• Failure to build talent pipelines undermines female progression at work

  • 28 Jan 2016
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Focusing on ‘women on boards’ alone ignores wider issues, research suggests

Female representation in global workforces declines as career levels rise, and recent gains in gender equality show signs of slowing, a global report from Mercer has found.

According to Mercer's When Women Thrive report, women continue to be under-represented in workforces around the world, with females making up 40 per cent of an average company’s workforce.

Globally, females represent 33 per cent of managers, 26 per cent of senior managers, and 20 per cent of executives.

The report suggests that while women are 1.5 times more likely than men to be hired at the executive level, they are also leaving organisations from the highest rank at 1.3 times the rate of men, undermining gains at the top.

Pat Milligan, global lead of When Women Thrive at Mercer, said too much focus had been on getting women to the top, and employers were “largely ignoring the female talent pipelines so critical to maintaining progress.”

Mercer predicts that if organisations maintain the current rate of progress, female representation will reach only 40 per cent globally in the professional and managerial ranks in 2025.

When comparing the 600 organisations by region, Latin America is projected to increase women’s representation from 36 per cent in 2015 to 49 per cent in 2025. Asia ranks last in its predicted progress, rising from 25 per cent in 2015 to just 28 per cent ten years later.

Europe’s progress is expected to remain at the flat rate of 37 per cent in the next decade.

Significant progress has been made on gender equality in the UK in recent years, with a record number of women in work, more women on boards and the gender pay gap at its lowest level ever.

Carolyn Fairbairn, general director of CBI said Lord Davies’s Review into women on boards had helped to secure some of the gains, but agreed the targets needed to be extended to the wider organisation.

“It’s fantastic that women are present in boardrooms in greater numbers. But let’s be clear. Non-executive directors and even chairmen attend between 4 and 10 board meetings a year. They approve strategy, are guardians of values, challenge decisions and help manage risk,” she said.

“These are important roles, but it is the job of executives to take daily decisions, shape and define strategy, and influence culture through the everyday examples that they set.  They are the sleeves-rolled-up leaders in our society.

“Today, there are just nine more female executive directors on FTSE350 boards than in 2010 and the number of female chief executives has barely moved.”

Fairburn is calling on the successor body of the Davies Review to consider a new 25 per cent voluntary, business-led, target for female senior executives in major UK companies.

Julia Howes, principal at Mercer said: “Quotas and targets in the UK and Europe have had a big impact in boosting female representation in senior roles. But in this region in particular there is a disturbing revolving door”

“While organisations are focused on recruiting women at the top, they are not developing them from within with the same focus… and that could threaten the progress they’ve made, unless they act now,” she added.

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  • Getting more talented women on boards is great, but it's only one part of the jigsaw. Not all women want to be on boards and in order to get there, they need to work up the pipeline like everyone else. The pipeline itself where the majority of women are, is where we need to paying attention to if we are serious about improving women's career prospects and tackling discrimination.