We need to empower women into leadership before it’s too late

The alarming underrepresentation of women in board and executive positions is holding businesses back from their full potential.

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The number of female bosses in the UK is flatlining. Women account for just 10% of executive roles at FTSE firms, according to research from Women on Boards. This stifles the huge potential for innovative female-led ideas at senior level.

For women who feel overlooked for leadership positions, it is natural to have doubts. From my own experience, I don’t know of a single businesswoman who hasn’t lost confidence. Managing these concerns is imperative.

The challenge is huge, but a way forward is possible. At my business, reporting a zero gender pay gap has been one of the personal highlights of my career.

Finding mentors, setting up support networks, and taking progression one step at a time are all important ways for women to put themselves in positions to advance and climb their way up the ladder.

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The value of role models

I’ve had many significant role models in my business career. They’ve provided support and guidance, and they were crucial in helping me get to where I am today.

The impact on my career has been profound. I didn’t choose my areas of expertise – I learned them while growing with FDM Group. And that created opportunities for myself, supported by the flexibility of the company and founder Rod Flavell.

Having women in high-ranking positions can help provide fresh perspectives towards business development, tech innovation, management and other areas. Yet, the Women on Boards report found that 18% of all AIM-listed firms – over 100 businesses – had entirely male boards.

Diversity at senior level unlocks new ideas and new methods of growth. It also provides female role models and mentors for junior staff to look up to. These are the people who can inspire and support the next generation of female leaders.

Working toward a solution

Recognising the prevailing gender gap at executive and board level can help businesses to roadmap a clear path for consistent progress.

For employers and businesses, it’s invaluable to lay out such roadmaps for career progression. Opportunities can come through learning, development and skills training to support women in the workplace to reach senior positions.

Dedicated mentoring schemes, training courses and inclusive workplace policies can all help to bridge the gap. These are all areas that businesses should prioritise. Otherwise we risk losing an essential, high-skilled talent pool in core industries such as tech, which is struggling through a hiring crisis.

Over the coming years, I’d also expect to see further progress with flexible working policies by employers. This is an area the government is also trying to address, with plans to tackle childcare costs within the Spring Budget earlier this year.

This provides greater support for women returning to work and is an area that businesses should increasingly assist with over the coming years.

Meanwhile, as gender pay gap reporting increases in volume and accuracy, this issue will become top of mind for many organisations. Mandatory reporting can help to close – and, in time, eliminate – pay differences between men and women.

The road ahead

In order to close the gender gap, particularly in senior roles, businesses must afford women the opportunities to showcase their skills and offer a fair progression path within the company.

Women need to take these opportunities with both hands, relying on mentors and support networks to achieve their goals. This combination can help increase the number of women in executive roles and help them, and their businesses, to thrive.

The gender gap is unlikely to be solved overnight. But, the alarming underrepresentation of women in board and executive positions – and the underlying issues such as a gender pay gap that accompany it – are holding businesses back from their full potential.

Businesses need to empower women into leadership roles. Female entrepreneurs and leaders need to have confidence in their abilities and goals, or else the gender gap will prevail, and the female voice will continue to be drowned out.

Headshot of Sheila Flavell CBE
Sheila Flavell CBE

Sheila Flavell CBE is President of techUK, a member of the UK Government's Digital Skills Council, Chief Operating Officer and an Executive Board Director of FDM Group. She has spent 31 years operating within the international IT space.

FDM Group
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