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Managing the female talent pipeline

Women raising their hands

To maximise the advantages that women bring to the workplace and enable them to reach their full potential, we need to commit to the gender diversity agenda. In order to see more women reach the board we need to focus on managing the female talent pipeline.

In this blog, we outline 4 business practices that will contribute to change – some can be implemented overnight, others will take more concerted effort and buy-in from senior management.

Current state of play

Women currently represent around 12 percent of all board-level positions worldwide, even though they make up over 40 percent of the global workforce. According to Catalyst, in the US women hold 20 percent of board seats, in Europe 23 percent, whereas Asia is lagging behind at around 8 percent and making very slow progress in comparison to other regions.

Hong Kong currently stands at 12 percent, although approximately 54 percent of women in Hong Kong participate in the labour force. Despite initiatives, such as the introduction of the 30% Club, research consistently demonstrates that female leaders are simply more hidden and less inclined to put themselves forward. Statistics reveal that women will only pursue a role if they fulfil at least 80 percent of the stated criteria, while for men that figure is 50 to 60 percent.

Men dominate the top ranks of nearly every firm across the world, and they continue to hire in their own image. Companies have a tendency to fear change and the unknown, which means they more often than not hire men, using channels to access people they already know of, or are already familiar with.

Championing gender diversity

The key issue for all firms is the retention of female talent – maintaining a strong pipeline is essential in order to make a change at board level in the future. Many women are choosing to opt out of the workforce at middle management so we need to take action to ensure all our best and brightest female talent stay engaged.

The diversity agenda needs to be led from the top, buy-in from senior management is essential. Engaging more male champions within every organisation is critical as they currently hold the influence to make this change.

And as Sheryl Sandberg highlights, women must take the initiative to develop their own careers.

4 business practices that contribute to change:

1. Reviewing Effectiveness

Companies benefit from the use of board assessments to help critically examine their board composition, ensuring effectiveness and business success. This process can also be completed at a senior management team level to ensure the right people are in the right roles.

To reap the benefits of diversity, boards and management teams need at least three or more women. Research from many scholars and organizations, including Catalyst, have found that three + women are needed to create a "critical mass", which can lead to better financial performance and avoid groupthink.

2. Hiring process

Hiring policies need to include balanced shortlists - including 30 percent women at a minimum is a good start.

If businesses are serious about improving the gender balance of their organisations, they need to ensure that interview panels are diverse, and include at least one senior woman, and possibly even a diversity leader who can offer a balanced view. They need to understand that women have a tendency to under-sell their achievements and experience, whereas men may well over-sell theirs in order to get the job. It is also important to reflect on the skills needed, as the “softer” skills associated with women are often given less credence, but are actually essential components.

3. Introducing development programmes

Continuous learning and development programmes for professional women help to keep them engaged in the workplace, resulting in a stronger talent pipeline:

  • Internal mentoring programmes or piggybacking external support networks – for example The Women’s Foundation Hong Kong offers a fantastic mentoring programme

  • Executive coaching – to hone leadership styles and build particular skillsets

  • Training – on-going internal programmes or specialised external training, for example the Women’s Directorship Programme run in partnership with The University of Hong Kong

  • Access to senior leaders – by simply opening up lines of communication, new relationships can be formed and sponsors can be earned

  • Networking – from internal networking opportunities through to external networks such as the Meraki Network - the executive network for female leaders and male champions of change, women must take part in more professional networking

  • Career planning – female talent must be encouraged to plan their futures and challenge themselves.

4. Changing the work environment

These simple practices can be adopted to instantly drive change:

  • Unconscious bias training for all staff

  • Mentorship programmes – creating a supportive and collaborative environment

  • Family-friendly working practices - such as flexible working, or part time work

  • Provide childcare or other facilities on site, alternatively provide in-home help

  • Support for women returning to work – help women acclimatise to their new role as both mother/carer and professional.

It’s time for change

Creating balanced teams leads to better, more robust decisions, improved performance and reduced risk. When this is presented as a business issue rather than a gender issue why would you fail to engage with almost half of the workforce, clients and other stakeholders? We all have the tools at our disposal, we just need to have the will to implement the agenda. Now is the time for change.

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