Employers should ask themselves what more they could do to enable women to reach their potential at work and secure executive positions.

Dr Jill Miller, policy adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, says more organisations do understand the business benefits of having gender diversity in executive roles but they are not always sure how to realise it.

“Employers should see if there are particular points in a woman’s career when they leave and why women are not applying for certain roles,” says Miller.

Miller believes the growing ‘sandwich generation’, caring for children and an older relative, needs additional support and employers must do more to embed flexibility into the workplace. This would boost diversity in the boardroom and across management positions, she says.

“If organisations do not offer flexibility based on an individual’s needs as they rise up the career ladder, they could miss out on the huge amount of ability that exists in their current and future female workforce.”

She also wants employers to assess their talent pipeline and analyse whether their current succession planning strategy is working.

Miller suggests that visible female role models in executive positions send a powerful message to new female hires that the organisation promotes gender diversity. The recruitment and selection processes should also reflect the importance and business benefits of hiring from a more diverse talent pool.

 

Initiatives for progress

 

“This is about having a level playing field and promoting women into senior roles based on merit,” says Miller. “Women are not going to just appear in executive team positions. They must be able to see people like them in key roles and employers must identify and remove the blockers of female talent progression at all levels.”

There have been a number of initiatives to create a pipeline of female expertise for posts below board level.

In the Davies Review final report published in 2015 Lord Davies set a bold target of having 33% female representation on all FTSE 350 boards by 2020.

The Hampton-Alexander Review of FTSE 100 Women Leaders published last November called for similar action. It set a 2020 target for 33% representation on FTSE 100 executive committee positions and in posts that report directly to that committee.  The current figure is about 25%.

“We are seeing movement in the right direction but it does not get to the grass roots of the issue. Many employers lose women at senior manager level; before they get to the jobs just below the exec positions,” says Miller. “It is important to keep raising awareness of the issues so targets are met, but we want women in these executive positions based on ability not their gender.”

She adds that more male CEOs are championing diversity because they see the benefits in terms of productivity, the utilisation of skills and the different perspectives businesses enjoy when it comes to innovation and ideas, as well as it being the right thing to do. “Women have always had the ambition to reach the top but further action is needed to make gender diversity a reality,” says Miller.