The recent release of disappointing data by Cranfield and the Davies Committee has put the spotlight firmly back on how to accelerate the progression of women. While we hope that the slowing of momentum in female board appointments is very much a blip, the figures have galvanised us into redoubling our efforts across all organisational levels, restating the business case for gender diversity and focusing on real cultural change.
There have been many efforts by individual companies over the years to make progress on executive committee appointments. Some of these have been successful, some less so. What the 30% Club is aiming to do is enable organisations to collaborate to better understand and solve this problem together.
With that in mind, at a 30% Club seminar held in London today called ‘Accelerator Steps for Female Talent Development’, we have launched two initiatives aimed at accelerating progress. The first of these is the ‘Balancing the Pyramid’ project, supported by an initial group of 16 companies, and is aimed at accelerating progress towards 30% women at all levels of companies. The Project will complement existing initiatives both within the 30% Club and more broadly. As well as collating data across companies to enable the measurement of progress at all career points, the project will involve a new scientifically-based study of behavioural differences between men and women, with a view to facilitating more gender-intelligent skills development. It will also devise new pre-employment initiatives to encourage young women at the start of their careers.
The second initiative by the 30% Club, which we have also announced at today’s seminar, is piloting a new mentoring scheme, developed in conjunction with Ernst & Young, aimed at enabling hundreds of mid-career women to benefit from cross-company mentoring, an opportunity that until now has been reserved for more senior executives.
These initiatives are not a knee-jerk reaction to the Cranfield data. The 30% Club has always believed that developing the executive pipeline is the key to sustainable change. Our first project in this area was facilitated by McKinsey and focused on professional services firms, where progress remains limited as to the number of female partners, despite a balanced graduate intake. The project showed that many of the obstacles relate to broader cultural and established practices that need modernising, with a shift also needed from a diversity strategy focused on women to a “talent” strategy. The firms participating in the project made a formal commitment to reconvene to review progress on a regular basis, and we are excited and encouraged by their progress so far.
The benefits of gender diversity are the same regardless of the stage in the career cycle, and today’s seminar has highlighted some practical steps that all companies can already take and new ideas to finally achieve better gender balance. If we are really going to accelerate progress at all levels, both companies and women have to ‘lean in’ and focus firmly on how to achieve change.