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Exclude to include – the key to empowering female leaders

The discussion around gender inequality has never been more crucial for British business.

Whilst organisations are certainly heading in the right direction, with women now holding a third of board roles in the UK’s FTSE 100 firms, there are still many steps that need to be taken to ensure complete gender balance in the leadership of organisations across Britain.

Despite female talent having a well-documented positive impact on profitability, innovation and engagement, the reality is that female employees continue to face several barriers throughout their career journey – from opportunity for promotion through to the treatment received by colleagues.

This has been going on for far too long. By opting for the safe choice of generic talent development, organisations are not getting to the heart of what women in the workplace need, nor developing an understanding of why dedicated female development results in more inclusive cultures.

What’s holding businesses back?

Female talent development has been hindered by incorrect perceptions of female-centric coaching and worries that by investing in women, men will automatically be excluded. Essentially, the pushback to promoting women is predominantly driven by a fear of upsetting men.

However, it’s important to recognise that bringing women to the forefront doesn’t mean leaving men behind. It’s about facilitating coaching that is tailored for women – and understanding that women often have very different needs within their careers compared to their male colleagues.

Prioritising women is often seen as positive discrimination, but it’s not about taking men out of the picture; it’s about getting women into the picture. It’s about nurturing a talent pipeline and getting the best from everyone in an organisation.

Men and women are fundamentally different, and so grouping both sexes in the name of inclusivity means that coaching is not as tailored, or effective.

Instead of being frightened of the difference between men and women, businesses should embrace it as ultimately different strengths and weaknesses make for a stronger team.

Small steps towards a big change

In order to achieve sustainable change, the lack of female talent within leadership must be acknowledged as a core business focus, not just HR and commercial. Companies must be strong enough to back their female talent and provide them with clear and consistent action.

By adopting an inclusive and diverse workforce, businesses stand to gain several business benefits – from enhanced business performance to a positive bottom-line impact.

Research has shown that innovation is six times higher in companies where men and women are treated equally, proving that equality makes a genuine difference to business performance. Yet, the numbers show there is still a long way to go.

Invest to progress

For now, it’s crucial for organisations to invest in women-centric leadership coaching – which means authentic transformation and culture change, investing in people and protecting talent pipelines as a result.

When organisations adopt a plan of action to nurture, engage, enhance and invest in female talent, they will discover it’s not about a battle of the sexes.

Temporarily segregating specialist areas within a company to capitalise on micro-coaching opportunities will help strengthen the whole team and drive a culture of change.

After all, championing inclusion and diversity makes a substantial difference to the progressiveness of an organisation’s culture and employee engagement. Businesses in the top quartile for executive team gender diversity are reportedly 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than others.

In the same vein, a study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue.

The primary focus for progressive companies must be to nurture, engage, enhance and invest in their female talent – and adopting female-specific leadership programmes will strengthen their position in doing so.

The result is an environment that encourages loyalty and belief, whilst also creating a sense of belonging for all employees. Business have the chance, not only to help women grow and increase in confidence, but also to become a beacon of brilliance within the industry.

There’s no excuse not to champion women – and the companies that do stand to benefit as a result.

Rebecca Hourston is managing director at Talking Talent