What’s really holding women back?

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Gender diversity is vital to any workplace. Not just because it is a praise worthy goal but because it makes absolute business sense. Most companies have good intentions but a lot of them are struggling to act and therefore are not getting the results required to create any change.

Based on my six years in recruitment, I have found that there are three key factors holding women back.

1. Lack of role models

“You cannot be what you cannot see”

There is a lot of research to show that female mentors are key influences on women’s success. Senior women demonstrate that it is possible to reach the top of an organisation, and that the business values the talent and contributions of women.

The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is imperative in helping advance women in their careers.

Without role models, it can be a very lonely journey. It makes navigating your career so much more difficult than it needs to be. We have to come together both women and men to make sure we are doing our part in our organisation to make small changes so as we impact gender diversity and make sure all voices are being heard.

2. Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is seen as one of the biggest barriers to female leadership. This is partly a legacy issue. Many company structures were set up originally to suit the lifestyles of men at a time when women made up a smaller portion of the workforce. A lot of organisations are failing to make changes to modernise the way we work and accommodate for more women at work.
Companies must start looking closely at what are the underlying beliefs about gender in their organisation. Ask yourself, do you encourage people to talk about gender at work? How do you define and reward good leadership? One of the main reasons companies are losing out on good female talent is because the culture isn’t right and it needs to be addressed.

3. Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is very much alive, and a problem I have encountered many times in my years in recruitment. These stereotypes creep in at every level of the recruitment process from the make-up of a selection panel to the timing of an interview.

At first, they seem innocent but we know they have a direct impact on diversity. We know that interviewers are more likely to question women than men on their ability to balance work and family life.

Job specs are also a problem. We know that women won’t put themselves forward for a role if they don’t meet each and every entry criteria – unlike men. Companies writing these long and over complicated specs are turning women off immediately from applying. If companies wish to attract more female talent they need to rethink how they write their job descriptions.

To conclude, change is most definitely possible and I for one feel optimistic. All you have to do is look at America this week. Kamala Harris, the first woman in history, and a woman of color has become the vice president elect of the US. A ground breaking moment not just for women in America but for women everywhere. If she can manage to break down the gigantic barriers that she did, then why can’t you or I?

With increased awareness, these challenges can be overcome but it has to be a joint effort. We all have to get involved to make small changes, both men and women in order to create real change.

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