The view that gender diversity leads to better business results is one I have witnessed first hand and agree with unequivocally. In my experience, with a gender diverse team you tend to get a different level of qualitative decision making that benefits both business and customer. Mixed gender boards have the benefit of promoting meritocracy and equality of opportunity, of paramount importance to the success of a business and the happiness of employees. This view is backed by statistics showing gender diverse boards outperform those that are not.
Women in Retail and Elixirr have just released a study that looks at the reasons for a lack of gender diversity within the retail industry and makes recommendations for how the industry can address it. For me, these recommendations are long overdue.
At Morrisons, we have a great pipeline of female talent, with a number of young female store managers, and it is vital for me that we continue to nurture this talent so they reach the next level. This year alone we have made 15 new appointments to the regional management teams, including increasing the number of women from one to eight. In our senior regional management teams the number of women employed is up from one to seven.
The challenges in fully achieving gender diversity are summarised by Women in Retail and Elixirr’s study as ‘the numbers disadvantage’, ‘the confidence conundrum’, and ‘flexible working doesn’t work for retailers’ - all of which have solutions.
It is one thing to have targets around the progression of women, but it is often child care that can be the real issue. It’s not so much about men or women, but about parents, who have to negotiate child care with the demands of a career. Retailers need to be far more flexible to accommodate working mothers, particularly in retail operations/stores.
It is up to businesses to empower and nurture talent so senior female board members become the norm. It is a known fact that people look for people like themselves when hiring and this is no exception at senior board level. We need to break down barriers and start to see potential rather than what is perceived to be the norm, thus eliminating any unconscious bias and increasing the number of women at the top of organisations.
I believe all retailers are making progress on diversity; however in order to drive real change, gender diversity has to be addressed at the executive level. There has been good progress with numeric targets at non-executive level, showing businesses respond well to numerical targets, therefore this is the way to go to boost female representation at executive level as well.
In order to move forward even further, there needs to be more open communication about diversity, acknowledging there are differences between men and women - as I believe the political correctness we try to have on the subject has sometimes been more of a hindrance than a help.
We all need to come together and recognise talent; whether it is possessed by a man or woman should surely be secondary.
Andrew Higginson is chairman of Morrisons