International Women’s Day: Diversity and Inclusion

To celebrate International Women’s Day, The Change Partners’ Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Billie Dhadda shares her thoughts on the barriers women still face in the workplace and how to overcome them.

The number of women who sit on FTSE 350 boards has hit its target three years early, according to a government-backed FTSE Women Leaders Review, which was recently released.

Over 40% of directors at the UK's largest listed companies were women in 2022, an increase from 9.5% in 2011, and only 10 of the FTSE 350 companies still have all-male executive teams. While this is fantastic news, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to women in the workplace.

Unfortunately the annual report didn’t highlight that leadership opportunities for women below board level is not growing at the same rate, which is much more in line with what I am hearing every day from the candidates I work with. Some of the CMOs that I speak to are telling me, there is still only one female on a team of Caucasian males and their voice isn’t being heard.

Organisations taking action on diversity and inclusion for women

As the D&I specialist at a talent management agency, it’s encouraging to see that greater steps are being taken to recognise diversity and inclusion in the workplace. For example, the European Council and European Parliament recently gave its final approval on a new law entitled the 'Women on Boards Directive', requiring listed companies implement quotas to increase gender diversity on corporate boards throughout the European Union by 2026. These regulations would require EU-listed companies to have at least 40% of their non-executive director positions held by women.

The Law Society has also released its diversity and inclusion framework encouraging businesses to take a systematic approach and embed D&I in a way that has a lasting impact. And some large corporations are taking note. American multinational food manufacturer Mars, is a great example of this. The company recently announced that for the second consecutive year, it had received a score of 90 per cent on the Corporate Equality Index, a national report on corporate policies and practices relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) workplace equality, administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Stanley Black and Decker, industrial tool and hardware provider, is another great example of a corporate business doing D&I well. The business appointed a Chief Diversity Officer in 2021 to drive its D&I Charter. The company reports that 33 per cent of its global workforce are women, 34 per cent of its US workforce are racially or ethnically diverse and 18 per cent of its board directors are racially or ethnically diverse.

However, despite these great steps taking place in some large organisations, there is still a lot more that needs to be done.

Overcoming barriers

I set out in my career 20 years ago to help women to overcome the invisible barriers they face in the workplace and break the glass ceiling, yet despite lots of noise, nothing has really changed in 20 years. Yes, there are more females in certain industries like luxury and beauty, but overall, there's not that much change. Some of the large businesses I work with still only have between 20 and 40% of their workforce represented by women.

We have come a long way since the days when women were not allowed to vote, let alone hold senior positions in the workplace. Yet, despite all our progress, there is still a glass ceiling that holds many women back from reaching their full potential. It’s time for us to break through this barrier and make sure that everyone has an equal chance at success in their professional lives.

Breaking through the glass ceiling

So how can we break through this glass ceiling? The most important thing to remember is that you must never give up. As a woman striving for success in a male-dominated industry, you will face obstacles and setbacks along the way. It’s important not to get discouraged, instead, use those challenges as motivation to prove your worth.

Another key step is to build strong relationships with your colleagues and mentors who will support your ambitions. Networking with like-minded individuals who want to see you succeed can help increase your visibility within an organisation and open up opportunities for promotions or new roles. Additionally, don't be afraid to speak up and don't wait around for someone else to recognise your potential.

Despite advances made over time, there is still much work ahead when it comes to breaking through the glass ceiling for women in the workplace. As more companies are focusing on creating equitable environments where all genders can thrive, now more than ever before is an exciting time for women looking to make their mark on their respective industries and create paths for future generations of working women. With hard work, dedication, ambition and focus on building relationships with supportive colleagues and mentors – anything is possible!

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