Senior men need to be ‘agents of change’

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Business needs an army of senior male leaders willing and determined to become agents of change in the battle for gender equality, says the Women’s Business Council “Two Years On” report.

The report, recently circulated by the Government Equalities Office, says gender equality “will never happen without the full support of men”.

It says 93% of executive directors of FTSE 100 companies and 96.5% of Chairmen or CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are men and cites the statistic that more men called John are leading FTSE 100 companies than women. For FTSE 250 companies, there were 310 women on the boards in 2014 compared to 267 in 2013, a 16% increase. However, of those 310 women, only 29 are executive directors. The big majority of women on boards (90%) only serve as non-executive directors, says the report.

Its recommendations for senior male managers include embedding gender equality and promoting flexible working and parental leave. Individually it says they can become agents for change by working flexibly themselves, mentoring both men and women and avoiding speaking on all male panels, for instance.

The report highlights the fact that, despite some improvements in the last two years, women continue to be “alarmingly under-utilised” in the UK economy, which it says will damage Britain’s productivity, if not addressed.

It recounts the WBC’s work over the last two years, both nationally and internationally, and says its recommendations are becoming “a blueprint for change”.

It says it has:
– Delivered around 1,000 activities to promote WBC recommendations.
– Increased its keynote engagement fourfold over the last year.
– Reached a potential audience of 30 million through the media.
– Reached a potential audience of over 8 million people through active engagement opportunities.
– Completed 150 wide-ranging, industry-led case studies on the WBC site to inspire action.

It outlines progress for women in terms of increased number of female graduates [half of young women now hold a university level degree and by 2020, almost half of all women will have degree-level qualifications], the fact that women make up the majority of the UK’s most highly educated workforce and that 56% of first class degrees were obtained by female students in 2013/14. It says women are set to take two-thirds of the new high-skill jobs created over the next five years, the female employment rate is the highest ever and the inactivity rate for women is the lowest. Part-time working is growing: almost 5.5 million women are now working part time compared to 5.3 million in 2013. More women are starting businesses and the gender pay gap is the lowest it has been.

The report also has specific recommendations for women at all stages of their career, from starting out to the middle years and working after the age of 50 as well as women who want to start their own businesses. For women in the middle stages of their career it calls for the creation of a work and social environment which ensures women can fully contribute their economic potential by ensuring effective talent management; facilitating access to affordable, accessible and quality childcare; supporting culture change in business through the promotion and adoption of flexible working. It suggests ways to promote change which include sharing good practice and unconscious bias training.

For women over 50, it says that to ensure the skills and talents of women in the third phase of their working lives are fully used and are not lost to the economy due to caring responsibilities or the changing labour market employers need to help individuals and businesses better balance senior roles and caring responsibilities and support women to gain the skills to re-enter the workforce in sectors forecasting growth and experiencing skills shortages. It cites examples such as £1.6 million funding for pilot schemes that will look at how technology and support can help carers combine work with caring responsibilities and the appointment of the Government’s business champion for older workers.

Ruby McGregor-Smith, Chair of the Women’s Business Council, said: “As many well-intentioned companies have already discovered, gender equality rarely improves as a result of investment in piecemeal diversity programmes. We believe our recommendations represent simple, but compelling and comprehensive steps that if taken up would really make a difference in the long-term. But ultimately, what it will take to bring about lasting change is a commitment from the top, a visible and measurable effort by business leaders – men and women, to empower women for the growth of our businesses and the advancement of our economy.

The full report can be found here.

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