Achieving gender equality in the boardroom

For almost 150 years Girls Friendly Society (GFS) has worked with girls and young women and right now our focus is gender inequality.

For almost 150 years Girls Friendly Society (GFS) has worked with girls and young women and right now our focus is gender inequality. We are not the only ones to think that this is important work and in 2015 the UN established the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which included:

"Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”

There are 14 indicators of this SDG and two feel directly related to governance:

  • Ensure full participation in leadership and decision-making
  • Adopt and strengthen policies and enforceable legislation for gender equality

Target setting is also coming from places such as the Financial Conduct Authority who have said that least one board position should be a woman. This is not yet mandatory but is a measure of company success which investors are now considering in their decision making.

This is a real priority because globally, men occupy far more leadership positions than women but also because it is good for business!

Why is it good for business to have women on boards?

In 2015, a study by McKinsey found that “companies where women are most strongly represented at the board or top management levels are also the companies that perform best, on both organisational and financial performance.”

In 2020 a French study by NEOMA Business School found that having more women on company boards leads to organisations performing better. They found that having more women in these senior roles leads to less excessive risk-taking and greater efficiency.

Research found that age and gender diversity among directors correlated with better financial performance during Covid-19. While the economy struggled during this time, companies that had diverse boards were better prepared to succeed against all odds.

Why does a diverse board improve performance?

In short it is because it:

  • Is more representative of shareholders
  • Is more reflective of the staff and customer base
  • Fosters an environment that encourages discussion, debate
  • Encourages the exchange of information
  • Increases productivity which translates to higher profits
  • Improves creativity and better problem-solving.

Is it that simple?

So, making a decision to respond to SDG Five and create internal ambition is a great start. Increasing opportunity in leadership positions, encouraging an inclusive culture as well as creating progression opportunities are all ways of ensuring success … but it’s not enough…

For this to be sustainable, women need to feel they can aspire to such positions and be part of a gender diverse leadership team. For that to happen they need to be resilient and ambitious girls and young women to apply for internships, work placements, leadership programmes that the company make available.

At the moment that is unlikely because research tells us that girls as young as five routinely worry about their weight and so they start to lose confidence. The number of girls that say they can be themselves falls from 70% to 38% by the time they are young women. The impact is that they see less opportunity for themselves and feel the need to fulfil gender stereotypes. The likelihood of this happening rises from 32% to 53%.

Girls and young women need early intervention to ensure they remain proud of who they are and enter young adulthood resilient, ambitious and confident to make the most of any opportunities available. At GFS we inspire and empower girls to do just that but we need to do more – together.

Laura Sercombe, CEO, Girls Friendly Society

Laura will be a speaker at our upcoming Diversity & Inclusion Summit.

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