How can businesses and the investment industry better embrace equity?

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This International Women’s Day the theme is embrace equity, looking at how to better include and create a sense of belonging for women across the world. Embracing equity helps to drive success for all, and is the means by which we can create a more equal working environment. We ask the teams across our portfolio and ECI, how they think we can get there:

What do you think needs to change for the UK to have more female-led businesses in the future?

Claire Webster, HR Director, Avantia: Companies should prioritise long-term thinking. As well as setting short-term KPIs, businesses need to invest in initiatives that will facilitate long term change, as we can’t reverse history in a year. As a tech-led business working in a market where a disproportionate number of men still fulfil the roles, we find that applicants are predominantly male, even though we take steps to encourage diversity through our recruitment channels. Therefore, it’s important organisations actively seek out opportunities to encourage greater female participation in STEM subjects from an early age.

Secondly, research shows that women are often more reticent to put themselves forward for roles compared to similarly qualified male peers. So, ensure your managers are clear on the aspirations of all their team. And ensure that they work in partnership with each employee to look for opportunities to support their desired career progression. Lastly, ensure the workplace environment is one where women can thrive. For example, caring responsibilities often still fall primarily on women and hence we need to create supportive environments where these responsibilities can be performed alongside work, without them having to sacrifice career growth.

Julian Llewellyn, CFO, BCN: The narrative in the UK around gender splits tends to focus on public company Boards and the number of female CEO’s. This data is readily available and provides easy to digest statistics. But increasing female representation at Board level needs to be the result of increasing the number of women in middle and senior management roles. When we talk about ‘female-led businesses’ I think it’s important to focus on management levels outside of the main Board and remove the blockers for building female management talent. There is still a high level of subconscious male bias when it comes to progressive policies around recruitment, development opportunities and also offering much needed flexibility. Those attitudes need to change more quickly.

Joanna Swash, Group CEO, Moneypenny: We need to let go of bias and ego, and all the limitations put on recruitment briefs. Expand your pool to focus on attitude over aptitude. It is about hiring the right person for the role, not just based on skills but on attitude and characteristics, resilience, innovation, agility. And, most importantly on their fit with your business. Just because they excelled at Apple, does not mean that they will with you.

It’s not just about if you’ve got a man or a woman in the seat. Have you got a broad range of experience, a broad range of backgrounds? Yes, if we have men and women and people of different ethnicity, that’s important. But there’s no point ticking those boxes if you don’t have diversity of thought. For me, that is what makes a truly great team. We all need to think in different ways, interview different kinds of people and make sure that a variety of people are invited to the table.

Suzanne Pike, Partner, ECI: To see more female led leadership teams, you need to foster inclusion, so that women feel they belong and want to be there. We also need to see more businesses intentionally building in objectivity into their performance review processes. That means actively asking where unconscious bias has played a role in forming a view of an individual or in making a promotion decision. And flexible working, something that is increasingly important to everyone, needs to be more widely accepted as simply working differently and not adding less value.

What role do investors have to play in this change in 2023 and beyond?

Julian Llewellyn, CFO, BCN: Investors have a unique position of influence where they can help set the strategy around gender equality. They also have visibility across numerous businesses, seeing innovative approaches and best practice in action. They can support the sharing of that across their investment portfolio. This can provide a highly effective way of enabling invested businesses to make progress, in line with their own people culture and at a pace that suits them. Bringing sustainable gender balance needs to come from managerial commitment within a business. It needs high levels of internal buy in to really make it work. It shouldn’t be seen as an initiative but embedded as part of standard practice.

What initiatives have you seen work to create more equitable organisations?

Faye Maughan, Investment Director, ECI: The best example that springs to mind is one of our own at ECI. We recently did unconscious bias training and what made it so powerful was the work that had been done internally ahead of the session. A broad range of employees were interviewed to understand scenarios in which they had seen or experienced bias. These scenarios were then amalgamated and anonymised to create case studies that were acted out and dissected on the day. I think this approach made the training a lot more “hard-hitting” than you may see ordinarily.

What role does inclusivity have in forging successful businesses?

Lesley Davies, Growth Specialist – People & Culture, ECI: Hopefully, it is already well accepted that inclusivity plays a vital role in successful businesses today. Those companies well-advanced in this, cite improved closeness with the customer base and a greater responsiveness to wider stakeholders as performance benefits. However, looking forward, it is hard to see any business being truly great without fully embracing and knitting inclusivity into every aspect of its DNA. By the end of this decade, over 30% of the workforce are predicted to be Gen Zs. Companies who do not fully represent the society and culture they live in, will end up as talent deserts.

Sarthak Sawlani, Investment Manager, ECI: Inclusivity is not only the right thing to do, but it is also economically beneficial for businesses. By creating an inclusive culture, companies can tap into a wider pool of talent and ideas. This leads to greater innovation, productivity, and profitability.

Research shows that diverse teams are more likely to outperform homogeneous teams in problem-solving and decision-making. A diverse team brings a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and knowledge, which can lead to more creative and effective solutions. Inclusivity also helps businesses create a more engaged and committed workforce. Employees who feel valued and included are more likely to be productive, loyal, and motivated. In turn, this can reduce turnover and save companies money on recruitment and training costs. By embracing inclusivity, businesses can create a more prosperous and equitable society, benefiting both the bottom line and society as a whole.

What advice would you give to other women when it comes to career development and advancement?

Claire Webster, HR Director, Avantia: As a part-time working mother, I understand it can be difficult to juggle all the various demands in life. But having a family doesn’t mean you can’t fulfil your career ambitions or must sacrifice family time to do so. Organisation is key, as is surrounding yourself with good people – both at home and at work. Working for an organisation with inclusive practices and supportive colleagues makes a huge difference. Finally, try to minimise the feelings of ‘mum-guilt’. There’s never going to be enough time to do everything to the extent that you may like. But recognise that you’re setting a fantastic example for your children through everything you achieve at work as well as home and be proud of these achievements!

Claire Williams, CPO, Ciphr: It’s important to network and build up a group of women in leadership roles or with experiences that you can learn from and that you can go to for advice and support. Most people enjoy reminiscing about their journey with others and will be excited to share their knowledge with you when they can. This in turn will help build confidence and this is key! Women are naturally more inclined to be cautious about being open and honest about their career aspirations and to champion themselves. Aim high, take control of your career, and have confidence in yourself.

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