The importance of gender diversity

There are a number of issues surrounding gender diversity.

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There is a strong case for encouraging diversity in the workplace.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the launch of a government consultation on the issues surrounding gender pay. According to the Closing the gender pay gap government consultation further transparency is needed when financially reporting on the difference in salaries of male and female employees.

There is a strong business case for encouraging diversity in all businesses. According to Opportunity Now’s The Business Case for Gender Diversity removing gender diversity barrier is not only beneficial to the work-force but can help promote business growth. The report found specifically that unleashing female potential could raise £23 billion a year to the Exchequer.

Pinky Lilani, the founder of the Women in the Future Awards agrees: “ Women can bring a lot to the working environment. Generally – and this is a sweeping statement – women do tend to be very collaborative and will work well in this kind of environment and different dynamics do come into play when women – and people in general work together.”

“In collaborative environments, the results are much better. It becomes less about how can I win, and more about how the company can do better, and they come up with solutions. I don’t think an all male environment will have the same results.”

A recent survey from Gallup also reinforced this idea showing that female input has a strong impact on revenue. According to their Business Benefits of Gender Diversity report gender diverse retail units have 14% higher revenues than non-diverse companies.

In both the business and political world, the concerns surrounding the role of gender in the working environment are constantly being evaluated. Cameron’s consultation is the latest in a long line of initiatives encouraging gender diversity.

Diversity on the board
In 2011, the coalition government launched The Davies Report that outlined that by 2015, 25% of board members in the FTSE 500 should be female.

To date, the goals of The Davis Report have not yet been met, but there has been a significant progression in the number of female business leaders with roles on FTSE boards. In 2011, 12.5% of FTSE board members were female in comparison to the 23.5% in March 2015. The number of all-male boards in the FTSE has also dropped significantly. In 2011, the FTSE 250 contained 131 all-male boards in comparison to the 23 all-male boards that can be seen in 2015.

According to Lord Davies, the failure to meet the 25% target does not signal that companies are failing to encourage diversity. In March 2015 he said: “ I consider this a major achievement and a clear indication of the profound culture change taking place on British boards.”

“However, the job is not yet done. I am confident that we will meet the 25% in the coming months and we will continue. Now we have to fix the low number of women chairs and executive directors on boards and the loss of talented, senior women from the executive pipeline.”

Day-to-day diversity
Measuring gender diversity and encouraging a more equal opportunity workplace for members of both sexes is a complex area. While having key female figure-heads in the FTSE signals that there is a culture of gender awareness at senior level, this culture needs to be ingrained into the day-to-day running of the business.

One of the key factors that impacts on gender diversity will be the sector in which the company operates According to the Office of National Statistics, there are a number of industries in which the gender balance across the workforce is skewed. Such industries include the engineering & manufacturing sector, the scientific research sector as well as in areas such as IT.

According to Pinky Lilani, the founder of the Women in the Future Awards women do need more support in the workplace. She said: “I don’t believe in targets, I think if people are good they should get there. It is really good for women to be on the board, but if they can’t do the role, they shouldn’t be there.”

“But it is important that women aren’t blocked by other people. If there are some really great women, who want to go to board level, they really do need to be given the support and help to get there such as mentoring

The concept of gender stereotypes in male dominated environments was recently reinforced on a wide scale. Talking at a convention in Korea, leading scientist Tim Hunt (check facts) claimed that female scientists should be separated from their male colleagues when in the lab as “either you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and they cry when you criticise them.”

Whether Hunt’s subsequent dismissal was warranted or not, his attitude does demonstrate that there are a number of preconceptions towards gender traits as a whole in the working environment and how this can act as a barrier to entry for workers of either sex.

Employment research from the Office of National Statistics suggests that attitudes towards gender characteristics can cause problems when trying to create a diverse work-force. Historically men have been associated with qualities such as strength, pragmatism and logical skills whereas culturally women tend to be associated with strong communication skills and having a caring nature.

ONS data shows that these stereotypes have a significant impact upon the career choices made by both men and women. Sectors such as engineering are dominated by men, with only 11% of the process, plant and machine operating workforce being female. This is further reinforced by research conducted by British Gas earlier this year (March 2015) which found that 70% of girls who were considering apprentice training felt they were most suited to careers in beauty, nursing, childminding or education.

In contrast, areas in which high levels of communication and strong pastoral skills were key job roles, the workforce was predominantly female. In the caring and leisure sector only 18% of employees were male and men only made up 27% of those working in sales roles.

The future of diversity
While it is important to encourage diversity at every level, the publication of the gender pay gap will help to encourage gender equality in the work place. According to Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equality, Nicky Morgan, increasing transparency of gender payments will go some way towards highlighting some of the areas where diversity is a problem.

She said: “Employers with a positive story to tell will attract the best talent. We are also seeking views on wider action that can be taken to inspire girls and young women, modernise workplaces and support older working women.

“By understanding and overcoming those barriers that can prevent women from achieving their full potential and tackling all forms of sexism we can make the gender pay gap a thing of the past.”