When you set your mind to something, it’s amazing what you can achieve – particularly if you’re the boss. At Lloyds Banking Group where chief executive António Horta Osório has made the pledge that 40 per cent of his top 5,000 executives will be women by 2020, the organisation is apparently totally galvanised.
Now a target has been set against which heads of department are being measured there’s seemingly no end to the ideas coming forward. And in such a highly regulated business as banking there’s no question of promoting people unless they are absolutely fit for the task.
Having looked through the entries to 2013’s Breaking the Mould Awards – which celebrate companies doing the most to create a pipeline of executive women – the commitment of the chief executive emerges as the single most important factor behind real change rather than tokenism.
Determination by the boss must, of course, be accompanied by the introduction of targets for improved diversity, measured accurately and, if appropriate, rewarded through bonuses like the achievement of other business targets. Some form of flexible working will certainly have to be considered but far from being viewed with dread, research carried out by McKinsey for the Agile Future Forum suggests that looking more creatively at how your business is structured and operates can increase profitability.
Measuring the output of your people, rather than simply counting the hours employees are at their workstation, is a helpful start. It is also preferable to offer flexible working to all employees, rather than just women, so it doesn’t act as a career blight or create envy among staff. But as we’ve seen with recent research from Cityfathers, it is not only women nowadays who regard the chance to see their children as a reason to work for a company.
In addition to looking at all company literature and websites to try to ensure there is no unconscious bias in the language, the companies which were most successful in the Breaking the Mould Awards also insisted that promotions should be conducted by a panel. This tends to offset a natural predilection for bosses (largely male) to promote people like themselves as this makes them feel more comfortable.
This year, with the IoD as the lead partner on the Breaking the Mould Award, we hope to publish entries so that best practice can be shared and all companies can benefit from the talents of their entire workforce.
The scale of the potential financial hit from the loss of senior female executives was demonstrated by a leading consulting firm, which reckons the loss of women from its pipeline costs a stunning £2m every year. To save that type of money, it’s worth the effort.