Women’s Advancement & Empowerment: Going Beyond Numbers

Women’s Advancement & Empowerment: Going Beyond Numbers and Addressing Culture

Post-event thoughts: A partner’s perspective

15 April 2020

Having partnered with our public sector clients for a series of diversity and inclusive leadership events, Badenoch + Clark was delighted to have the opportunity of contributing to the success of the ‘Women’s Advancement & Empowerment’ workshops on Thursday 12th March and Friday 13th March. The event was hosted by the NHS Leadership Academy and West Midlands Fire Service and attended by over 75 delegates, comprising of Board members, senior managers and operational staff across the NHS, fire service, charities, local government and central government.

The broad topic of women in leadership is at the heart of Badenoch + Clark’s global diversity strategy and as a company that is recognised as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces for Women, we were able to offer our support, advice and expertise whilst learning from others, hearing inspiring stories and sharing best practice.

The workshop highlighted the societal, governmental and business structural barriers to the success of women and minorities in reaching the top echelons of management. In addition, examples were shared of changes in practice that were having a positive impact on both data and importantly, organisational culture.

It was highlighted that 66% of public sector employees in the UK are female but only 35% hold leadership positions. Similarly, approximately one million women work for the NHS in England, making it one of the largest employers of women in the world. Despite making up the majority of the NHS workforce, women are more likely than men to face structural constraints within the workplace, are paid less, are less likely to get promoted and are less likely to be represented in senior roles within the NHS. With regards to the Fire Service, only five Chief Fire Officers are women.

So, what were the key barriers that were identified on the day?

  • The most prevalent was an organisational culture, especially at a senior level, that maintains an exclusive work environment, one that often does not include women and favours men. This culture entrenches preconceived ideas, bias and assumptions about women's leadership abilities.
  • Differences in confidence and career ambition between men and women, preventing women from moving into senior and executive positions
  • Gender bias creating a double bind in which women can be penalised for displaying either too little or too much assertiveness, competitiveness, and independence.

What can help break the barriers for women in the workplace to advance?
The workshop highlighted many enablers. Four key compelling ways were:

  • Visible top management commitment - gender diversity in the NHS and the Fire Service was highest where this was evident
  • The need to have a clear narrative on why gender diversity was important
  • Spend time addressing women and men's mindsets to better support gender diversity
  • Have targets and positive action initiatives designed to drive gender diversity across the talent pipeline

In order to achieve true gender diversity at all levels, it was agreed that organisations needed to go beyond just numbers and data and drive deep-seated cultural change. We heard good practice that focused on transparency, analysing the causes behind gaps, recruitment and retention, progression, intersectionality, supporting parents and carers, bullying and harassment, pay processes, using men as allies, educating your peers and having external engagement to promote gender equality across communities.

To summarise, if we are to see significant changes within the next generation of leadership within the NHS, Fire Service and beyond, organisations must adopt inclusive leadership development programmes that challenge, promote and advance issues concerning gender diversity. Likewise, recruitment, retention and promotion practices and strategies must be consistent and inclusive. At Badenoch + Clark we are very proud of our gender-balanced senior leadership team together with some of our highly effective talent development, return to work and female sponsorship programmes and we will continue to build upon these success stories and partner with like-minded organisations who are looking to drive change and make a difference.

James McLeod
Lead – NHS Board Practice, Badenoch + Clark