Filling the gaps in equal opportunities: What can we do?
March 9th 2021
According to the Office for National Statistics, the good news is that before the pandemic “more than three-quarters of mothers were in work, a record high for the UK”. This has been through providing more flexibility to return to work mums as well as having shared parental leave plans allowing for working mothers to return to work sooner. However, research also shows that these women come back to low level roles and struggle to develop their careers due to balancing commitments between home and work life.
I am starting to see return to work programmes being introduced by the insurance market to support working mums but what I am not seeing much of is programmes that support working mums to accelerate in their careers which if implemented will go a long way to bringing more women into leadership roles and bridging that gap.
In the hiring process, unconscious bias happens when you form an opinion about candidates based solely on first impressions. Our brains form biases by using knowledge about social situations, attitudes, cultures, stereotypes etc which tend to stem from the media or our own experiences. And then, we act upon these assumptions. So in short, unconscious bias influences our decisions – whether positively or negatively – using criteria irrelevant to the job.
Unconscious biases have a critical and "problematic" effect on our judgment, says Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School. "They cause us to make decisions in favour of one person or group to the detriment of others." In the workplace, this "can stymie diversity, recruiting, promotion, and retention efforts."" This not only causes setbacks for the company but hinders equal opportunities for employees to progress in the company.
The first thing to do is train your hiring managers on unconscious bias - awareness of this can make a real difference. There are many practices that can be used in the hiring process to overcome this;
Inclusive leadership is about having awareness of disparity and leading by example to create an inclusive environment. Inclusive Leadership training can help with this.
A recent Harvard business review looked at the quality of developmental feedback that males vs females got in their annual reviews. They used a dataset of open-ended written feedback for 146 mid-career leaders which they analysed using AI and the results showed that feedback provided to women tends to be less actionable and less useful for leadership progression than feedback given to men, making it less likely that women will advance to more senior positions.
This is an example of where leadership training can be vital to enable a more inclusive environment with equal opportunities for men and women. The goal is not simply to treat women like men but to encourage leadership practices in all employees that include the best of both traditionally female and traditionally male traits.
To succeed in creating a truly inclusive environment it is also important to create a safe place for women to feel comfortable and be able to speak up as according to a recent article by Forbes: "75% of executive women identified having experienced imposter syndrome at various points during their careers. Moreover, 81% of the executive women surveyed believe they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men do—in effect, giving themselves a much smaller margin for error than men in similar leadership positions."
the case for one’s promotion or participation on a high-profile project. Mentorship is key to raising future female leaders, removing bias from the workplace thus bridging the gap. Women in the insurance field need both mentors and sponsors — and both roles need to be embraced by men and women.
Employees may be able to find mentors and sponsors through their own networking efforts, and organisations should also foster connections through team-building workshops and other methods that emphasize the importance of sponsoring across differences.
These are just a few ideas on how we can begin the journey towards true diversity. My next blog will be a thought piece from Matthew Waters, MD at Harrison Holgate and Clare-Marie Boyne, Associate Director at Harrison Holgate who give their insights into their experience of recruiting in the insurance market, focusing specifically on recruiting women into the market.
Check our articles page for tomorrow's article on how we can help.