International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women – and marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Organisations have a responsibility to build an equitable culture and level the playing field, ensuring that women are set up for success. 

Identifying and introducing best practices for female employees means listening to and learning from the experiences of inspiring women. We spoke to Jess Timelin, Senior Operating Director – Finance, Treasury, Tax, and In-House Advisory, at Michael Page about her experience climbing the ladder as a female, and advice on how women in the workplace can do the same.

Q: What challenges do you see women facing in the workplace? 

A: While we have seen some improvement, overall, we are still faced with lack of senior female representation in leadership positions across the FTSE.

We need more women to be in senior positions across all industries because I think everyone needs to have visible role models to aspire to. Without this, it is so easy to move on from a role or become disengaged because it is easy to think, “If this organisation values women – why are none of them in senior positions?” To achieve that, organisations need to embrace gender equality and inclusive practices across different levels and departments, approaching change with authenticity and intent that can build trust between leadership and female employees.

Q: What is your advice to women to navigate and overcome the obstacles they face in business?

A: While there are still disparities in the workplace, women should focus on what they can control: honing their delivery, building confidence, and pursuing professional development opportunities will help them to become the most powerful version of themselves. By upskilling yourself and investing in your development, you will pick up skills and grow in ability and confidence.

However, do not assume opportunities will come your way just because you are competent – you need to be your own cheerleader too. Engage in conversations about your progression and value proactively with your line managers.

Q: Are there any key skills or attributes you would say are essential to being successful?

A: I think any leader should aspire to be the most authentic version of themselves, rather than try and mimic what they see around them (which can often be in a very male-dominated environment). This can be uncomfortable initially; however, I am a firm believer that true leaders are always acting in accordance with their own values and beliefs. By parroting what you see around you (especially in organisations of poor diversity) not only will you be perpetuating the problem, but you will also not be true to your own identity.

Q: What roles do mentorship and sponsorship play in helping women advance their careers?

A: It is important to find inspirational, aspirational, and accessible role models. I am such a believer that having a visual representation of where you want to get to, or someone you feel embodies your values can be hugely empowering. I was always fortunate to have a senior female mentor, but you might need to look further afield if there is not someone in your direct team who fits the bill.  

As such, business leaders should consider the opportunities for mentoring and sponsorship within their organisation. Focusing on senior hires and supporting women to climb the ladder from the bottom up ensures there are inspiring women for others to learn from and creating a sustainable path for women to tread.  

Learning from someone who has had similar experiences and shares similar values can help build confidence in your own voice, give you a good grounding in how to ask for things, and encourage you to advocate for the things you want. This extra support can really help to drive your career forward.

Q: How can companies create inclusive cultures that value diverse perspectives and encourage women to pursue leadership positions?

A: We are seeing a positive journey in our conversations with clients, but a big focus should be on evolving gender pay legislation and broadening expectations of what the workplace could and should look like to maximise inclusivity.

Businesses must build a workplace where diverse individuals want to work in order to attract and retain the best talent. Cultural change starts from the top down and cascades down organisations, which means there needs to be representation at all levels, starting with the board.

To build gender equality and inclusive practices into the business, leaders must act with intention. Making sure you consider all your employees’ needs with policies and practices is the key to inclusivity.  Understanding and addressing the pressure points and needs of different groups can be anything from ensuring meetings cater to parents to revising workplace policies. It is here that empathy and emotional intelligence play an important role.

Levelling the playing field through inclusive practices means women will be fully supported and more willing to pursue leadership positions.

Q: What steps can organisations take to attract and retain top female talent in traditionally male-dominated fields?

A: In addition to setting up your business to be inclusive and acting with intent, it is important to consider things that may be overlooked in a male-dominated workplace. Introducing policies for child loss, surrogacy, and menopause, which are still relatively new ideas, shows that you take gender equality seriously – and your maternity policy matters.  

As a recruiter, Michael Page has a role to play in ensuring that female candidates receive the exposure and recognition they deserve throughout the hiring process. Ensuring a diverse shortlist is the first step, but to attract the best talent, businesses need to put their money where their mouth is.  

The candidates I work with – qualified financial professionals – will always look at the detail. They will weigh up the numbers and make pragmatic comparisons around pay, policies and benefits. If your money is not where your mouth is then you will struggle to both attract and retain top female talent.

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