British industries lack gender inclusivity

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Written by Stephen Kellie on 23 March 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

Stephen Kellie looks at the cost of a lack of diversity in the senior ranks of professions like accounting, law and technology.

It has been well established that a diverse workforce helps contribute to a business’ success – so why are there so many UK businesses that are far from achieving gender diversity? A government-backed review carried out research and discovered that there is “little sign of change” in introducing more women into senior positions.

Creating a positive workplace culture helps in attracting and retaining the top and diverse talent in an industry. If businesses promote inclusive policies, they will not only have some of the best talent applying for jobs but it will result in further benefits. These policies can eliminate closeminded and offensive decision-making and help encourage new perspectives as well as innovation and creativity.

In order for a business’ performance to flourish, employees need to feel comfortable reaching their potential. Employees can be supported through diverse and inclusive policies. Unfortunately, this isn’t something all businesses do – for example, Jaguar faced criticism following an employment tribunal after a genderfluid employee was subject to abuse and a lack of support the workplace. ,

The Equality Act 2010 was created for businesses to follow a minimum standard in terms of diversity, however, a genuine plan for diversity goes way beyond legal compliance and strives to achieve a workforce that truly represents diversity in the world. Companies that strive for gender inclusivity are also more profitable and perform better than their competitors.

To remain creative and world-leading, companies must embrace diversity and inclusivity to get contributions from a wide range of people

For the purposes of this article we  discuss two male-dominated industries – accounting and tech. We’ll take a look at issues surrounding gender inclusivity and how they can be remedied.

There is progress, not perfection

Back in 2019, the number of women on the UK’s biggest company boards achieved an all-time high of 30%. While it is encouraging to see steps are being made, we still have a long way to go until gender diversity is reached.

While the number of women on boards has increased for some, there are still industries where gender diversity is far from acceptable.

Low number of women in tech

The number of women in tech is discouraging. Although there are constant conversations taking place across the world about gender diversity in tech, women are underpaid, underrepresented, and discriminated against.

The tech industry relies on innovation – to remain creative and world-leading, companies must embrace diversity and inclusivity to get contributions from a wide range of people rather than one dominant  demographic.

 

An example of one demographic affecting innovation is Fitbit’s period tracker feature. The feature was incorrect and only allowed women to log their menstrual cycle if it lasted for 10 days or less.

It goes without saying that if women were involved in the creation of this product, this catastrophic mistake would’ve been avoided and wouldn’t have alienated many of its customers. Still, women are largely underrepresented in tech.

According to statistics, female employees account for 19% of the UK tech workforce. This number falls lower for Black and Hispanic women at 3% and Asian at 5%. These statistics aren’t inspiring for women looking to pursue careers in technology.

There are a significantly small number of female role models talked about in tech as well as few girls pursuing STEM subjects in education due to social bias.

We need to diversify the board

In terms of promotions, men receive more promotions to senior roles than women. This creates a loop of repeated behaviour where likeminded men promote other men, not qualified female candidates.

For example, female candidates may not be part of the social networks that leaders use when assessing a candidate – board members typically play it safe and recruit or promote candidates similar to existing workers.

In simple terms, similar white male professionals are hired and promoted over and over. By improving recruitment processes, executives could expand the pool of potential candidates by seeking a diverse workforce.

Governments can also introduce new legislation requiring companies to appoint a minimum number of diverse executives. This has been successful in Norway since 2008 where at least 40% of directorship roles need to be filled by women.

Countries like Spain and France are also looking to create similar legislation to achieve gender diversity, which is something the UK could look at too.

Training around diversity

Sexism and misogyny must be directly combatted to create a supportive environment that performs well for the business.

Sexism isn’t always overt with direct comments and aggression but can be covert through microaggressions and prejudice. Women may feel uncomfortable addressing issues of sexism at work, so it’s important for the workforce to learn how their behaviours and words can affect someone else.

Industries must try harder to be diverse and inclusive rather than hiring the same type of person and focusing on profit. Creating a new normal in the workplace will encourage other businesses to follow suit. Performance will stagnate when everyone has the same background or perception, so a diverse workforce will ultimately be an invaluable resource.

Find out what the top 50 inclusive companies are doing to promote diversity.

 

About the author

Stephen Kellie is a content writer for Winckworth Sherwood, a law firm with a broad client group. They do regular research into gender pay gaps

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