struggle in business.
They want to choose something with more flexibility and they also realise that it’s a way of really following their passion. They set up their own business and enjoy the freedom and flexibility that occurs when they set up on their own.
Not all women want to be on boards, so using this as a measure of accolade isn’t always going to work. On the other hand, those that do want to get there shouldn’t be blocked by other people. If there are some really great women and they want to get there, they need to be given all the support.
Do you feel senior business figures – both male and female – have a responsibility towards raising diversity?
I think there is a need for leaders to really encourage those who want to be in the workplace. Diversity isn’t going to happen without anybody doing anything. Since we started the women of the future awards ten years ago, the amount of people who have come to me and said that through the awards they have met other people who have opened doors for them is phenomenal.
Over the last ten years I have seen a lot of big companies talking about gender diversity, then ethnicity came in, then sexual orientation and now again gender. That’s nice, because there are some people who would never have thought about it who have had to wake up to it and think ‘ I have to do something about this’
Is this what inspired you to start the awards?
The reason I set up the Women of the Future Awards was because I wanted to set up something that would acknowledge and recognise the achievements of women under 35. When people do award, they are mostly given to people who are fairly senior or who have been professionals for a long time. I thought it would be good to recognise young people to let them use the recognition for a long time in their careers and to provide them with role models and to act as inspiration for others.