Boosting the female talent pipeline

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Despite the many advances in workplace equality over the years, women are still not making it to the top in large numbers. We’re down to just three female executives in the FTSE100, and the percentage of women joining boards stands at a lowly 17.3%. Boosting the female talent pipeline is one of the major challenges facing HR directors today, and tackling this challenge means raising awareness of the business case for employing more women. 

Currently, just 40% of HR leaders consider improved business performance to be a benefit of increasing the number of women in senior roles (see Engaging the full potential of female managers). This is a real barrier to the career progression of the many thousands of talented female middle managers in the UK, leaving some dissatisfied with their jobs, concerned about career progression, or even tempted to resign. Also, as most senior management positions are filled by internal candidates, the internal talent pipeline is clearly not delivering true gender diversity.

Examining the business case

Ensuring that female professionals’ capabilities are harnessed more effectively could significantly enhance company productivity, providing a real boost to the economy. With more than two million women in the UK working in managerial positions, we estimate that the potential benefit to the country from unblocking the female talent pipeline could be £5 billion. (McLeod’s 2009 report, Engaging for Success, found companies with high levels of engagement increased profits by 19.2%. High engagement could equate to additional profits of between £70bn and £80bn across UK companies. Two million female managers represent 7% of the UK workforce which therefore equates to a £5bn benefit.)

Employing more women helps to catalyse innovation, increases the representation of consumers in employee teams, ensures compliance with legal and moral obligations, and builds more effective team participation. The net result is that companies achieve higher levels of employee engagement, with operational performance improving by nearly 20%.

So what can businesses do to ensure that more female middle managers achieve their full potential?

Tackling the gender diversity challenge

Recognising that gender diversity has a positive impact on company performance is vital to unlocking the full potential of female staff and multiplying the number of diversity initiatives in place. 

Once awareness has been raised, listening to the ambitions of female middle managers will help to close the gap between their career aspirations and HR leaders’ perceptions. We recommend that HR leaders focus on the training and development needed for female middle managers to succeed, as it’s often the case that they don’t prioritise their own development, believing ability and drive alone will lead to promotion. 

Extending flexible working options would also be a great help to women in reaching more senior roles. While 74% of female middle managers are satisfied with the level of flexibility in their current jobs, they agree that lifestyle choices are a major obstacle to career progression. In some cases, women with children who can’t achieve the work-life balance they desire may leave the pipeline altogether. 

Finally, senior female ‘role models’ could potentially be doing more to help other female colleagues progress. More should be done by companies to ensure that role models are relevant and accessible.

We anticipate that improving women’s progression from middle to senior management will have a ‘multiplier effect’ by generating a healthy pipeline of female talent for executive and board-level appointments. For now, the responsibility rests with employers to engage with their female middle managers.

Alexander Mann Solutions and everywoman have explored these challenges and solutions in detail via a report entitled Focus on the pipeline - Engaging the full potential of female middle managers. More than 400 UK-based female middle managers and 200 HR leaders were surveyed to provide research for the report. 


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