By Alice Weightman, Hanson Search and The Work Crowd

Over the last few decades, the business case for diversity and inclusion has become well established and yet many firms are still failing to translate these commitments into meaningful action.

Whilst gender is of course only one aspect, the simple truth is that the number of women in senior positions remains low across sectors and issues around maternity leave continue to be a barrier for many women.

As a mum, my own experiences have taught me how difficult it is for women wishing to both pursue a successful career and raise a family. Through Hanson Search and The Work Crowd, I’ve sought to enable women to do both, but it was when a client asked me of the communications industry more broadly, “Where have all the women gone?” that I knew I wanted to look at the issue further. 

In 2012, we commissioned a study into the impact of maternity leave on the industry and the results were shocking. We found that 49% were actively considering moving to another company whilst 14% were considering giving up work completely.   

These results are undoubtedly indicative of a wider problem facing women and business. According to consultancy firm McKinsey, if the employment rate for women were to remain constant, Europe can expect a shortfall of 24m people in the active workforce by 2040. It’s clear that we simply cannot afford to lose so many talented and experienced women from our workforce at such a crucial point in their careers. Not only is it harmful for women, it’s harmful for business and the economy.

So what’s the solution? If firms want to attract and retain the best talent – whether male or female - they must create an environment that people want to be part of. This will mean different things to different people: whilst salary might incentivise one candidate, flexible working or a great maternity leave scheme might be the clincher for another. By failing to understand the importance of this approach, businesses risk candidates simply looking to rival firms or for other types of work that offer what they’re looking for such as freelancing or contract work.

Unsurprisingly, our study found that 84% of women felt that flexible working arrangements would encourage them to return back to employment. Of course this can be a scary proposition – especially for smaller firms – but working to develop a culture that facilitates this is crucial in the long term.  

We no longer live in the ‘Mad Men’ era of rigid business structures and there is a new breed of firms who are hovering up some of the best talent by offering a flexible structure and rewarding their staff based on outcomes, not just how many hours they sit staring at a screen for.  We are fortunate enough to work in are era where technology is enabling this to happen.

More businesses need to wake up to the positive potential this way of working has, far from putting them at a disadvantage, they will be ahead of the firms who haven’t done enough to retain their top female talent. Diversity = better business. 

When Alice founded Hanson Search in 2002 she had a vision of a global search and selection consultancy for the communications and marketing industry that would have integrity and ethics at its core. Since then she has gained a reputation as one of the leading search professionals in senior appointments across strategic communications, developing an incredible network of contacts, as well as becoming a fellow of the REC. Over the past 14 years Alice has met with over 1000 businesses and over 3500 people to discuss their careers. She has recently launched The Work Crowd a platform of talented freelancers in communications and marketing, that connects freelancers with projects globally with intuitive algorisms. Since its launch in March 2015, it already has over 600 freelancers. Alice has often been asked to comment on the Communication and Marketing trade publications or speak at industry events and has published “Getting the balance Right”, a report which addresses issues on gender diversity in the Communications industry. Alice is also proactive about encouraging economic and social diversity within the industry and launched UpSkill in 2014 a social action campaign to help young people from different backgrounds into the industry.