For workplace diversity, 2015 was a landmark year, with Lord Davies’s much-publicised target of having 25 per cent women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies finally being met in October. But we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back just yet. While progress has undoubtedly been made in the upper echelons of UK Plc, the sad reality is that many businesses are still struggling to fill a range of positions with equal numbers of men and women – none more so than in the tech industry.
Supporting diversity and inclusion is a business imperative. To serve our customers best, it’s crucial that our workforce reflects their vibrant and diverse backgrounds. While it’s absolutely right that we focus on the men and women already within our organisations, genuine long-lasting change will only be realised if we look a little broader. We must focus our efforts on the next generation of workers, those with the potential to create a truly diverse workforce of the future.
An impressionable generation
While much has been done to encourage more girls into Stem subjects, new findings from O2 show that gender stereotypes are continuing to impact the career aspirations of young people. Our research has revealed that many children as young as four view careers in nursing, childcare or social work as better suited to women, while jobs geared towards problem-solvers and logicians – such as in engineering or scientific research – were deemed as more appropriate for men.
More worrying still, despite efforts to break the glass ceiling, when it comes to leadership roles, suits and briefcases continue to dominate, with one in four young people believing that running the country is a job for a man.
As a woman on a board and a mother of two, these findings are deeply disturbing. In a society which has now developed to such an extent that our cars can (almost!) drive themselves, it seems laughable that we still haven’t broken free of outdated ideals painting boys as forthright go-getters and girls as emotionally-savvy arbitrators.
Working as an HR professional in the tech sector, I see both sides of this coin every day. Although progress is undoubtedly being made, the tech sector remains a bit of a “boys club”. And yet within the O2 HR directorate, and many HR teams across the country, women tend to rule the roost. That’s why it’s vital that diversity and inclusion is viewed in the round – boys too are just as susceptible to outdated ideas about which jobs are appropriate for them as girls.
What can business leaders do?
Parents undoubtedly hold significant sway as the main source of careers advice, but business leaders need to take ownership too. Seven in ten secondary school pupils we spoke to would like to hear from local business leaders about jobs in their sector, yet more than half don’t remember a local business person visiting their school in the last year. So what are we all waiting for?
I’m challenging my peers at O2 to dedicate more time to going into schools and speaking to children about the opportunities within the tech sector through our partnership with Speakers for Schools. But we’re only one business. To make a real difference, business leaders across the UK need to step up.
A diverse workforce is a prerequisite to doing good business, so get out there and inspire your future talent – both male and female – to level the playing field once and for all.