International Women’s Day: the benefits of gender balance

Businesses and other organisations are being encouraged to assess whether they could do more to improve the gender balance and pay equality in their workforces.

As part of the huge number of events taking place to mark International Women's Day (IWD), businesses around the world are being prompted to consider how they could benefit from addressing any gender imbalance within their workforces or in their senior management. 

The theme for IWD 2019 is “Balance for Better”, and the campaign's organisers point out: “We are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.

“Balance is not a woman's issue, it's a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage... Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.”

The campaign trail

Businesses celebrating IWD on Friday 8 March are being encouraged to create campaigns that target specific goals, such as challenging existing biases within their workforce, celebrating women's achievements, or trying to drive positive behaviour, such as more equal recruitment and remuneration policies.

Such campaigns may be limited to the workplace, or could take advantage of social media or other marketing channels, to bring these messages to customers and suppliers outside the company.

Best practice

Businesses and other organisations can also enter the IWD 2019 Best Practice Competition, which aims to highlight some of the most effective ways to promote - and benefit from - gender diversity. 

In the UK, a number of policies and initiatives - aimed in the main at larger businesses - have recently been introduced to address issues such as pay inequality and a lack of female representation at board level. In 2017, the government introduced gender pay gap reporting requirements for all companies with 250 or more employees. 

This means that such businesses are obliged to make public details of the average pay of men and women in their organisation, including the amount of paid leave and bonuses that workers are entitled to.

Meanwhile, campaigns such as Men as Agents of Change, which is being run in the UK by the Women's Business Council, aim to put pressure on larger firms to improve the proportion of female directors on their boards, as well as encourage customers and suppliers to address gender imbalance and other equality-related issues.

Moving up

Anna Cooper's rise over the past 15 years from personal assistant to HR director has played a significant part in helping her employer - north London-based recruitment specialist Coyle Personnel - develop a more diverse and effective workforce, while also broadening its appeal to potential employees.

 “We now have some very senior females on the sales floor, for example. And this definitely has a positive effect for people joining”

 Anna Cooper, Coyle Personnel

“I started with the company as PA to the founder, Kevin Coyle, and this gave me a great insight into how the business was run,” Cooper explains. “I used to sit in on board meetings taking notes - and I would always offer an opinion about what was going on within the company, I was quite useful to the directors in that respect.” 

At the time Coyle Personnel had an all-male board. But after being given increasing levels of responsibility - in particular for HR and operations - over the past few years, Cooper was recently made a full member of the board.

“As soon as I made the jump, I felt this enormous pressure now that I was accountable for what I was saying, so I took it a lot more seriously. Also, I don't have the experience of the sales environment and client interaction that my fellow directors had so I often felt I didn't have enough knowledge to put my point across. But to be fair to them, they have been very supportive.”

Getting the balance right

Cooper says that, however inadvertently, her success has helped the firm develop a better gender balance across the business. “We now have some very senior females on the sales floor, for example. And this definitely has a positive effect for people joining - which means the business has more of a talent pool to pull from. The women in the company love to see that there is a female voice on the board, and it makes them think 'that could be me one day'.”

As a recruitment agency for many large and public-sector organisations, Coyle Personnel is influenced by the employment policies at the likes of Network Rail and the NHS, Cooper adds. “This is a good way of finding out what approach other organisations take to issues like equality and diversity.

“We have family-friendly working policies, and a lot of the women in particular who work here are on flexitime or part-time. If you look at our retention rates, people really don't like to leave, and that is another real positive sell. Of course, there is a commercial side to what we do, and we still need to function and operate - but if we can do that while accommodating the needs of our staff, then that is great.”

 Chris Torney

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