Women make up less than a third of the top jobs in the UK, according to a new report by the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading gender equality charity.
The research, which is published biannually, found that women are absent in positions of power across industries, including Supreme Court justices, mayors, and police and crime commissioners.
Women’s leadership is also relatively rare in the corporate world, with women representing 38% of non-executive directorships and merely 14% of executive directorships in the UK. Only 8% of FTSE 100 CEOs are women, and none of them are women of color.
Despite bearing the brunt of the pandemic by taking on the double burden of work and childcare while working from home, women have not been included in high-level decision-making and deep-rooted inequalities remain across industries.
The study also warned that gender inequality in top jobs was a key driver of both the gender pay gap and the ethnicity pay gap.
So, what is driving this gender imbalance, and what can business schools do to redress the situation?
Why are there so few women leaders?
According to Ruth Sealy (pictured), professor of responsible leadership at University of Exeter Business School, the dearth of women’s leadership is not because talented women are in short supply. Rather, they’re just not in demand.
“The lack of gender diversity in corporate leadership is a symptom of a bigger problem, that of the persistence of homogeneity, based on privilege, and our implicit expectations of who looks and sounds like a leader,” she explains.
Amber Wigmore Alvarez, chief talent officer at global career platform Highered EFMD, says business schools have a role to play in tackling gender inequality in the business world.
Through their careers services, b-schools can help women boost their employability and launch their careers by providing them with workshops and masterclasses to learn how to best navigate male-dominated industries.
For example, at France's Grenoble Ecole de Management, the research chair FERE (Female Entrepreneurship for a Renewed Economy) and its incubator GEM Les Premières train would-be female entrepreneurs to succeed in a male-dominated entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“[Women have] to assume that the dice are loaded and the rules of the game are biased. Based on this, learn how to strategize,” says Severine Le Loarne (pictured below), professor of strategic management at Grenoble Ecole de Management.
Highered EFMD also provides salary negotiation masterclasses to women. "As I tell my students, 'Often you do not necessarily get what you deserve, but what you negotiate. So do it well!'" Amber says.
Promoting women’s leadership at business school
At the same time, business schools are well-placed to reduce gender bias within industries, rather than just preparing women to navigate it indefinitely.
Highered EFMD is currently promoting Deutsche Bank’s 2022 Graduate Outreach for Women (GROW) Program in Singapore and Hong Kong, which provides mentorship support and career planning advice for women wanting to get into finance.
Business schools can direct their women students towards those career opportunities and teach them how to be more assertive in the workplace, but it is ultimately down to employers to redress the balance.
"Employers should be embedding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into their talent management processes," Amber says. "They need to think beyond the hiring stage, onto retention and development, ensuring there is a diverse pipeline for the roles and levels that feed into the senior positions in the organization."
To make their teams more diverse and equal, companies can provide adequate paternity pay packages, ensure that boards are representative, and create a working environment that is as welcoming as possible to everyone.
"We have a chance to change the way we view and conduct work as we come out of the pandemic, and the world of business needs to recognize its role and responsibility within society, not just alongside it," Ruth from University of Exeter Business School adds.
There is work to be done. Employers need to make their recruitment process more inclusive; women themselves can learn how to negotiate and strategize; and business schools should support both women and companies in their respective efforts.
“There is a cost to giving up on diversity, and great value in pushing through,” Amber concludes.
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