I was delighted to receive a gift this week from my colleague Neema Amin, Sussex Innovation’s new Investment Advisor. She handed it over with the words: “Thanks so much for letting me know about the role here, if I’d just seen the advert I don’t think I would have applied”. Now, that was pretty shocking to me; Neema is the kind of person you really want on your team. She catches everything the role has thrown at her with a dazzling combination of humour, capability and grace.
But the perspective she shared is one that’s familiar to me – women tend to undervalue their skills and attributes when considering whether to apply for a role and this is exacerbated in business areas which are strongly dominated by men like finance or equity fundraising Harvard Business School found among senior roles in venture capital and private equity, women held just 9% and 6% of the positions, respectively.
This is surprising for many reasons but not least because when it comes to profitability, McKinsey found that companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Even greater results were found for those with ethnic/cultural diversity, with top-quartile companies performing 33% better in profitability.
So, if diverse teams bring more profitability, what’s stopping businesses from recruiting women into senior roles?
At Sussex Innovation, more than two-thirds of our leadership team are female and 3 out of 7 are women of colour. We’re in a period of change, not getting everything exactly right yet, but we have experimented with new hiring methods including some of those mentioned below.
So here’s a skinny take on how to attract more women to your teams, taken from a variety of sources that I’ve bookmarked throughout.
Diversity at the top: In a 2017 PWC survey, nearly 70% of female participants working in financial services said they looked at the diversity of the leadership team when deciding to accept a position with their most recent employer.
De-gender your job ads: Lose the sporting analogies and hyperbole like ‘dominate’ or ‘rockstar’ while some women may identify with these words, it’s more likely that women will assume that they won’t make the cut if the organisation is looking for traditionally masculine skills or attributes.
Diversify your interview panels: Diverse panels hire more diverse candidates.
No token women!: If the shortlist contains just one women then there’s statistically no chance that she will be hired. Ensure shortlists have an even mix of candidates.
Test job skills, not interview skills: Use skill-based assessment not just interviews. Lego’s Serious Play has some great resources for this that test abilities to resolve complex and unclear issues as well as their creativity, openness, personality, learning potential, ability to self-reflect, motivation, how they handle stress, their communication skills and their customer focus.
Hold the ladder up: Senior and successful women need to help to open doors to senior roles and board rooms. Karren Brady is a champion for this, she has repeatedly called upon her fellow female professionals to help those trying to make their way in the business world. As she explained in this Guardian column: “Any board executive can forget just how many people helped them get where they are. Those women who have got to the top need actively to ensure there is a pipeline of younger women, whether by networking or mentoring, who in turn is encouraging those below them.”
Be flexible: Flexibility helps real family life work and allows women to work in senior roles, full time. Flexible doesn’t necessarily mean ‘part time’ and assumptions like this (and stigmas around ‘flexible working’) are why some women feel apprehensive about approaching the topic of flexibility at work. Flexibility increases loyalty and reduces attrition, and – best of all – reduces stress so the team feel less torn between the different roles they play in life.
Be welcoming: Ensure that women feel welcome in your organisation – consulting with your female team members is a great way to find out what would welcome them, but a good start is having female faces in your branding and a written commitment and strategies to advance their careers.
I’ll give the last word to my colleague Neema:
“If you want diversity go to places that diverse people attend – don’t go to a church hoping to hire a Jewish woman!”