Recent years have seen heightened importance given to women’s role in business. The gender pay gap is increasingly being brought into mainstream consciousness and gender balances in the workplace are being highlighted. Studies show that high levels of diversity in a company lead to increased idea generation and allow companies to consider new perspectives. This extends to negotiations, where deals are more likely to be brokered and last longer if women are involved in the negotiating process.
Yet, there is still a long way to go before women have equal standing to men in the business world. By looking at the statistics, it is clearly seen that only 25 out of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. While the number is growing year on year, Grant Thornton found that in a study in March 2019 currently only 29% of senior management roles are held by women globally.
Women face numerous challenges in the workplace, including assumptions about family and career goals. The question then remains, what can women do to help themselves get ahead in a business world? The answer overwhelmingly seems to be: support each other.
Do Women Have to Approach Business Differently?
Very often, women start off on the back foot. Despite the fact that women are consistently earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, they are still getting hired for considerably fewer entry level jobs according to a study by Grant Thornton in 2018. In addition, it would appear that many companies assume that women will leave a job sooner than men to start a family although a 2018 report by McKinsey and LeanIn found that women and men are leaving jobs at the same rate.
Hiltrud Werner, the woman on Volkswagen’s management board as of 2017, has been vocal about her experience coming up in a business world dominated by men. In an interview for the Volkswagen blog in 2018, she spoke about how at her first senior position as a board member, she wanted to promote a female employee coming back from parental leave to a management position. She was met with multiple biased questions from others, including “Won’t that discourage all the good men?”
Should Women Network Differently?
This is where the importance of networking and women supporting women comes in. A study directed by Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University has shown the clear benefits of women in business who have a close-knit group of women with whom they network.
Women are able to share and give other women insight into the working environments at their current and previous companies. This includes information about company cultures and policies regarding gender equality, equal salaries and opportunities and commitment to gender equality. These issues are becoming increasingly important to women, with 85% of millennial females saying they strongly considered prospective employers’ policies on diversity, equality and inclusion before accepting a job, in a survey carried out by PwC in 2015. Having the insider’s perspective can make all the difference.
This information is not just pertinent when choosing a job; it also allows women to make informed decisions about joining companies that will support them and where they can thrive. This will result in more women in high-powered positions for companies where they are allowed to flourish. This too can be beneficial for women as a whole: once a culture of women in top positions becomes socially accepted, it paves the way for other women to gain positions in these companies and top roles. This is especially true of STEM sectors, where, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women are still drastically underrepresented.
Interestingly, this study found that men gained almost no benefits from having a close-knit network of male contacts, highlighting the gender-specific benefits for women.
Women Supporting Each Other
Women are able to support each other through more than just networking. Those in high-powered positions can also mentor other women at their workplace, or even just offer a safe space to create open communication about the issues women are facing in that work environment. This can help women discover that they are not alone in their problems, but that they are systematic and collective obstacles. Ones which can be fought together as a unit.
Many women in power are already implementing schemes like these in their workplaces. Hiltrud Werner has set up a mentoring system at Volkswagen for the advancement of women, and at the moment it seems to be working well. Women have spoken about how they are able to openly discuss issues in a hierarchy free environment and Hiltrud has reported that the number of female managers in her team has risen by 10% since she has been there. Similarly, Gillian Tans, CEO of Bookings.com, has set up a Women in Tech initiative which focuses on providing mentorship and scholarships for women pursuing STEM degrees. Gillian highlights the fact that there aren’t enough women in tech roles, and the opportunity to rectify that could truly change the world.
In this vein, EU holds informative events in relation to the inclusion of women within the business world. This includes the edition of our In the Spotlight series with Miriam Ballesteros, Head of Communications at Strand. Named on the Women in Fintech Powerlist, Miriam spoke about what women’s role in the financial space is and inspired students on how to create their own personal brand.
Of course, the approach to gender inclusivity has to be multifaceted. Women supporting other women is effective up to a certain point; however, for systematic transformation, real change needs to come from companies themselves.
Rapid globalization, technological advances and concerns over sustainability are transforming the business environment. Businesses need to be able to anticipate change, understand potential future risks, and develop solutions to overcome them and grow. This requires input from a diverse perspective. Companies need more women in senior leadership roles for this diversity. In fact, McKinsey reports that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile.
Companies also need to readdress their approaches to leadership and explore why a traditional ‘alpha male’ method is not appealing to many talented women. This is highlighted by a study from Accenture that shows women are four times more likely to reach senior manager and director levels in companies that prioritize creating a culture of equality
Yet, it should be pointed out there are companies who are committed to schemes to address the gender gap in the business world. This includes Paradigm for Parity, to which many leaders of business are pledged to, including Bloomberg, Coca Cola and Salesforce, among others. Their goal is to fix the corporate leadership gender gap, through clear plans of action and accountability to create gender parity at pledged companies by 2030. Companies such as General Electric and Intel have pledged money and plans of action to achieve a 50-50 gender balance in their workforce, putting resources towards both hiring and training women, with Intel reaching their diversity goal two and half years early.
Not only will supporting women benefit other women, but it will benefit companies and the world as a whole. By coming together, women can effect real change in business and be the leaders of tomorrow.
At EU we take the commitment to diversity very seriously and that is why we are proud to have been ranked as the worldwide education leader in diversity by QS Global MBA Rankings 2019, achieving 100/100 in the areas of gender balance, international faculty and student nationalities and gender balance. With a student body that comprises 54% women, we are proud to be setting the benchmark for gender-balanced schooling environments globally and preparing our students for successful international business careers.