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Women in professional services

by Anna Williamson | 9 March 2018

Professional services is a particularly demanding sector, and it is great to see that there is a wealth of senior females coming through the ranks. JMW, Hill Dickinson and Slater & Gordon (formerly Pannone) are just some examples of companies that have high percentages of women at the upper echelons of their sector. However, with equal numbers of men and women now entering professional services I do wonder why this number still remains in the low 20s.

Research states that women now occupy just 26 percent of all FTSE100 boardroom positions, making little progress from 23.5 percent in March 2015. I believe this small increase has been steered by a rise in well-qualified female talent graduating from universities and the advancement of effective diversity programmes making roles more attractive to females in professional services. However, more needs to be done to ensure women have the same opportunities as their ale counterparts to progress as their male counterparts.

I believe the problem lies in the retention and promotion of women, or lack of in many cases, and as a result organisations are losing some of their best talent. This in turn means that the majority of Boards, Partners and senior leaders in professional services companies remain overwhelmingly male, particularly in larger firms. This could be down to women not being as motivated to stay at an organisation or progress to senior positions in favour of a better work/life balance. One of the main reasons for this is that women are still generally perceived as the primary carer for children and new born babies despite the introduction of shared parental leave in 2014. It was recently reported by the BBC that as little as two percent of all men have taken advantage of the policy citing an understanding of what is on offer, cultural barriers and financial penalties as barriers and often deterring parents from sharing parental leave.

Whatever the reason, it worries me that this is still the case as the promotion and retention of women should no longer be perceived as simply a social issue. Business leaders recognise there is a clear business case for tackling barriers to equality, with research estimating that better engagement of women greatly benefits the UK economy. It is therefore surprising that more women are not achieving their full potential. Recent studies have suggested that this may be down to a lack of confidence with many women questioning their own ability to reach senior management positions. This could be the reason why large numbers of talented female professionals are continuing to settle for non-executive positions, and we must work harder to ensure all female professionals have the confidence and support to achieve their full potential. In my opinion this has to be done as early as possible, and I would advise the government to look at universities to help promote female role models and increase confidence prior to starting their career.

Last year UCAS reported that young women are a third more likely to go to university than men and this could be the perfect platform for encouraging and promoting women in business. If businesses and lecturers worked closely together to promote strong female role models and give students access to inspirational stories I believe we could instil more women with the confidence to achieve their full potential and help reduce the gender gap once and for all across all industries and sectors.

Are you interested in finding out more about the role of women in business? Check out our insights section for blogs from Sellick Partnership staff including Managing Director Jo Sellick.