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Women in business

Diversity is not a ‘nice-to-have’ for businesses; it’s a must-have

Businesses are in a constant struggle to find some edge, some advantage over their competitors. Executives and boards can leave no stone unturned, and have to see with all eyes.

Why would you risk limiting that success by limiting your leadership to certain groups of people?

Organisations that see only 50% of leadership candidates risk not seeing possible opportunities that are within reach, and potential pitfalls that are on the horizon.

A complete lack of diversity at the top is a red flag, and could raise immediate questions about a firm’s practices and culture. It is always possible that these questions may be answered in a satisfactory manner. Then again, they may not be…

This is more than just a business issue

There are steps businesses can take now to diversify the pipeline of talent to the top, to add to the women that are already knocking loudly on the door of boardrooms across the country. However, not all the onus is on companies. Even as women have incrementally gained leadership positions, we must look at what we can do as a society. We all need to look at the way we engage with women from a young age, the value we place in different leadership styles and the strength that comes from having differing opinions – of course, not just in business.

Curriculums must support girls into traditionally male-dominated subjects

Education, as in all walks of life, is crucial. We need to ensure that young women don’t feel discouraged from entering traditionally male-dominated subjects like STEM and finance both at high school and university, which can lead to higher pay and higher positions.

On top of this, providing women with training for board-level and executive roles, specifically, can be a great tool to break any glass ceilings. It’s a huge joy to me that I’ve been able to work in this area, both through my not-for-profit organisation, Board Apprentice, and as chair of the IoD.

Inclusive networks can overcome ‘old boys’ club’ mentality

Building inclusive networks is also paramount. Like it or loathe it, networking is a part of the life of a senior business person. While women have historically been shut out of ‘old boys’ clubs’, we now have a huge opportunity to reinvent what is meant by a network of leaders, to recast them as inclusive spaces for development.

Current leaders must champion diversity

At the end of the day, however, it comes back to the attitudes of the current crop of leaders. Any efforts to improve diversity must begin and end with those already at the top. Not only do leaders set the tone for their organisations, but they also hold the reins. It’s in their gift to truly question whether their organisation is incorporating inclusive practices, from recruitment, to retention, to workplace culture. They need to walk the walk.

For all of us, questioning ourselves, holding what we do up to the light is one of the trickiest things in life. For people who have reached the top and found success through hard work, skill, and determination, it is perhaps even trickier.

Nonetheless, this is what we must do. Indeed, it is this ability to question oneself and seek constant improvement that sets apart the best leaders.

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