This year, for the first time ever, we reached one million women in core-STEM occupations according to new government data, and there are now over 50,000 women in engineering professional roles – almost double the number 10 years ago (2009) *.
Women now make up 24% of the core-STEM workforce.
This is a huge step forward for the transport & infrastructure industries, where female representation is notoriously low. But are we actually doing enough?
Looking back through our monthly Movers and Shakers reports over the past three years, the amount of gender diversity at Director and Executive levels is still poor. On average since January 2017, only 13% of major moves across the industry were female candidates.
Year on year there has been a slight improvement; 2017 saw 12%, growing to 14% in 2018 and this year 15%. But on the whole, the numbers aren’t growing fast enough.
What can we do to increase the number of women at board level?
In the recent UK government report on boardroom diversity there were some opinions that gender-mixed lists disadvantage women – since male candidates tend to have more traditional corporate backgrounds; this frame of comparison was deemed to “lead to selection of the safe man”.
Because of this some FTSE 250 companies have recently introduced women only shortlists for some senior posts or a minimum of at least one female candidate on the shortlist.
2. Networking & Mentoring
Women who aspire to be on boards need to expand their personal networks, build relationships and create opportunities with contacts outside of their own organisations.
The transport and infrastructure sectors are really stepping up on this front. In transport we’ve seen the rise of “Women in Transport” and “Women in Rail”, for the Built Environment there is “The National Association of Women in Construction”, Utilities has the “Women’s Utilities Network” amongst many others.
Simply raising your hand and asking for a board position may not be the ideal way to get your interest noticed, so it is important to utilise these networking opportunities to ask other senior board members and business leaders for advice on how to position yourself.
3. Corporate Transparency
Transparency and peer group comparison (such as league tables) often motivate boards and management teams to take action to ensure their business looks good, or at the very least not look bad.
When the government released the Gender Pay Gap reports, there was an outcry across the UK as the pay disparities were finally there for everyone to see and compare themselves to. But the benefit of having all the details laid bare is that the companies that fared the worst won’t want to be heading up the league tables next year and will hopefully have made significant strides to improving their figures. Organisations with little or ideally no pay gap have an advantage in attracting the best women into their business.
Reporting on gender diversity of different levels of seniority within a company is often the first step to making improvements. From there the successful businesses often set measurable targets for increasing diversity and developing tactics to achieve these goals. A few companies that have set gender diversity targets include; Thames Tideway, Network Rail and Arup.
4. Non-Executive positions
When succession planning for boards, there may be a pool of great female candidates who aren’t quite ready for that next step up to C-Suite as they don’t yet have board experience. This is a chicken and egg situation; you can’t get on the board without experience and the only way to get the experience is to be on a board. In this instance, it can be hugely beneficial to assist aspiring board members in taking on Non-Executive positions at other (non-conflicting) organisations.
In doing this, that candidate will gain a wealth of business knowledge and experience that they couldn’t have learnt otherwise, that can be brought back into your organisation.
5. Develop flexible working practices
Many companies struggle to retain female talent after maternity leave and need to get much smarter at introducing initiatives aimed at women returners and to support working mothers. As one Chairman stated “Some of us are working really hard to find the right support mechanisms to allow these talented women to return to the workforce”.
Again, recommendations include sharing best practice and considering different ways of working, such as agile/flexible working, including senior level job shares.
This is a particular issue for Transport & Infrastructure businesses who are focused on capital projects. The transient location makes it particularly difficult to retain female executives in the UK with families, where it is still predominantly the mother who will be the prime carer.
At the top there is a need for ‘parent-friendly’ executive jobs, to ensure continuity of careers. Some argue that senior male leaders need to make their parental responsibilities more visible in the workplace, in order to normalise organisational practices that accommodate those.
Companies that follow the Scandinavian example of senior male leaders taking extended paternity leave often find it leads to positive results in diversity, perhaps due to a better understanding of achieving work life balance.
6. Broadening the person specification
In male dominated industries such as Transport and Infrastructure it can be very predictable that a person specification for an executive role will only lead to a male appointment. This is particularly true of senior positions in the construction of major projects and engineering. For senior management appointments the person specification will often specify significant experience within a similar role within a competitor in the industry, if the present (and recent past) post holders in those roles elsewhere in the industry are all male, then the longlist and shortlist are likely to be all male.
Greater diversity on the shortlist can be ensured by broadening some aspects of the person specification, allowing candidates to be recruited from allied sectors where there is greater diversity at senior management level.
7. Changing the Culture
The only way of growing and sustaining the female pipeline is to change the existing culture within the organisation.
There are more than double the number of female directors in the boardroom of companies with a woman at the helm, compared with companies led by male CEOs. This is probably not coincidence.
CEOs and their HR teams need to be more creative in terms of providing women with P&L operational experience as most women in senior roles tend to be found within central support functions such as HR, marketing, finance, legal, communications etc. 70% of the female directors in the UK Transport and Infrastructure companies are in central support functions. As the CEO/MD is usually promoted from the P&L operational roles, until this bottleneck is addressed it is unlikely that we will see an increase in the number of female CEOs in the industry.
Last year we produced a report looking at gender diversity in the top 150 companies in transport and infrastructure. If you are interested in reading a copy, please do get in touch and I will send it across.