Gender inequality in the workplace continues unabated despite overwhelming evidence of the business benefits greater diversity offers. This isn’t to say progress hasn’t been made.

There are, for example, now no all male boards in the FTSE 100. An encouraging thought until we learn that less than one in five roles on executive committees are filled by women. It’s clear that we still have some way to go to achieve true gender equality, and until then organisations will be unable to capitalise on more diverse workforces and leadership teams.

Within the Criticaleye Community, three key points recur in discussions on gender diversity and its subsequent impact on women in leadership – firstly, that businesses looking to achieve gender equality must make it a top priority to be successful, secondly, it must be led from the top down and finally, that organisational culture is vital to achieving true gender equality in the workplace.

What’s clear is that gender diversity must be led by a board that recognises and embraces the invaluable benefits of diversity at all levels of the business.

The leadership team has to demonstrate greater diversity through their executive appointments, as well as implementing practical measures to foster a more supportive and inclusive culture.

As gender equality increasingly becomes a key indicator of present and future success for businesses, boards are going to have to take rapid steps to address equality if they want to attract and retain the best talent.

Redressing the balance – what can organisations do?

There are a number of steps organisations can and should take to promote gender equality.

  • Create diversity at a senior level: if businesses want to promote gender equality throughout the organisation, there needs to be diversity at the top of the tree. The executive board should be a microcosm of the entire organisation. Having a more varied board creates greater diversity of thought, as well as encouraging talented individuals to stay within the organisation in the knowledge that career opportunities will not be limited by factors like gender.
  • Review policies and procedures: achieving gender equality is never as simple as writing a new anti-discrimination policy but clearly procedure has a role to play. Organisations need to ensure their policies on gender equality are fit for purpose, easily accessible and well communicated to the workforce. However, no policy will be effective in promoting gender equality without the full buy-in of the leadership team, and their willingness to demonstrate diversity on the board.
  • Invest in talent: organisations need to make a commitment to nurturing female talent, especially as they progress through the business and start applying for more senior roles. Evidence shows the proportion of women to men becomes increasingly smaller as roles become more senior within organisations. If businesses are truly committed to promoting gender equality they need to address this head on, whether it’s a case of offering women with families more flexible working arrangements, or simply encouraging women who may lack confidence to go for more senior roles.

Everyone can play a role in promoting gender equality, but the leadership team must fully understand and support the benefits of creating a more diverse board and workforce. Organisations that don’t address this crucial issue will ultimately fall behind those who do. In a global, digital world, businesses that encapsulate diversity of thought, flexibility and innovation will stride ahead of those who, willingly or unwillingly, maintain an environment which fails to attract and retain the best talent.

By Jamie Wilson, Managing Director, Group Services, Criticaleye