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Louise Cooper, journalist at CooperCity discusses her thoughts on our latest Big Question – What challenges do businesses face in promoting more women into leadership roles?

2018 is a landmark year in the UK, the 100 year anniversary that (albeit only some) British women got the right to vote. And so it seems apt that this month, we look at how far women have gone in gaining workplace equality.

Sadly almost 60% of Reed clients surveyed still think gender discrimination is an issue at work. And Director Victoria Bell thinks it starts at recruitment: “make the wording on job adverts and specifications inclusive; have interview panels that are diverse to deter people recruiting in their own image; assess on talent and potential, not necessarily experience and hours worked.”

And yet the benefits of diversity are wide and well known. The consultancy McKinsey has researched firms for over a decade for the “Women Matter” series and “built a case for higher representation of women in top management positions”. They have consistently shown that organisations with more women in senior roles perform significantly better financially.

2018 is also the ten year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman brothers - one of the epochal moments of the financial crisis. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF wrote a blog on it: “a key ingredient of reform would be more female leadership in finance. I say this for two reasons. First, greater diversity always sharpens thinking, reducing the potential for groupthink. Second, this diversity also leads to more prudence, with less of the reckless decision-making that provoked the crisis. As I have said many times, if it had been Lehman Sisters rather than Lehman Brothers, the world might well look a lot different today.

A key ingredient of reform would be more female leadership in finance

Christine Lagarde - Managing Director, IMF

And yet, only 6% of Fortune 500 companies in the USA have women CEOs. And in the UK it is no better. Remember the joke that there are more CEOs in FTSE100 that are called David, than there are women? Except it wasn’t a joke, that was the case in 2016.

So what can be done?

Almost 40% of Reed clients polled think that flexible working is the answer. And HR director Karen Rossington agrees: “Organisations need to get their heads around the fact that the traditional 9 – 5, Monday – Friday week has gone. We live in a 24/7 society, we shop online at midnight, pay our bills and do our banking at the weekend, yet businesses still consider that for a leadership role, that you must work the traditional route.”

And around a third of those polled think more women in senior leadership roles would also help. However that requires a group of women coming up from lower in the organisation to start with. HR Manager Sarah Darby: “historically there are fewer women entering the engineering and manufacturing field we work in. So we are ensuring there are female work experience students in our intake each year. We are working with universities to encourage female interns to apply here. We need to get a much better balance of applicants, in order to meaningfully see women come through into more of our leadership positions.”

Progress is being made. But there is a lot further to go.