Business must welcome more women and youth

It was great to read Ann Summers’ HR executive Gary Burgham’s response
(Letters, 18 May) to the so-called ‘controversial’ recruitment advertisement
that appeared on 20 April in Personnel Today.

For those of you unlucky enough to have missed it, the advert showed a young
lady dressed in a PVC nurse uniform. It read: ‘It’s enough to make your pulse
race. Not to mention your career’. But Burgham’s point was that Ann Summers is
far from sexist and has actually had a significant impact in empowering women
in today’s society to be more confident about themselves, in turn helping them
to pursue their own careers. He added that Ann Summers is a business run for
women by women, as it has a female chief executive.

The subject of sex and diversity was also brought home to me by Karren Brady
at a recent meeting of the Personnel Today HR Directors Club. Brady, who became
managing director of Birmingham City Football Club at just 23, talked about how
she became the youngest MD in the business, successfully boosting annual
revenues from £1m to £40m over 11 years.

In the past 30 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of
women in the workplace, but they are still under-represented in senior positions
in the UK. Women now make up 45 per cent of the workforce and 30 per cent of
managers, yet boardrooms are still overwhelmingly male. Only 9 per cent of
executive and non-executive directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies are
women – which means that companies are failing to capitalise on the talents of
almost half the workforce. In the US, 28 per cent of small businesses are
women-owned, but here, it’s just 13 per cent compared with 44 per cent of men
(the remainder are joint male/female owned).

Brady is a shining example of both young and female success stories, and
others include Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com, at 27 years of
age. But I strongly believe there are not enough!

There seems to be a ‘glass-ceiling’ or a number of structural barriers
resulting in too few women appointed to senior management positions. HR is one
of the few departments where there are more women than men at senior management
levels. This might indicate differences between the male and female style of leadership
– trends suggest women are better at the ‘people-oriented’ occupations – but HR
now needs to help push women into senior positions throughout organisations,
and help them gain roles of real influence.

This is yet another example of how HR could add real value to an
organisation as a business partner. It needs to create policies that encourage
more women and young talent into top positions as part of its strategy to
develop high-performing businesses. It must challenge organisations to take
risks and appoint senior players from a pool that may, at first glance, seem
far from the norm, and to develop jobs around talent. This is the future.

By Alan Bailey, Head of business process outsourcing, Xchanging

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