· 2 min read · Features

It has to be possible to have an exciting career and a life outside work, whether that involves children or not

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At eBay, hiring and promoting more women has significant ramifications for our business. It means much more to us than just a diversity issue. About half of our sellers and buyers are women, so if we don’t have female representation throughout our business, how can we be close to our customers?

We are in tough economic times, but the search for talent is getting harder. Widening talent pools to support greater diversity should be important to any smart business looking to attract the best people.

Getting ahead in business can be tough for women, especially the higher you climb. Family commitments make the work/life balance more challenging to achieve and it is inevitable that both may, from time to time, overlap. When I came back to work after maternity leave, I quickly realised I was captain of my own ship and as such I needed to take charge of the way I wanted to work now I had children. In today's workplace, it has to be possible to have an exciting career and a life outside work, whether that involves children or not.

Our work over the past 18 months with the UK's largest female business community, Everywoman, has helped us put in place a structure to help more women reach leadership positions at eBay.

First, we are working to create a rich programme of mentoring and sponsorship in eBay, pairing high-potential female employees to more senior women and men.

Second, we have created a women's network in Europe, which, just two years in, has more than 350 members in a dozen countries. It is a grassroots initiative run independently by a committee of 10 employees, which connects women across eBay to build and develop their own network and focus on professional development.

Lastly, we have put in place development opportunities in leadership and, in particular, skillsets such as negotiation and presentation skills. The take-up of our work has been encouraging and we are starting to see the fruits of it, but we know that meaningful change will take time.

This will be a difficult year, but not short of opportunity, I hope. Margins will be squeezed, but supporting diversity doesn't need to be a costly investment. A focus on the right things is needed: creating the right environment to grow talent and encouraging and facilitating female staff to connect to other men and women to build a network of support for themselves.

This needs to happen at every level in the business. It is as important for senior women as it is for young women coming up the career ladder.

For women such as myself, who recognise that challenge and change are essential to continued success, networking is important.

But it is more challenging if you are a mother, because it is difficult to physically get out there and meet people. However, the higher you get, the more important it is to have a support network. Encouraging more women to join clubs and networks - I am a member of the EverywomanClub (www.everywoman.com/club) for senior women in business, for instance - will hopefully mean that recommending other women for board positions will be able to happen more easily and frequently.

Clare Gilmartin (pictured) is vice-president of eBay Marketplaces, EU