Reflections on International Women’s Day 2019

By Alex Wares |
4 minute read

Reflections on International Women’s Day 2019

At Transmission, we are putting a lot of focus into ensuring that as a company we are supporting our diverse staff, ensuring equality of opportunity, and promoting inclusivity.

Not only is this ethically the right thing to do but our experience shows us that diversity drives innovation and profitability. This is supported by empirical evidence that prioritising a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) agenda is imperative for a fast-growing business that needs to stay ahead of the curve. For me personally, having grown up, and living in central London for most of my life, it is also natural to want to be part of a diverse team.

Having said all that, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that at Transmission, our leadership in the UK (and globally) is predominantly white and male. However, as you look through the ranks of the amazingly talented people we are lucky to call colleagues, we have a very mixed and diverse demographic. This is so exciting for us because, as we grow, we have a diverse talent base to cultivate and mentor into the leadership of Transmission’s future.

We recently created an employee-led DEI committee. We have begun surveying our staff globally and are working on creating a whistleblowing mechanism for employees to use, should they have concerns on matters of DEI. We are confident that as we evolve as a business, our talented teams will develop also. The key point I want to make here is that as a business we can – and we must – make DEI a priority. It is within our power to do so and can only be of benefit to the business and to the amazing people we employ.

It was encouraging to see the wide range of social media activity promoting International Women’s History Month this year. Social platforms were buzzing with creative and interesting ways to celebrate and promote some of our amazing female colleagues, leaders and inspirational figures. This is great to see and should be supported and encouraged by the business community. However, raising the issues surrounding women in the workplace and celebrating successes does not get to the root of the problem of why there is not more female representation at the highest levels in boardrooms and senior leadership roles in the UK.

In 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the members of the corporate boards of FTSE 100 companies. In 2020, representation had reached 34.5%. But, while things are moving in the right direction in the UK’s largest companies, there is still room for improvement. Looking more broadly at leadership as opposed to board roles, the figure for female representation in FTSE 100 companies was 21%. Reliable figures for mid-market and SMB segments are much harder to find but it is likely to be a similar story.

At Transmission, we have a commitment to contributing towards women on boards and senior leadership teams. But no matter the good intentions one may have, it is often difficult to source high-calibre senior female candidates. For one recent senior leadership role advertised in the UK, the ratio of responses was 8/2 in favour of male candidates. My hunch is that there are many potentially good female candidates who have left the workforce permanently or temporarily in favour of childcare.

In order to effect change organically, we have launched an Associate Board to help upskill, train and build the confidence of our future leadership. Our current Associate Board has 60% female representation and provides ideas, advice and support to the UK leadership team, helping to carry out a range of initiatives aligned to our annual business plan.

When it comes to gender, my thesis is that, unlike other areas of DEI, there is only so much private businesses can do, without changes at a governmental level. Of course, progressive companies with the means and scale can provide benefits such as in-house creches or enhanced maternity leave, but not all businesses are in a position to do so. This has been brought into sharp focus for me personally, as my wife and I are expecting our second child, due in July, and I am delighted to have found out last week that we are going to have a baby girl. We, like many of the couples we know or have been friends with over the years, are now taking a long hard look at the affordability and desire to pay for two children to go to nursery. Putting two children through nursery for three years each in London could cost up to £100,000, which is a massive financial commitment and out of reach for many.

If things are truly going to change for women in the workplace, then surely the government needs to do more to make it financially viable for mothers to return to work, should they choose to. So, what can we learn from other countries?

The most progressive countries for access to childcare can be found in Scandinavia, where preschool childcare is considered a formal right. Legislation restricts the maximum fee parents have to pay and, as a result, Denmark has 67% of children under three in nursery, while Sweden has 52% – with the majority of them spending more than 30 hours a week there. By contrast, Department for Education data shows that, in the UK, the figure is less than a quarter – at 23%.

In Norway, children are entitled to a place in a kindergarten from the age of one and may attend pre-school childcare up to the age of five, when they start school. Local municipalities are responsible for assigning a place to the parents and for securing enough kindergarten places to meet demand. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, it could be argued that as a result there is more female representation in leadership positions in Norway (29%), Sweden and Finland (both 23%) than the UK. In Sweden, more women than men hold management positions in the public sector and women represented 39% of all management roles across the entire workforce in 2018.

I am not arguing that improving access to childcare is a silver bullet, but it seems clear that it would make a positive and measurable impact on female representation in leadership positions in the UK and the workplace in general. A big question needs to be asked in the UK – why is the government not doing more?

In summary, while it is right that we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s encouraging to see the mainstream and social media coverage supporting it, until we have changes in legislation, we are unlikely to drive the change across the whole workforce needed to significantly increase female representation at a senior level. For government to change legislation they need to feel the pressure from the public in the only way they will genuinely take notice, which is through pressure at the ballot box.