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Diversity and development: What I learnt from Management Today’s Influential Women in Business Conference

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, which finally allowed some women in Britain the right to vote. It was a ground-breaking and triumphant moment. Yet a century on, women are still underrepresented, underpaid and undervalued. Take Britain’s boardrooms. There are a meagre six female CEO’s in the FTSE 100, and just 29% of board positions are held by women. Gender pay gap figures reveal eight in ten UK firms pay men more.

“Gender inequality is everywhere,” writes deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, in her book, Equal Power. “It is ingrained throughout society, in each and every one of us. We are all sexist and so are our institutions and power structures. But instead of despairing at the state of the world, let’s roll up our sleeves and change it.”

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of listening to Jo speak at Management Today’s Inspiring Women in Business Conference. The conference aims to tackle some of the questions recently raised about gender in the workplace, as well as entrepreneurship, diversity, and digital fluency. Other speakers on the day included senior figures from Walmart and Fox Networks Group. These women serve as role models for how to lead and how to become leaders. Yet these women represent a small percentage of leaders overall.

The event was a great opportunity to find out more about what can leaders do to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Here’s what I took from the event.

Set the tone and lead by example

Diversity and inclusion should be a priority for all companies, and employees should see their employers investing time in these areas, just as they would any other business priority. Diversity and inclusion strategies should be integrated into recruitment, performance management and training. It is also important to recognise and remember the role men and women play outside of the workplace. Many women, for example, have difficulty juggling motherhood and looking after children, with their work and career progression. According to a recent report, just 16% of mothers are very confident in their future career prospects. Furthermore, only 11% of women were confident during their pregnancy that their career would advance at the same pace when they returned.  At Babel, we have a number of flexible working policies in place to ensure both men and women are able to fulfil parental duties, without these being detrimental to professional development.

Supporting development

Alison Rose, CEO of Commercial and Private Banking, Natwest, led the keynote session at Inspiring Women in Business on ‘The Diversity Agenda and Why It Matters.’ Alison stated that creating development plans for all employees doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly. It’s a matter of managers taking the time to understand their employees, recognising their skills along with their needs and guiding them to fill in the gaps. At Babel, we support the development of all employees, regardless of gender; we look at each of our team member’s career paths and put together a bespoke personal and professional development plan that enables each employee to achieve long-term positions within the agency.

Encourage mentorship

Women can face different challenges than men in the workplace and it’s important for them to have the opportunity to talk with other women who understand those challenges. The Inspiring Women in Business Conference was a great opportunity for women to come together to share experiences, whilst also offering advice. My colleagues Jen and Sophie have previously attended the conference, and there’s nothing to stop my male colleagues from attending in the future.

At Babel, we have a mentorship programme for all team members, partnering our junior members with more senior colleagues. This allows us to learn from those with more experience and provide an opportunity to ask for career advice.  Mentorship allows us to create a positive company culture and helps team members adjust to new positions as well as preparing them to move up in the company.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. However, if companies make adjustments in the workplace now, it will help contribute to an inclusive culture within British businesses for the future. Hopefully we can speed up the pace of change, and reduce the type of inequality Jo mentions in her book. It’s time to start rolling up our sleeves…

Want to learn more about Babel? Visit our recent work here.

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