Lord Davies’s report, published in March this year, showed that representation of women on FTSE 100 boards has almost doubled in the past four years to 23.5 per cent. The government’s target for 25 per cent of board positions to be held by women by the end of this year is in sight, and there can be little doubt that British businesses are taking strides towards gender diversity at a senior level. While we should be celebrating these successes, we shouldn’t lose focus on the challenges that still exist for companies wishing to achieve lasting change on gender diversity. How do we ensure that we retain enough women in the workplace over the longer term to ensure that this progress continues?
Harness all talent and ensure the environment is right
This is not a new problem. Across the City, companies have taken steps to identify and support talented women within their organisations. While many have explicitly sought to recruit more women – both at entry level and as experienced joiners – retaining these women over the longer term remains a challenge. Companies invest heavily in the recruitment and early development of women, only to see them exit the business after starting a family. For some, the decision to exit is made following a period where they have tried, and failed, to balance their career and family life; others simply wish to spend the early years with their children.
Businesses need to create and maintain an environment that enables women to balance family with a fulfilling career. At Deloitte, our focus on agile working – from splitting time in the office and working remotely, to offering flexible hours – has enabled us to provide a working environment where our women and all our people are able to work in a way that suits them and the business. However, this is only part of the solution. The other part is attracting these women back into the workplace in the first place.
Providing women with a route back to work
To do this in our business, we have introduced a return-to-work scheme – a 12-week paid internship for women who have been out of the professional services workforce for between three and six years. The scheme will run from September to December, during term-time only. The ambition is for at least 80 per cent of participants to take up longer-term roles with the firm at the end of the period. Each intern will have a tailored role to fit with their skills, and we will provide extensive coaching and development throughout the programme.
Getting the balance right
Firms need to provide a workplace that enables agility, but which also addresses any unconscious bias – both in the recruitment process and throughout employees’ careers. Remember, their lives have fundamentally changed, but the office environment may not have altered very much. This means giving the additional support necessary for women returning to the workplace, whether after maternity leave or a career break, to develop their potential and ensure that they can find their place again. If we get these things right, I for one believe that long-term progress will be made.
Emma Codd is managing partner for talent at Deloitte.
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