Women account for more than half of the population so for businesses not to fully tap into that resource is ridiculous.

According to management consultants McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation.

It is not only companies that are losing out. According to The Women and Work Commission, unleashing women’s full potential could be worth £23bn a year to the Exchequer.

Of course, many of the barriers women face are cultural. Many companies still perceive women of child-bearing age as difficult to manage in the workplace, for example and see pregnancy as an inconvenience.

There are still too many gender stereotypes at play and deep unconscious bias when businesses are recruiting. I believe all staff should receive training to avoid this prejudice happening.

A lack of diversity whether it is based on gender, ethnicity or age creates narrow thinking in businesses. It means they fail to enjoy the broad benefits and idea generation that comes from having a team comprising individuals from different backgrounds.

Yet gender equality in the workplace is about more than just improving diversity statistics. This is about giving half the population a deserving role in society. If you can do that, then ethnic and younger women will benefit.

We need to see more female role models in business. Women entrepreneurs and executives from the most successful companies need to be visible to other women who can relate to them and be inspired to replicate their achievements.

 

Quotas vs merit

 

If they want to take time out of the workplace to have a family women need to know they can return and continue a successful career because they can see how other women have achieved this.

There is a place for quotas but women want to be appointed on merit. These allocations perhaps have a role to play, if only to tackle unconscious bias and avoid having the same conversations with business leaders about the dangers of gender inequality.

In STEM professions there is a real need to inspire more women. When I was studying engineering only about 10% of students were female. We need to do more to make engineering more appealing to women and tackle the negative perceptions that are stopping them enjoying great careers. Even the way job adverts are written should be looked at.

Forward Ladies began in 1999 to create a community where women could be seen, heard and upskill. We now have more than 14,000 professional members across the country.

Yet men need to be part of the conversation as well to ensure women do reach their potential in business. Men are still making the big decisions that affect female professionals, so male bosses, fathers, husbands and brothers must engage.

If women can reach their potential at work then their families and the country will reap the benefits.