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Home / Latest News / Overlooking a critical resource like talented staff is a major barrier to growth

Overlooking a critical resource like talented staff is a major barrier to growth

There has been a great deal written about women in the workplace recently.

As a strong advocate for gender equality, I’m pleased it is starting to get the traction it warrants.

Brought up with a strong mother and sister, I’ve had a small insight into the issues – both past and present – that women have to deal with on a daily basis.

Today, at the CBI, we engage on a range of workplace diversity issues because we know diversity in business equals strength.

From increasing the number of women on company boards to nurturing diverse future business leaders, there are robust and established business cases to justify our support and intervention.

It is for these reasons that I was proud to become a trustee of Chwarae Teg. The organisation was established over twenty years ago to maximise women’s contribution to the Welsh economy and has done sterling work ever since.

It has a strong reputation and pedigree – Welsh cabinet ministers Edwina Hart and Jane Hutt have both held directorships with the organisation. 

Last month, in the packed main hall of Cardiff’s historic Pierhead Building, Chwarae Teg launched a seminal report into women’s role in the Welsh economy.

The report, entitled awoman’s place. is the result of an extensive review of existing global research as well as the surveying of 600 women and 400 employers in a range of industries.

What it reveals makes for interesting and, in parts,  worrying reading.

Given our sluggish economy, some people may ask how a business could justify investing in workplace diversity right now. Apart from the obvious moral and ethical reasons, the business case for investing in workplace diversity is strong. Countless studies point to increased recruitment, retention and performance that flow directly from getting the right policies in place.

The wider economic case was best summarised recently by Warren Buffet. The billionaire American investor wrote an impassioned article entitled ‘why women are key to America’s prosperity.’

In it he made clear that since 1776 the country’s progress has been ‘mind blowing’ and it was secured in large part to high participation of women in the economy.

As a result of that unleashing of human talent, people in developed economies ‘enjoy an abundance of goods and services no one dreamed of just a few centuries ago.’ 

Ensuring we continue to effectively leverage the talents of women, he argues, is the only way we will secure future growth. 

The key finding from Chwarae Teg’s report is that despite two-thirds of women being an active and critical part of our economy, they continue to be over represented in junior, low-pay and part time roles.

In addition, two-thirds of women choose the public sector over the private sector as their employer of choice.

Businesses should consider what more they could be doing to switch the balance in their favour.

 More worryingly, only 1 in 13 women in Wales are self-employed.  While there are many notably exceptions, like Gocompare’s chie executive Hayley Parsons and Moneypenny co-founder Rachel Clacher, we should ask ourselves why we have relatively few female entrepreneurs and what can business and government do to remove barriers and increase incentives.

The report did reveal some good news for the private sector. Twice as many women strongly believing equality of opportunity had improved in their business compared to those working in public sector organisations.

Even better news for large private sector employers was the finding that women, on average, thought they offered better maternity, paternity and childcare provision than smaller employers. 

Given the state of our economy, it is concerning that the report uncovered a hidden ‘skills squeeze’ in Wales,  where women who are more highly qualified and more likely to receive in-work training, continued to work in lower skilled jobs and receive lower pay.

While some of this pattern can be attributed to personal choice, the broader picture suggested at least a poor use of an organisation’s talent and, at worst, a wasted opportunity for the women themselves.

In this fiercely competitive global economy, public and private sector organisations in Wales must leverage every advantage it has to stay one step ahead of the competition.  Overlooking a critical resource like talented staff is a major barrier to growth.

The overall message therefore is that while women have made considerable progress in the Welsh workforce, there is a complex mix of barriers facing women that limit their contribution to the Welsh economy.  

Many people and organisations are aware of these issues and are doing sterling work to readdress the imbalance.

What is needed now is a national conversation about the challenges and opportunities women face in the modern workforce. Go to www.chwaraeteg.com and join the debate.    

Leighton Jenkins is policy director for CBI  Wales.

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