Meet the men and women who are redressing the UK’s gender imbalances

At first glance, the fact that we have a female Prime Minister again suggests that the perceived glass ceiling that women face in the political and business worlds has been shattered.

However, a report recently published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that gender pay gaps are still a big problem. On an hourly basis, women’s wages are 18% lower than their male counterparts’.

While this is an improvement on 2003 (23% lower) and 1993 (28% lower), it’s still not good enough.

Having picked up the Financial Services of the Year gong at the 2015 Enterprise Vision Awards (EVAs) for her work with Stanmore Insurance Brokers, Jackie Hyde is one of many examples of high-flying women who are blazing a trail in the business world.

We wanted to speak with other business owners and industry spokespeople – both male and female – to further highlight the inspirational work that women are doing and how things are steadily changing for the better.

Women will be sat around the board table and it’ll have nothing to do with our sex!

As far as female representation in the boardrooms of major UK corporations goes, things seem to be moving in the right direction (albeit very slowly).

Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, recently pointed out that the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has increased from 12% to 26% in recent times. But this is only the start.

We spoke to Jess Penny, General Manager of Sales at Penny Hydraulics, who has high hopes for the future, and feels that women are earning their places at the very top of British businesses.

At middle management level or higher within our company, there is one other female who is also at General Manager level. Jocelyn is a highly talented engineer with a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. I look forward to the day when we are both sat around the board room table, but this is based on the skills and experience we will bring at board level and nothing to do with our sex,” she told us.

Reversing deep-seated stereotypes

As Jess Penny alluded to, there are certain industries that are still dominated by men – engineering being a clear example.

However, some businesses are going above and beyond to eradicate traditional stereotypes.

Janet Matsuda, CMO at Nimble Storage, explained:

One of the main challenges in increasing female representation is dispelling the myth of the engineering industry as a ‘boys’ club’, so highlighting the success stories role of women within the industry will be key to shift this mindset.

“At Nimble Storage, we make sure we celebrate the great work of our female employees, whether it’s in engineering, data science, or in the channel. Indeed, just this year we were delighted to see five talented women independently recognised for their amazing leadership. Supporting and championing women currently in the industry is essential to increasing the representation of women – for as they play more visible role in Britain’s innumerable engineering success stories, more girls will be inspired to not just follow in their footsteps, but surpass what has been achieved so far.”

Redressing the balance without resorting to quotas

Many people have called for the introduction of formal quotas in order to narrow the gender gaps in certain industries.

The problem, of course, is that such systems can create an unhealthy tick-box environment whereby the best person for the job could be overlooked just because of their sex.

That said, some companies have managed to redress the balance without resorting to restrictive quotas.

Dave Wynne, COO and Founder of tech company Red Badger, told us how the organisation has found the right blend.

Red Badger never set out with the intention of making a company with an even gender split, but has ended up with a 48/52 ratio. Myself and the other two founders were deeply aware that the culture in tech agencies was often more attractive to males, and actively set out to avoid that. Rather than trying to hire women just to try and get an even split, we sought to create a culture that was blind to gender in order to avoid a big skew towards the norm in applicants,” he commented.

Six years down the line, Red Badger has a nearly even split of UXers, designers, Project Managers, operations staff and a 25/75 split on software engineers. Together, we are working on that final ratio by being part of the student engagement programmes at Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) universities to promote a diverse set of new applicants coming up through the education system, we check there is no gender bias in our job ads and we go to where diverse software engineers are rather than waiting for them to come to us (at meetups and community events).”

It’s sad that trail-blazers are needed… but thank goodness they’re there!

We’ve already established that men and women are doing great things to remove the aforementioned glass ceiling that has hindered females for far too long.

Martin Plenderleith, Head of Content at Media Managers, singled out one individual who has been particularly proactive in her attempts to create a level playing field in business.

Indeed, Maggie Philbin is the CEO of TeenTech CIC, as well as a former TV reporter and presenter of the BBC’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ show.

Martin commented: “Maggie was quite inspirational to work alongside, as her solid determination to further the access teenagers have to STEM subjects is finally cutting through the business and education establishments.

“Maggie has always been a strong voice, always been an animated presence without sacrificing gravitas in her dialogue. It’s a tricky balancing act, but she carries it off with grace, style and effectiveness. It’s so sad that trail-blazers like Maggie are needed, but thank goodness she’s there!”

What’s it like to work with strong female leaders in a male-dominated industry?

The insurance industry is another that is seemingly dominated by men.

Steps are being taken to change this, and earlier this year a number of leading banks and insurance providers signed a voluntary charter aimed at getting more women into senior positions.

Matt Tomkin, Project and Marketing Manager at dot2dot, explained how the company is already bucking long-standing trends.

The business is spearheaded by talented and experienced women, and having won an award at the aforementioned EVAs last year, dot2dot is now set to sponsor the 2016 awards this month (September 23rd). This is further recognition of the fantastic work that is being done.

“Working with a strong female leader who is making waves in a traditionally male-dominated industry is extremely inspiring,” Matt commented.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the possible introduction of gender quotas and large insurers pledging to increase the number of women on their boards this year. As you can see from the way our team is made up, we’re already way ahead of the curve and hopefully we can serve as a positive example for others in the industry to follow.”

There’s a lot to do before we reach a point where women and men are treated completely equally in business, but with so many inspirational people doing so much good work, we’re surely going to get there sooner rather than later.