A workforce in waiting

June 10, 2013 | comments

A workforce in waiting

The Women’s Business Council, chaired by Ruby McGregor Smith, is the latest body to produce a report which challenges government and business to address the shortfall in women in the workplace.  The wide ranging report offers some powerful statistics on the potential growth opportunity were female talent to be better utilised in the UK.

In case you haven’t seen the report here are some of the key take-outs:

- Girls outperform boys at all levels of education

- There are currently 2.4 million women not working who want to 

- A further 1.3million women want to work more hours than they currently do

- 76% of business report that flexible working improves staff retention

- By equalising male/female economic participation rates, the UK economy could grow over 10% by 2030

So the headlines are clear enough and the report goes on to make solid, if in some areas unspectacular, recommendations around how government and business can help. Changing the culture of the organisation, the flexibility of approach and the cost of child care are 3 which stand out as very aligned to the thoughts of Talking Talent. There are also some powerful case studies in the report and it’s great to see our work with Ernst & Young described in such detail.

It would have been pleasing if the recent Lord Davies update provided some comfort that, in the higher echelons at least, business momentum was gathering in this area but the numbers were disappointing. The Cranfield FTSE Board report update actually questioned if there was a false dawn in terms of women’s’ progress. The key take outs being a complete lack of progress on Executive Director appointments and an appointment rate of women on boards overall which had fallen behind the 30% target set if the Lord Davies Report aims for 2015 are to be achieved.

Regular readers of my blog will know that actually I feel the real focus should come at the levels 1, 2, 3 rungs below board level, so it was great to see the report also focus on Executive Committee representation even if it was more bad news.  Female representation has fallen from 18.1% in 2009 to 15.3% in 2013. No wonder then the Exec Directorships are not progressing, especially when you consider that internal promotions to this level are shown to be far harder to come by for women than men.

So, how to end on a positive? Well a key initiative I am fully supportive of is the 30% Club’s ‘Balancing the Pyramid’ which sets out to collate data across 16 companies to enable the measurement of progress at all career points. So important that we do this and start to make it the norm. The project will also involve a new scientifically-based study of behavioural differences between men and women, with a view to facilitating more gender-intelligent skills development. Thirdly, it will look to devise new pre-employment initiatives to encourage young women at the start of their careers. This has the potential to be a great on-going piece of work and allows the debate to become that much more granular and action orientated. I hope it’s the start of these challenges being addressed through a different lens.

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent