How Can Organisations Support Women To Flourish As Leaders?
“Leadership does not emerge in a vacuum. If companies are serious about developing the female executive pipeline, they should ensure that their organisation truly enables talented women to flourish as leaders.”
Those were the words of Dr. Elena Doldor, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary University, who was speaking on the back of new Cranfield School of Management research [published 15 July 2018] which criticised the lack of progress in improving gender diversity within leading UK companies.
According to Cranfield’s ‘Female FTSE Board Report’, the number of women holding executive positions in FTSE 100 companies has flat-lined for a fourth consecutive year – only 25 women held executive roles in 22 companies in June 2018.
Although the percentage of female non-executive directors is at an all-time high at 280 (35.4%), the overall picture for the FTSE 250 arena is gloomy, the report suggests.
Here, the percentage of women on boards increased only marginally from 22.8% in October 2017 to 23.7%.
Worryingly, the number of female executive directorships fell from 38 to 30 while male-only boards rose to ten.
So what needs to change?
A LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends 2018 report published earlier this year revealed that forward-thinking companies were focussing on creating a culture of ‘belonging’ as well as inclusion to make diversity ‘stick’.
“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching,” it states.
“Belonging is the feeling of psychological safety that allows employees to be their best selves at work. Even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted.”
OATH UK CASE STUDY
One firm that encourages employees to flourish and become the best version of themselves is media technology company Oath UK.
It has created nine Employee Resource Groups that aim to empower workers by providing a sense of inclusion and community and a chance to share their experiences, discuss issues, find guidance and support.
The groups range from UNITED (Progress through Unity) which supports multiple cultures, and PACT (Parents and Caregivers Together) to Neurodiversity (Minds of All Kinds).
Another is WIN (Women’s Inclusion Network), which promotes women and gender equality issues, and is one of the company’s largest ERG’s, spanning 26 offices across countries including England, Germany, India and the United States.
According to Emily Heath, Oath UK’s regional lead for diversity and inclusion, the insight provided by these groups enables the business to ensure it is building an inclusive environment from the ground up and help embed diversity in everything it does.
“Embrace, empower and educate are Oath’s guiding principles,” she says. “We celebrate what makes each of us unique and the communities we build together, we empower by bringing D&I to all parts of the business and we educate on the value we’re seeing. We focus on making it real by having those diversity conversations with our top C Suite businesses helping them understand, what’s happening and talking about the solutions we can provide. “We’re actively working to make facilities like multi-faith rooms and designated spaces for returning mothers to express milk available in our central London office.”
The purpose of WIN, she adds, is to empower women to be their authentic selves and drive their career in the way they want to. “Through WIN we have a greater sense of community, and the women of Oath are enabled to share their experiences, be change champions and encourage mentorship across all levels.”
But it doesn’t end there.
Oath UK is well aware that if people feel better, they’ll perform better too. Which is why it has gone one step further and teamed up with PUSH to implement Rise Up, professional coaching programme to help women address issues that might be causing them stress in either their home or professional life or affecting their performance.
All Oath UK employees who identify as women have been offered two free coaching sessions with a PUSH expert of their choice. The aim is to bring staff up to their full potential so all sorts of topics are covered including mindfulness, nutrition, personal development, women’s health, and finance.
The worker is assigned a PUSH coach for 30 minutes. She then explains what she wants to achieve – be it a professional or personal goal – and the tools are then put in place to help her achieve it.
Around a month later the employee meets with her coach again to see what progress has been made and what tweaks might be needed.
“We really wanted to provide a coaching element that covered everything from wellness, nutrition, and finances to executive and personal development because ultimately all those things impact how you show up to work,” Heath continues.
“By covering of all of those areas we knew we would be providing the tools to set up the women in our business to be their best selves in the office and give them the confidence to do so.”
Additionally, Heath points out that a lack of confidence might hold some women back especially when it comes to things like negotiating pay rises. “A man might argue his case and be considered, while a woman doing exactly the same thing might worry that she is seen as pushy and aggressive”, she adds. “There needs to be a level playing field.
“Just like our Employee Resource Groups which are led by individuals who identify with those communities or are allies of that community, PUSH provides coaches who have real-life experiences and bring the knowledge of how they’ve overcome life’s obstacles.”
So far 200 women have enrolled in the pilot programme, which ends in October, and could be extended globally. “This is just one of the different projects being managed and delivered by the different ERGs and everyone is super positive and engaged with the initiative,” Heath smiles.
PUSH’s founder Cate Murden points out that many women spend much of their time switching between all of the many hats that they wear – mother, daughter, friend, boss, colleague, wife, girlfriend… the list goes on!
“We all just keep going and going and so rarely take time to stop and think to ourselves – what do I actually want to do?” she says. “What do I actually want to change? Indeed the only time that we do tend to stop and think about ourselves is when it’s too late and those carefully balanced plates have come crashing down around us.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be working with a forward-thinking company like Oath. From the moment that we launched the programme, we could feel the palpable excitement in the room when the women there realised – ‘wow, this can genuinely help me create change in my life’ and the response has been overwhelming. With one employee saying the hour of coaching has been the best hour of L&D they’ve received throughout their entire career, it feels incredible to be part of something so inspiring, energising and life-changing!”
PUSH is a corporate wellness company, we are passionate about helping companies build a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Find out more about our team of coaches and read more about the Women Rising Up at Oath UK.
This article is by Helen Gilbert, a freelance journalist who can be found tweeting @gilberthels