Gender Diversity In A World In Crisis

Leading up to COVID we were really beginning to gain momentum in Diversity and Inclusion; we were at the cusp of some really exciting progression.
We were seeing businesses start to take D&I seriously, and put plans in place to see gender diversity realised in their business.  

However due to COVID and the economic impact that has flowed on as a result, we have seen stagnation in the once moving efforts for achieving gender equity. The research tells us that during an economic downturn, D&I is often the first thing to go. 

How can we ensure that this momentum we gained in D+I pre COVID won’t be lost, but will be re-formed and re-charged? 

During Cultivates digital Launch, Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, stated that “Now is the most important time to ensure that we remain focused on D&I in general, and gender equality in particular. Almost on a monthly basis we are seeing more and more people unemployed, and as we moved to an economic recovery phase, it is absolutely vital that women have the same opportunities to re-engage in the workforce as men. In order to do this, we need employers to positively take active steps to ensure that the policies and strategies that they have in place are actually being driven [and executed] by their workforce, and their management teams in particular.” 

The WGEA statistics released in early 2020 state that only 17% of all CEOS are women, 14.1% of women hold chair positions and only 26.8% of directorships are held by women. These low numbers are confronting and concerning. Research shows that if we increase the percentage of women on your boards and in senior leadership positions, profitability and productivity will improve; you will outdo your competitor!

Why are the stats so low?

Research shows business leaders often have a varied understanding, readiness and ownership of gender equality and the barriers to women’s progression. At each career stage different practices operate to undermine gender equality. These practices include a lack of transparency in recruitment and promotion, a focus on recruiting and promoting people based on ‘cultural fit’ without any consideration as to whether the culture might not be inclusive, and a lack of parental support to name a few. Across a career, these different practices have a cumulative effect that maintains men’s overrepresentation in leadership. Women are not given the chance to step up because they are not given the same business opportunities or support as men. Libby Lyons stated that “When boards are looking to appoint CEOS they want people who have operational experience- and this is where a Sponsorship program is absolutely critical.”

Why is Sponsorship of women so effective?

Sponsorship involves the forming of strategic alliances between senior leaders and female talent within an organisation. A sponsor advocates for their sponsee and provides them access to different opportunities and an opportunity to shine in front of senior leaders, which in turn leads to pathways for promotion. Cultivate helps senior leaders build sponsorship relationships with emerging female leaders, to both retain and promote them. The reason this is so critical for gender equality is that currently men naturally sponsor other men, and so Cultivate breaks this norm and acts to build leaders’ awareness and ownership of gender equality within the organisation. 

Research has found that sponsorship has been a critical factor in the career progression of female CEOs. 

Alison Mirams, CEO of Roberts Pizzarotti, is one of these women. “My entire career was built by two sponsors”. Both leaders took her under their wing, guiding her and allowing her to shadow and learn from them. Importantly, they advocated for her career progression and development, and ultimately, her promotion.

“I cannot say enough amazing things about sponsorship because I am an absolute beneficiary of it”, said Mirams. 

What does a sponsor gain from the relationship? 

Sponsorship isn’t just a benefit for the sponsee; our program provides opportunities for personal growth and development and leadership skills. Dayan Jayasekera, Market Director, Geotechnics and tunnels for SMEC, shared his insights as a sponsor on the Cultivate program. “I’ve learned to listen a lot more, and to break down already formed opinions of people. Sometimes we can have the wrong perception of an individual purely based on a very slight professional interaction or snapshot of their work. So when you spend some deeper time understanding that individual, you tend to break those previous perceptions and misconceptions down and you are then able to support them and treat other people in a different way as well.”

“Being able to expose [the sponsees] to the work that we do, helps them develop a greater understanding of your workload and creates a shared understanding of each other’s roles and work.”

Cultivate sponsorship offers an easy way for senior leaders to invest into their business and their emerging talent, as Dayan explains, “I have been really lucky to have been able to get to where I am in my career, and now to be able to give that back, and share those insights that you gain is very powerful. “

Cultivate was built for organisations that want to make a difference on gender equality and understand that real change doesn’t happen overnight.

Want to know more about how your business can benefit from Sponsorship? Get in touch today!

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