The business case for gender balance

A new consultancy which aims to support companies of all sizes to realise the business benefits of gender balance at all levels is launching today.

Female Quotient was set up by Amanda Street and Lyndsey Oliver who have a wealth of experience in business between them. They share a common interest in wanting to see women succeed in business. “We have both faced our own challenges in the business environment and Amanda has had her own coaching practice for years. I have coached internally for years,” says Lyndsey.

The consultancy offers a top down and bottom up approach – coaching for individuals as well as workshops for line managers on issues such as unconscious bias, company gender audits, work on policy and practice and programmes to attract and retain talent and establish a productive environment.

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“Businesses are coming around to the fact that if they don’t address gender balance within their organisations they will lose competitiveness,” says Amanda. “Despite this, the difficulty in retaining women and developing the female talent pipeline persists.  If a working woman has a child, which 80% will, her chances of being hired fall by 79% and she is half as likely to be promoted. This cannot continue. It’s no longer about what’s best for women, this is about what’s best for business. And it’s the right mix of both men and women at all levels that will drive business success.”

Lyndsey says many businesses understand that having a better gender balance will improve their performance. The publicity around Lord Davies’ report on gender diversity in the boardroom has kept the issue in the spotlight. However, smaller organisations face challenges in knowing how to implement changes that will improve their gender balance. And some typically male-dominated industries have more complex issues to address than others.

Individually tailored

The coaching Female Quotient offers is individually tailored as Lyndsey says a whole person approach works best and takes into account all the challenges a particular employees faces, whether that is confidence issues, childcare responsibilities, elder care responsibilities or sleep deprivation. The most common issues for women, she says, are confidence, self belief and networking.  “We make sure that women are the most confident they can be,” she says. “Having children can undermine their professional confidence. I challenge any woman going back to work after having kids not to have some crisis of confidence. Your identity changes. You might be feeling unconfident about your body shape or about having to leave on time to pick up a baby from childcare.”

Lyndsey, herself a mum of two, says part of the problem is trying to educate others about what people with caring responsibilities – still usually women – are going through. That includes childcare as well as elder care responsibilities later on in people’s careers.  “I didn’t get it until I went through it,” she admits. Organisation-wise, flexible working is key to helping workers be as effective and productive as they can be, she adds. For individuals, it is vital, she says, to set and articulate boundaries to the people you work with so you don’t end up, for instance, always apologising for not going for drinks at night or so they understand that even though you have to leave at 5.30pm you will log back on later in the evening.

She emphasises that, in addition to it making business sense, gender balance is an issue for all individuals. She cites a male manager who said he was concerned for his daughters’ future success in business.

Lyndsey says it’s not enough for organisations to have great diversity-related policies in place. Many have all the policies in place, but little movement of women up the organisation. “It’s all very well having a flexible working policy, but sometimes there’s a difference between the policy and practice, perhaps because one particular manager is resistant or maybe a manager is doing great things and boosting productivity but on an ad hoc basis, based on trust, but HR don’t know so can’t use it as an example. That’s where our workshops with line managers come in. Coaching is at the heart of what we do.”

Although it formally launches today, Female Quotient has already been talking to some companies, including those who already have good policies. “Some companies have an open door and really understand the advantages of gender diversity,” says Lyndsey. “They are already embarked on the journey towards inclusion, but need help to make the changes sustainable so they can build the leadership of the future. Other organisations are not quite there yet and don’t know how to get started and need support. We’re all about providing that support and using the results we get to spread good practice.”

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