Women's Business Council: one year on

There is a compelling case to address unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion systems, according to a report from the Women's Business Council.

There is a compelling case to address unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion systems, according to a report from the Women's Business Council.

The report, Maximising women's contribution to future economic growth, is a one-year follow-up to the Council's first report on the challenges facing women in the workplace.

It cites a recent YouGov Poll conducted by the Government Equalities Office which highlighted that two-thirds of people agree that sexism is still a problem in the workplace; three-quarters of women think that sexism is still a problem in many workplaces compared with 56% of men.

The report says it would like to see more done to tackle unconscious bias and it aims to spread good practice through providing free online information on everthing from tools to support businesses to increase diversity and bring in new talent to case studies and a new directory of useful information to signpost businesses and individuals to practical resources and information.

It states that a forward-thinking organisation will:

– Showcase leaders as positive role models for women

– Set up in-house mentoring and sponsorship schemes.

– Develop gender-friendly policies (flexible working and childcare support).

– Give high priority to supporting and mentoring those staff on career breaks and maternity leave

– Provide development opportunities for all tiers of the workforce through speaking engagements

– Offer apprenticeships and work experience to girls and young women

– Engage the next generation in schools and colleges with a particular focus on girls

– Encourage opportunities through engagement with (women) entrepreneurs

– Provide opportunities to engage with women who have been out of the workforce for some years.

Over the last year the Council has delivered around 500 activities to promote WBC recommendations and claims to have reached a potential audience of over 10 million people through the media.

The activities include the development of a careers toolkit for parents which is being piloted in selected schools and provides information on how girls aged 12–16 would like their parents to support them in choosing and working towards the best career for them, with a particular focus on STEM subjects. It is also backing work on getting inspirational female role models to talk in schools and has been working with male managers in recognition that they have "a critical role to play in shaping ideas and challenging outdated operational models which can exclude large tiers of the workforce from reaching their full potential".

The report was launched at a meeting in London last night where WBC Chair Ruby McGregor-Smith spoke of the need for a culture change on flexible working and announced the extension of Council membership to representatives from Atkins, Barclays, Mars, Tesco, Vodafone, BT and Deloitte.

John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, pointed out that there were optimistic signs, for instance, that the gender pay gap was virtually non-existent for women working full time under 40, although he acknowledged that many women were not working full time.

He said schools should set aspirational targets for getting more girls involved in STEM subjects given the skills shortage in the workplace in STEM-related sectors.

He felt the main obstacle to women's career progression was affordable childcare. This meant many women were unable to commute into cities where more higher-paying jobs were available.

Cridland added that the CBI had increased the number of women directors it has to eight by thinking laterally about flexible working and looking at different types of experience. Its next challenge was to set participation targets for women in all CBI events, such as regional seminars. "This is symbolic of what we can all do. We can seize the opportunity to knock down barriers and prevent progress over the next five years being at the same snail's pace as it has been in the last five years."

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