by Nikki Kinsey | 10 April 2018
As a recruitment specialist working in the Derbyshire area I can clearly see the progress we are making in the fight against gender inequality in the region. Having said that, I also see first-hand the challenges women across the country are still facing on a daily basis. Despite a number of networking groups and government led initiatives such as Gender Pay Reporting, women are still subjected to lower rates of pay, fewer opportunities to progress into senior positions and discrimination amongst their peers.
Women in professional services
Working within the professional services sector we are aware that many of the professions we recruit for are often listed amongst the worst for gender equality and female leadership. For example, financial services is reported to have the largest difference between what they pay their male and female staff, according to data published on the UK government’s gender pay gap website. The legal sector is also often criticised for having a lack of female leadership despite the majority of junior roles being filled by skilled female candidates. This disparity and lack of progression is not acceptable in 2018 and more needs to be done to address these issues, and I would argue that networking groups, flexibility policies and the promotion of positive female role models are the direction to go.
We need to do more to support women and promote success stories across the region to encourage women in all sectors. Networking groups, this supplement and The Derby Telegraph’s Inspirational 250 list are excellent ways of doing this. Not only do they highlight the exceptional work women are doing across the UK, but they also provide female professionals with tangible examples of female success that they can aspire to in their day-to-day.
Derbyshire networking groups are key for success
That being said I do believe that Derbyshire is in a much better position than many areas of the UK, and women here have a great opportunity to share their experiences and support other women. The region has a number of networking groups spearheaded by inspirational female leaders that are giving women the opportunity and platform to succeed. Claire Twells, Partner and Head of Debt Recovery and Business Development at Smith Partnership helped set up Derby’s Finest – a networking group which aims to celebrate, inspire, encourage and support women who make a positive contribution to the city.
Like me, Claire believes that gender equality can and will only be achieved if women support, coach and mentor other women. She said “as a professional woman in the City I realised that women needed a support group and that it isn’t just making money and doing business that helps women to grow, we need to celebrate, inspire, encourage and support each other. Women experience different problems in business to men and it is good to have a friendly face to speak to and seek advice from. Women in Derby now have Derby’s finest to attend and we know that our group works to achieve its aims”.
If more women are to reach senior positions they need the support and flexibility to do so, as well as some strong female role models to aspire to and there is a real opportunity here to do this. Events like Derby’s Finest allow likeminded women to share experiences, add value to each other and make a difference in helping other women succeed, which is crucial in increasing the number of females achieving senior positions and reaching their full potential. One member of this group that has benefitted directly from the support given is Maria Hanson MBE, founder of Derbyshire charity me&dee. Maria, who is also disabled has often been subjected to the types of discrimination we need to eradicate and believes networking groups could help so many women achieve their full potential.
Maria said; “networking events like Derby’s Finest are extremely supportive on a business level. I am treated no differently to anyone else in the group and it is hugely beneficial to be able to discuss business ideas with likeminded business women from all over the region. There have been so many success stories from partnerships that have come from events like this.”
The challenges Derbyshire women face
Derbyshire is an excellent place to do business for both for men and women, and by addressing this issue head on I believe we could greatly increase the number of women achieving senior roles in all sectors. The talent is there, and high-calibre female candidates are by no means in short supply, however they are up against a number of barriers that often result in them sacrificing their careers, usually in favour of starting a family or a greater work-life balance. At a senior level it is often not possible to take advantage of flexible working or to take a real period of leave from your business for any reason due to the high pressures of the role. For these reasons some women do not pursue progression opportunities and are also not necessarily encouraged to do so resulting in some sectors having a high proportion of female employees but very few female leaders.
The higher education sector for example is incredibly diverse according to Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby. She said that whilst there are more women working within the industry females still remain underrepresented in academic and senior management roles, and more flexible working practices would greatly improve this.
When asked about her own progression Kathryn said; “I was able to take a break from work when I had my children, and it was the flexibility provided on my return that enabled me to progress my career while raising a family – not everybody gets that opportunity.”
This is an issue women face across the UK and one that must be addressed. Organisations should do more to prepare for a woman’s return to work after maternity. Reduced hours, flexible working, shared parental leave and working from home are just some of the options that could be considered to give women a fair chance of achieving their career goals.
It is clear that gender inequality is still a prevalent issue, and one that is not going to be solved overnight. I am hopeful however, that with role models like Claire, Maria and Kathryn, and support groups like Derby’s Finest we are taking positive steps towards supporting women here in Derbyshire. We need to use platforms like this to promote the issues women face on a national and global scale, and ensure all females are given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. However without UK wide support progress will be minimal. We need to ensure businesses across the UK and the rest of the world are recognising the importance of supporting women into leadership roles, are committed to closing the gender pay gap and working to reduce gender discriminations for good to ensure we witness gender equality within our time.
This article was originally commissioned for the Derby Telegraph and appeared in their special Women in Business supplement in March 2018
For more content on the theme of women in business please visit the insights section of our website.