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The Importance of Women in Senior Roles

Today (8th March 2023) is International Women’s Day, representing an ideal opportunity for businesses to reflect on the contributions their senior female staff have made towards their success. The number of women occupying leadership positions in the business world has risen in recent years, meaning more and more employers are seeing the benefits that a diversified senior team can bring.

Appointing women into senior roles can bring new talents, perspectives and ideas to the table, improving a business’ performance and ensuring they are better equipped to succeed in a fast-moving and competitive modern marketplace. Moreover, companies will find that building a working culture dedicated to diversity and equality is its own reward, as this allows talent to thrive and people of all backgrounds to reach their full potential.

With the theme of International Women’s Day 2023 being #EmbraceEquity, it is important for businesses to take a moment to consider why it is so important to bring more women into senior roles, and to take steps to break down the barriers that have historically prevented this from happening.

What do female leaders bring to a business?

Senior management roles have typically been very male-dominated across most sectors in the past, but global statistics have shown that this is starting to change. Data from Grant Thornton shows that as of 2021, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 31%. This is the highest number ever recorded and a notable increase from the 19% figure recorded in the organisation’s inaugural report from 2004.

Additionally, nine in 10 businesses worldwide were shown to have at least one woman in their senior management teams – a significant rise on the 66% figure from 2017.

This reflects the achievements of female business leaders and their growing professional standing; it also reflects an increased awareness at a senior level that women in leadership have the potential to transform businesses for the better, with hiring practices evolving accordingly to level the playing field.

There is a significant body of research showing that fostering a more diverse and inclusive leadership model can deliver significant benefits for organisations, specifically because of the proficiency and skills of women in high-level roles. Below are a few examples.

Effective leadership skills

A study from McKinsey & Company has identified nine key leadership skills that indicate organisational performance which are directly related to a business’ financial performance. The consultancy firm found that women showed particular aptitude in five of these traits, including: a focus on people development; the ability to set expectations and rewards; acting as a role model within the business; offering inspiration and a compelling vision; and participative decision-making that includes everyone within the team.

This helps to explain why a separate McKinsey & Company study from 2019, assessing more than 1,000 large companies from 15 countries, showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. It also showed that the likelihood of outperformance was directly correlated to the diversity of the board.

Similarly, a report from the Harvard Business Review shows that women score higher than men on many key leadership capabilities, including taking initiative, self-development, resilience, integrity and relationship-building. This underlines the importance of including both women and men as part of a well-balanced leadership team dynamic.

An expanded mentorship pool

Having women as mentors within a business – especially for other women in the corporate structure – has been shown to help an organisation to improve employee performance, retain talent and increase productivity, as well as creating better gender diversity. Analysis from Women Ahead found that 87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by structured, formal gender-based mentoring programmes.

Just as hiring more female senior leaders can help to expand and diversify an organisation’s leadership skills and knowledge base, having women in mentoring roles improves the mentoring that is offered within a company. Mentoring helps to provide women within a business with the skills they need to become leaders in their careers. In effect, this creates a pathway in which leaders are nurtured, and a diverse and effective senior structure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Greater trust and better communication

Numerous studies over the years have indicated that female leaders are often seen as strong communicators, particularly when it comes to relational skills – namely, the ability to connect with others on a personal level, and deliver messaging that addresses individual concerns in a compassionate way.

This has always been an important skill helping female professionals to succeed, but it has become particularly valuable in recent years due to the turbulence caused by events such as the pandemic and economic downturn. This has led to a rising demand for strong crisis management skills, and the ability to exercise empathy and patience to help organisations emerge from difficult circumstances.

The value of skilled female leaders in delivering sensitive crisis management was widely analysed and studied by the University of Liverpool at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, and employers who are keen to learn the right lessons from these times of crisis are likely to place a greater value on the skills and proficiency of senior female leaders in future.

What are the main obstacles to female representation in senior roles?

Although the last few years have seen women proving their value in leadership roles on a global scale, it is important to note that many female professionals are still facing barriers in their careers, with the gender gap being wider in some industries than others.

Key obstacles that women face when pursuing senior leadership roles include:

  • Existing biases and stereotyping, resulting in male-dominated hiring teams favouring male candidates.
  • Recruitment processes that unconsciously favour male applicants through the use of gendered language and assessment criteria.
  • Limited access to established professional leadership networks.
  • Family responsibilities, and a lack of flexible working options or other provisions in the workplace to accommodate these.

In some ways, the last few years have seen significant progress in dismantling these barriers, but in other ways, these issues remain as prevalent as ever. For example, many women are feeling compelled to work fewer hours or quit their jobs due to the rising cost of childcare, exacerbating a gender pay gap which means that globally women are paid 20% less than their male counterparts.

Because the root cause of these problems are longstanding, they will require fresh thinking from business leaders in order to address them. This means fostering an inclusive culture that promotes success for everybody, regardless of their identity and background, and gives everyone the same opportunities; it also means promoting and supporting female role models, providing for the individual needs of staff members, and working proactively to tackle existing gender gaps within the organisation.

In this respect, appointing more women to senior roles represents a dual-pronged solution to these problems. Not only does it help to address gender imbalance in terms of pure numbers, but it is also an ideal way of changing the underlying culture that produced the imbalance in the first place.

This is the essence of the #EmbraceEquity theme of International Women’s Day 2023, which calls for a foundational change in mindset to ensure that everyone is given an equal chance to succeed. Over time, this will ensure that the perspectives of women are included in future management decisions and creates a virtuous cycle of continual improvement.

Why having women in leadership roles is essential for modern businesses

The key message that employers should be taking on board this International Women’s Day is that the time for action is now. Championing the work of exceptional female role models within a business is not only a worthwhile goal from a diversity and inclusion perspective, but it also unlocks significant practical benefits that businesses cannot afford to miss.

Sellick Partnership has experienced this first-hand through the success of our all-female Public Sector and Not-for-Profit Finance & Accountancy recruitment team, which serves the North West, North Wales and Yorkshire regions. The team has thrived by fostering a culture of women in various stages of their careers all supporting each other, and has demonstrated a high level of achievement in terms of personal and professional goals.

Ultimately, in the current marketplace, providing an effective career development pathway for senior female talent needs to be considered essential, rather than simply ’nice to have’. In a competitive recruitment field, no business can afford to be creating barriers to achievement for top female talent who can simply look elsewhere.

As such, a business is putting itself at a disadvantage if it turns its back on the effective leadership that women can bring to the workplace. Different perspectives and skills are vital to running a business as competitively as possible, and by taking an active approach to helping women achieve their full potential, employers can ensure they have the progressive, creative and forward-thinking leadership they need to succeed now and in the future.

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