Breaking the glass ceiling: How women in leadership are paving the way

Written by Jessica Alcock | News | Blog | Human Resources | UK Economy | Posted 21/05/2019 10:25:44

Women in leadership is a continuing conversation in corporate circles. How do you attract, develop and retain women? Jessica Alcock, Sanderson Manchester’s Manager, outlines how times are changing.

In recent times, there have been major strides in establishing overall workplace gender equality. However, data continues to suggest that there's been less progress regarding women in leadership positions. The New York Times previously reported in 2015 that not only are there fewer women running S&P 1500 companies than men, but that for every woman, there are four Johns, Roberts, Williams or Jameses. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is particularly present within the Financial Services industry.

In 2017, Grant Thornton released a report which showed more light at the end of the tunnel. According to them, globally, 25% of senior roles are held by women which is an increase on the previous year.

I moved into the position of Regional Manager of Sanderson’s Manchester office in January 2019. This, coupled with customers not only suggesting but actively targeting women to join their leadership teams, has made me ask, what factors have made it more accessible for women to break the glass ceiling?

There has been a great deal written about the obstacles that women face when progressing into leadership positions; encouraging diversity, mentorship, training and flexible working have all be cited. To bring it closer to home, Women in Recruitment, an organisation founded to help businesses attract, develop and retain women in recruitment, released a survey in 2015 about this very topic; 66% of women feel that family/caring responsibilities negatively impact their career prospects, and by extension their chances for promotion.

However, many of the respondents agreed that women need to be more proactive in asking employers what they need to do in order to be promoted. Furthermore, 66% and 63% respectively said that mentors and more flexible working opportunities were key to encouraging talented women to stay within the industry.

Adding to these factors, from my personal experience of 8 years working in recruitment, I can say that there have been many positive changes for women advancing through the ranks. This alone can be seen in the makeup of leadership positions within Sanderson, with more women in leadership roles than ever before.

This is not only evident in Sanderson, but in organisations that I have been asked to find leadership positions for outside of the recruitment industry; Heads of IT, Heads of PMO, Heads of Programmes. Several companies have specifically asked for diverse shortlists for leadership positions as they have noticed a shortage of women holding said level of role.

I have also been very impressed with our own and many of our clients’ encouragement and willingness (rightfully so) of women returning back to work after a period of absence such as maternity leave. I have been asked to write adverts encouraging women to apply if returning to work, I have been on courses to write gender neutral adverts and I have attended many women in leadership seminars and meet ups all of which were not available for the first few years of my recruitment career.

Do I still see recruitment as a male dominated industry? Maybe. Have I see a shift towards a more gender equal outfit over the years? Yes. Am I seeing more women in leadership positions? Most definitely.

Times may be changing slowly, but they are changing, and their presence is being increasingly felt.

Amie Phillips (Regional Business Manager, Sanderson Cardiff) – “In my 8 years at Sanderson, I have experienced nothing but encouragement and opportunities to progress. Identifying pretty early on that recruitment was something I was keen to make a career out of, I received both the support required and the platform to enable me to do so. I joined as an Academy Trainee and soon moved on to become Regional Business Manager, looking after the South Wales operation and managing my own team.”

Michelle Smith (Head of Marketing, RSG, Sanderson’s parent company) - “Being a leader to other women in an otherwise predominately male industry and making sure all voices are being heard is very important to me. Female representation in recruitment as well as leadership in general is a topic that continues to be spoken about and there is a growing amount of resources as well as other women out there adding to the conversation. I’m very appreciative that I’m able to play a small part in advancing the progress that’s already been made.”

Hannah Waddington (Reginal Business Manager, Sanderson Southampton) - ‘I joined RSG in my late 20s after working for a few different companies, kind of feeling that my career had plateaued. I decided to just say yes to everything, as I was at the stage where I felt I really wanted to push myself and progress. After training with the Academy, I took the opportunity to move to one of our growing regional offices based in Edinburgh. Being part of a smaller, growing office gave me the opportunity to contribute to the larger strategy and think longer term when prioritising my activity, rather than just worrying about the ‘day-to-day’. It also put me in a position where I was truly ready to step up in to a leadership role, so after 18 months I moved back down south to launch and run our South Coast regional office. I have learned over the last few years that in order to progress, whether you are male or female, is to take all opportunities that are thrown your way, push and challenge yourself, and make sure you open yourself up to learning from the people who have ‘been there, done that’.’

Mary Pearson (Head of Cyber & Information Security Recruitment) - ‘I joined Sanderson 5 years ago, having reached a ceiling in my old job in a small recruitment consultancy in Cardiff. I was driven to ensure that my next move gave me the career path that I was looking for and the opportunity to advocate change, grow and develop my capability as well as continuing to learn, on a daily basis. With an incredible working environment and a wealth of knowledge amongst my colleagues, Sanderson have provided me with a great platform to do this, and more. However, I echo others when I say that it doesn’t matter if you are male or female but it is you who can ensure that you reach and fulfil your potential. I have now established our Cyber & Information Security division, which is a new and emerging market for us and manage a team covering both contract and permanent opportunities, UK-wide. I aspire to make sure that I am a role model for anyone new joining our organisation.’


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