Slack shows UK tech how to champion diversity
It was disappointing to see that the UK’s biggest companies are likely to miss government targets for the number of women on boards.
There has been some progress in recent years, with businesses in the FTSE 100 boosting female representation in the boardroom to 32.1 per cent, but it is lower amongst the FTSE 250 at 27.5 per cent.
The chief executive of the government’s Hampton-Alexander Review has suggested that sanctions might be needed to inspire action from companies dragging their feet.
At Gordon & Eden, we have supported many of Britain’s corporate firms in their success at increasing the number of women in their digital leadership teams.
The tech sector has faced a bigger battle, with 82 per cent of roles in the industry filled by men. We need to see significant change in tech to correct the gender imbalance, alongside a new approach within education.
Sixteen per cent of female students surveyed by PwC said that a career in technology has been suggested to them, compared with 33 per cent of males. Under a third of young women said they would consider a career in tech, whilst only three per cent said it was their first choice.
Along with issues related to skills and purpose, diversity is a main theme in Gordon & Eden’s new report ‘Talent Reimagined: Leadership In A New Age’.
Diversity in leadership ensures diversity of thought, which is vital in business. It brings essential perspectives and enables a company to carry that balance through the rest of the company, building diverse teams at every level.
McKinsey’s recent ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ study found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. The same piece of research found that teams with good ethnic and cultural diversity were 35 per cent more likely to outperform.
Fast-growing tech companies have seen the benefit of recruiting women into senior positions in the early years of the business. It was a priority at communications platform Slack from the beginning and the company has assembled a workforce comprising 45.8 per cent women, with 50.2 per cent of its current cohort of managers being women, up from 48 per cent in 2018.
What do the results look like? Slack saw its stocks sell at 50 per cent higher than expected on their first day of trading in June 2019, with the business valued at $24 billion.
To maintain and increase diversity within a company, it’s crucial that new processes are put in place to give a range of talent clear pathways to progress in the business. These need to be long-term commitments: from better childcare initiatives that support women returning from maternity leave, to executive coaching and comprehensive training programmes for under-represented minorities.
Co-founder of AllBright, Debbie Wosskow OBE, said in our recent report that female leaders “enable greater gender diversity across the rest of the business. Having women at the top will encourage others and attract greater female talent. Mentoring is also critical – and not just from within the sisterhood. We also need enlightened men to be champions of women and help them to rise up the ranks”.
Priya Guha, venture partner at Merian Ventures, recommends that companies looking for a diverse group of talent “make a diverse shortlist a prerequisite” and “use networks. For example, in the case of gender diversity – ask women you know to recommend someone or approach relevant women’s networks”.
We need more advocates for diversity in the business community to make their voices heard. Industry, government, and educators must take a stronger position to ensure the next generation of female leaders have the skills and support to reach the top in business and play a pivotal role in building successful companies.