What women want at work: how the best firms keep top female talent

Financial services and IT firms may have been male-dominated industries in the past, but according to a survey by the Times they are the sectors women now aspire to work in.


Firms from both sectors featured heavily in the paper’s Top 50 Places Where Women Want to Work list, which was open to all organisations in the UK with 1,000 or more employees.


Organisations had to provide evidence of their initiatives and achievements across 10 key areas covering recruitment, retention and development of female talent – proving that many are making headway with diversity initiatives.


Brand marketing


The list was compiled in partnership with Aurora, a company that helps employers to market their employer brand to women. Glenda Stone, chief executive of Aurora, said the reason why these firms are appealing to women is not down to luck, but hard work and investment. 


“Firms in these sectors have been busy developing employer brands that appeal to women. If you look back five years it was these firms that began spending money on more initiatives to improve diversity, so they could win the war for talent – and those initiatives are working,” she said.


What makes the difference


Theresa McHenry, senior HR manager at Microsoft UK, which made the top 50, said her business had been trying to promote and integrate female talent at every level. Recent initiatives such as its ‘Microclimate’ advertising campaign deliberately showcased the Microsoft campus, with on-site crèche facilities, flexible working practices and working from home policies.


“This campaign saw a marked increase in the number of applications from women and was a key contributor to the total population shift from 70/30 male/female split two years ago to 65/35,” she said.


Jennifer Board, HR director at another top-50 firm and one of the nation’s biggest insurers Prudential, believes her business made the grade because of the benefits it provides women who have specific family responsibilities.


“Our employee flexible benefit package gives staff various options, including the chance to acquire extra holiday days to help out during school holiday periods, and to purchase childcare vouchers at a discounted price, while also offering a range of family health and protection benefits,” she said.


The benefit of research


Other firms have invested in research to find out what women want. 


Ingrid Devin, EMEA diversity programme manager at Dell, said her business has conducted regular surveys to ask female staff why they want to stay with the firm and, importantly, what would cause them to leave.  


“Getting the right life balance has always been a key message from this research, so we have introduced wide-ranging flexible working policies, including remote working opportunities.


“We have also trained all managers about the importance of providing work-life balance and introduced coaching for working mums when they return from maternity leave, so that they can get the balance right,” she said.


As a result, Devin said, there are noticeably more women working in technical roles at Dell. 


“We now have a number of women in technical senior management roles, which have historically been dominated by men,” she said. “It seems that at last the tide is slowly, but surely, turning.”

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