BCS recommends a fresh look at quotas to get more women at executive levels

7 April 2016

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is calling for a fresh look at the way potential quotas could be used to ensure that more women reach executive positions. While traditional quotas are a blunt instrument, there is potential for companies to look to implement a quota system that focuses on the elements that can really bring lasting change such as parental leave, equal pay, recruitment policies etc.

Gillian Arnold, Chair of BCSWomen, says: “We believe that companies should be encouraged to put more thought into recruitment policies and target planning for success to ensure an equal pipeline of female talent. While we’re not advocates of quotas, not having quotas has not changed anything. We know they are a blunt instrument and can have unwanted consequences (e.g. tokenism), however, they do force change.

“We feel that could be room for some kind of quotas which focus not on the number of women on boards or executive leadership but more on the elements that will bring about lasting change for example, parental leave policies, balanced recruitment pipelines, transparent recruitment processes, educating children to appreciate and embrace diversity and ensure gender parity when it comes to pay and opportunities.”

In its recent submission to the Women and Equalities Committee on the subject of women at executive level, BCS has made several recommendations to this end:

  • Change the way research is carried out to address the need for better data collection ensuring accurate measuring and monitoring
  • Showcasing role models who have reached the executive level so women have someone to aspire to and who can explain how to navigate the challenges of progression
  • Improvements to the pay for part-time work to help make it a valid career option for both men and women
  • Closing the gender pay gap while also addressing other inequalities
  • Integrated education from classroom through to the boardroom on the importance of gender diversity
  • Transparent recruitment processes, diverse talent pools and diverse interview panels
  • Greater facility for women and men to combine a job with household care and responsibilities.

A recent survey run by BCS showed that the top three perceived barriers preventing women achieving senior/executive positions are:

  • Senior male executive recruiting in their own image (47% total, 33% male, 69% female)
  • Unconscious bias issues (46% total, 32% male, 67% female)
  • Returning to work after a career break (46% total, 43% male, 51% female)

Rebecca George, Chair of BCS Public Affairs and Policy Board, adds: “As our survey results show there is a big difference between men and women’s attitudes to these issues. The disagreement about the causes of the limited numbers of senior women in technology based roles highlights why we make so little progress. Since males make up by far the greater number of those who can make a change, and given that many of them have a poor understanding of the real cause of the problem, little will change without further (external) input. It is vital that we address these perceived barriers for the sake not only of women, but for the benefits that companies get if they have a diverse workforce with women at executive level.”

Research shows that companies with more women in top management positions tend to exhibit better organisational and financial performance, increased innovation, improved governance and an increase in opportunities for women at other levels within these organisations.

Andrea Palmer, Treasurer of BCSWomen and writer of the submission says; “We need more positive role models to inspire and nurture the next generation and this is not going to happen whilst the senior and executive positions are filled with white men. Companies’ upper echelons must start utilising diverse talent pools and reflect the image of their customers.”

BCS is recommending several measures for companies to take to increase the number of women in their executive positions from having commitment at CEO level, development programmes designed specifically for women to collective enablers like HR processes which ensure a diverse interview panel will help. This will create a more inclusive culture which will welcome a diversity of leadership styles and performance models thus encouraging and enabling women to progress at every level of the company.

Gillian concludes: “There is so much that can be done by companies to prevent the brain drain from women who see no alternative but to leave as they don’t see an immediate future in the company. We’d like to encourage companies to ensure that they have processes in place to support parents whilst they are on maternity/paternity leave so that they see a skilled role they can return to that is compatible with the required child care and family commitments.

“In addition, when recruiting for new positions managers should be cognisant of how they write the job specification - evidence shows that women will not apply for a role if they feel they can’t do 80% of it. Simplify the specifications and only include what is really necessary. Recruiting managers need to look beyond their own likeness and insist that head-hunters look beyond their traditional male-dominated networks and widen the talent pool.”

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