By Kathryn Roberts
CBI Wales Chair,
Senior Partner at Eversheds Sutherland.
This year’s International Women’s Day undoubtedly feels very different from those that have come before. The horrors of war that we’ve seen in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere have arrived on our doorstep for the first time in decades, through the shocking Russian invasion of Ukraine. War is horrific for all, but the lessons of history tell us that women are among those most severely impacted.
In the immediate aftermath of the UK leaving the European Union, and as we continue to deal with the fallout of an unparalleled global pandemic, the certainty we crave as business leaders – and as humans – feels distressingly out of reach.
In these challenging times our immediate thoughts are with the Ukrainian people, and it can feel – rightly – difficult to turn our attention to anything else. This year more than ever, it’s vital to maintain a focus on issues like gender equality, where progress continues to be made, but must be accelerated.
If there are too few women at the top of global politics – and I there are – it isn’t the only place their relative absence is keenly felt. The same is true of a world I’m much closer to – the UK business community. We live in a society where there are lots of women in classrooms, but far too few in boardrooms.
That’s no slight on the wonderful work of female teachers, who play a vital role in educating and inspiring the next generation. It’s just reflective of the fact that not enough women are making it to the very top in other fields, be it business, politics, academia or anywhere else.
In a business community where access to people and skills is one of the biggest concerns, that means a lot of talent is being left by the wayside.
And it’s not just the very top of business we should be talking about. While boardrooms and senior leadership teams attract most of the attention, we need to make sure we have female leaders doing great things at all levels of business.
Whether managing their teams, delivering projects or breaking through with brilliant ideas, the economy – and society – needs capable women progressing all the way through from entry-level to management, senior management and leadership roles.
Building a talent pipeline for the economy is one reason for boosting gender diversity in the workplace, but it isn’t the only one. Beyond the fact that it’s very obviously the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing from a business perspective.
Research tells us time and again that more diverse companies perform better than their less diverse rivals – around 15% better according to estimates. Whatever sector you’re operating in, that’s a pretty attractive prize to aim for.
The question remains, how do we get there? What can individuals and businesses do to deliver much-needed change?
We all know about gender pay gap reporting now – and it has certainly helped. It’s brought more transparency and accountability to an area – pay – where women lag male counterparts. But it hasn’t yet turned the tide. Recent reports suggesting it could take 30-years to close the gap in financial services remind us just how much harder and faster we need to work to improve gender equality
That those gaps need to be closed in the first place is disappointing, but we can’t be discouraged.
Implementing more diverse hiring practices, updating diversity policies, and changing cultures to make them more inclusive are all key to improving diversity within every workplace.
Another area I’m passionate about is mentoring. Nurturing great female talent is a hugely powerful tool at our disposal. It can help women overcome professional barriers or break into networks they may otherwise have felt unable to access.
Having someone who has been where you are, that understands the challenges and hurdles women face in their career can be an unbelievable asset. For those of us that have leadership roles, I really feel that we have a duty to do more to raise others up.
On this International Women’s Day, we need to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the progress we have made – not just in Wales – but worldwide on gender equality and diversity. In an increasingly uncertain and upsetting climate, that can be hard to do.
I can’t help but reflect on the low numbers of female leaders in global politics. I hope, and I think, things could be very different now. Perhaps unfairly to many of the men I know and value, women are often deemed to possess greater empathy, humanity and compassion. Either way, those are qualities we simply can’t have enough of right now.