At a time when job vacancies are soaring employers need to do everything they can to keep underrepresented groups, such as women, in the workforce. Nick Hughes reports.
The UK’s labour crisis shows little sign of easing. At 1.16 million the number of job vacancies across the whole economy remains at historically high levels, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data.
Hospitality is at the coal face of the battle to secure sufficient numbers of workers: one in nine roles is currently vacant according to UKHospitality’s recent Future Shock report.
Shortages in frontline staff have forced many businesses into reducing their opening hours or simplifying menus. However the same report found that the pinch is also being felt in managerial roles with some businesses suffering a severe shortage of experienced people. Pre-covid, surveyed leaders said 63% of managers were highly experienced, but that number has more than halved to 30%.
In this context, attracting and retaining all employees should be a strategic priority for businesses but especially those – like women – who are statistically less likely to participate in the workforce. Globally, female workforce representation remains low and varies significantly by country – from 48% in Norway to just 23% in India (the UK figure is 46%).
That’s according to data shared by McKinsey & Company senior partner Sandra Sancier-Sultan during a recent webinar hosted by Sodexo in which experts grappled with the question: how to co-create the future workplace while embedding gender equality in organisations?
During the pandemic the world experienced what has become known as ‘the great resignation’ – when people used the disruption caused by covid-19 as a reason to seek a new career, often in search of a better work life balance.
Sancier-Sultan presented research showing that despite current economic uncertainty and cost of living pressures there is still potential for major attrition in the jobs market: 40% of workers globally say they intend to leave their role in the next 3-6 months, a figure increasing to 47% for the leisure and hospitality sector.
For women specifically Sancier-Sultan said there are three primary factors driving them to leave: the fact they want to advance but face stronger headwinds from men; that they are overworked both at work and at home (a reality that is under-recognised); and that they are seeking a different culture of work.
This should sound alarm bells for businesses, not just ethically but financially too. Last year’s Footprint report – ‘Ethnicity and hospitality’ – noted how the most ethnically diverse companies are most likely to outperform their peers. The same goes for gender: Sancier-Sultan highlighted research showing how companies that employ more female executives are likely to financially outperform those with fewer.
According to Sancier-Sultan, one reason for a lack of women in leadership roles is the existence of a so-called ‘broken rung’ whereby women might enter the workplace at the same level as men but often get left behind at the first step up to manager level where female representation falls from 48% to 38%.
Embedding gender equality
So what are businesses to do? The webinar heard from companies who are looking to achieve greater gender equality both in opportunity and representation. One area of particular focus is around parental leave. Raj Verma, chief diversity, culture and executive officer at healthcare provider Sanofi, said the company recently launched a new global parental leave policy that was co-created with Sanofi’s dedicated gender board. The policy offers a minimum of 14 weeks full paid parental leave from day one for all permanent employees who are welcoming a new child or whose partner is welcoming a new child, through childbirth, adoption, surrogacy, or due to custody. The aim is to take some of the pressure off the early months with a new baby and help level the playing field for new parents. Verma explained how it has historically been easy for male hiring managers to show bias towards recruiting a man because of a perception they are less likely to take parental leave. The new policy gives “less places for male hiring managers to hide” since male employees are entitled to the same minimum amount of leave as female colleagues.
Vanessa Otake, global equity, diversity & inclusion leader at Unilever, explained how one of the positives that came out of the pandemic was an acceleration in the move towards more flexible working models such as remote working and flexi hours. Otake explained how this change in corporate attitudes has been positive for gender equality because women are still disproportionately impacted by the demands of childcare, elderly care and other household responsibilities. Unilever company policy is now to offer every employee the opportunity to work different hours depending on their personal requirements. In practice, this may mean building in the flexibility needed to do the daily school run without it having a negative impact on their career prospects. Otake suggested a future priority for Unilever would be to incentivise men to take greater advantage of this kind of flexible working as part of a “massive cultural change”.
Unilever is also trialling a new project-based payment scheme called U-Work which Otake described as a stepping stone between the ‘gig’ economy and traditional working models. People are contracted to the business for just a few hours a year (although with access to the usual benefits) and are then paid on a project basis. Otake explained this gives them the opportunity to flex the amount of hours and days they are dedicating to that particular project. Some people might work three weeks on and then take five weeks off, or they might work two days a week or three hours a day. Otake said such an arrangement would not be applicable for every role but companies needed to focus on creating new models that work for everyone.
Sodexo, for its part, has established a SheWorks programme which offers women in the community the chance to do one-to-one shadowing of jobs at a Sodexo site, including roles such as facilities management that are currently male dominated. The programme helps women discover new career possibilities as well as connecting Sodexo to potential talent.
The company has a target for women to represent at least 40% of its global leadership by 2025. Currently women account for 60% of the Sodexo board, 29% of the executive committee, 43% of senior executives, 44% of all managers and 55% of the total workforce.
Peter Mellin, country president & CEO corporate services at Sodexo Sweden, told the webinar that in order to embed gender equality and retain and attract future talent leaders ultimately need to lead by example. “It’s not what we say, it’s what we do that matters,” he said.