International Women’s Day took place on 8th March. The day marks an annual celebration of social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Gender is so important, and considering how female talent can be attracted and retained in your business is absolutely vital.
Women are the most powerful consumers in the world. Their impact on the economy is growing every year, with overall income set to reach $18 trillion by 2018 according to EY.
Coca-Cola’s chief executive Muhtar Kent has pledged to achieve gender equality throughout the corporation by 2020. Educating managers on how gender equality boosts the bottom line is key. “This was not just a case of us being nice to women,” explains Kathy Waller, chair of the Women’s Leadership Council at Coca-Cola. “This was all about the business case: understanding that 70% of purchasing decisions are made by women prompted the need to look like the marketplace we serve.”
Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing through a combination of their buying power and also their influence. They are a multitude of markets all rolled into one; women serve as primary caregivers to children and also to the elderly in virtually every society in the world. They buy on behalf of those in their households, as well as for extended family (such as older parents and in-laws) and also their friends.
Gender is the most powerful determinant of how we see the world and everything in it. It is more significant than age, income, ethnicity, or geography. Gender is often a blind spot for businesses, partially because the subject is not typically addressed in most undergraduate or graduate-level business courses, or in the workplace itself. In the UK, we have a prevalent issue within our industries, particularly in STEM subjects:
- The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe (less than 10%), while Latvia, Bulgaria, and Cyprus lead with nearly 30%.
- Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female, and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians are women.
- In 2013/14, women accounted for only 3.8% of Engineering apprenticeship starts, and 1.7% of Construction Skills starts.
Consider that 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business, along with 32% of companies across sectors currently have difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff with 20% finding it difficult to recruit entrants.
So how can we attract and retain talented women in the workplace to fill this emerging skills gap and represent the consumers we are targeting? Silicon Valley companies are making headlines these days for their efforts to fix underrepresentation of women in tech. Many of these businesses are focused on CSR initiatives to increase the pipeline of women studying STEM in high school and college.
To retain female employees, tech giant Apple made headlines for offering to cover the costs of freezing their female employee’s eggs. While controversial (not to mention unattainable for many businesses), there are a few things within every employer’s grasp that can aid in the retention of female talent.
Remove Sexism from The Workplace
Leadership and management must excise sexism in all forms from the workplace. This means educating employees about unconscious bias and benevolent sexism, and also the consequences.
Shape Company Culture with Female Employees Input
Start-up land has become infamous for offering a fraternity-like atmosphere: beer fridges, video games, and personalised hoodies. On the other hand, traditional workplaces have been typically male-dominated and can create an intimidating and unwelcoming environment. Introducing activities and benefits beyond those that are reminiscent of college days is therefore key.
Diversify your Senior Management Team
Harvard Business Review research suggests that economic payoffs are achieved by increasing gender diversity within senior executive teams. Business policies and CSR initiatives such as better education for girls and excellent maternity leave and childcare policies are effective ways of organically diversifying your senior ranks through promoting those in middle management positions.
The evidence is compelling. More women are needed in industry to fill the skills gap and represent the consumers we actually serve. But ultimately, the best way to attract female talent is likely to also be the best way to attract male talent; an excellent array of incentives and benefits to cater to the individual’s needs. Whilst not all businesses can offer a benefits package to compete with the likes of Google and Apple, culture is key in determining how attractive a firm is to a prospective female employee.
Written by Imelda McGrath, Coriolis Ltd
Image source: http://www.wib-i.com/index.php/articles-online-magazine/articles/work/434-5-tech-career-paths-for-women-in-business