Empowering Change Strategies for Women in Leadership Conference

Advancing women in leadership remains a critical issue on the agenda for any business, underscored by stark statistics and the need for actionable solutions.

Westminster Insight’s Women in Leadership conference brought together experts and leaders from across the sectors to discuss practical measures for improving women’s representation in leadership roles and achieving a fairer, more equitable workplace.

The event highlighted the importance of fostering an environment where many women can thrive without adapting to outdated cultural norms, emphasising that systemic change is essential for genuine progress.

The Vision for Gender Equality and Equity in the Workplace

Speaker: Alesha De-Fretias, Director of Policy, Research and Advocacy, Fawcett Society

Alesha De-Fretias emphasised the need for continued legislative efforts and proactive strategies to enhance gender equality in UK workplaces. She discussed the impact of recent legislative changes and outlined a vision where gender equity becomes an integral part of organisational culture. Her insights into policy development provided a roadmap for businesses to follow in their quest for gender equality.

FTSE Women’s Leaders Review

Speaker: Fiona Cannon OBE, Steering Group Member, FTSE Women Leaders Review

Fiona Cannon provided an update on the FTSE Women Leaders Review, sharing critical learnings and highlighting the significant gender disparities that still exist at the highest levels of business. She offered strategies for companies to increase female representation in senior roles, stressing the importance of mentorship and targeted leadership development programs.

  • Only 9% of FTSE 350 companies have a female CEO.
  • Only 13% have a female CFO.
  • Just 1 in 5 commercial roles, key feeders to CEO and CFO positions, are held by women.

Intersectional Inequalities for Women in Leadership

Speakers: Mitesh Sheth MBE, Chief Investment Officer, Newton Investment Management

Monica Stancu Senior Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Lloyd’s

During the event, speakers Mitesh Sheth and Monica Stancu addressed critical strategies for fostering a supportive work environment for women. They emphasised the importance of taking an organisational approach to ensure women thrive at work, highlighting the need to embed staff networks and EDI committees within the workplace.

They stressed that inclusivity and diversity must transcend beyond mere tick-box exercises and become integral to the organisational culture. Additionally, they discussed the importance of supporting women of all ages, ethnicities, disabilities, and sexual orientations. Male allyship was underscored as a crucial factor and is about men actively supporting and advocating for gender equity in the workplace. This involves recognising their privilege, understanding the challenges faced by their female colleagues, and taking concrete actions to support them.

Women in leadership - Mitesh Sheth

Legal and Policy Updates for Women in the Workplace

Speaker: Rhian Radia, Partner, Excello Law

Rhian discussed recent and upcoming legal changes affecting workplace equality. She highlighted the importance of staying abreast of legal requirements and implementing robust policies to protect employees and promote a respectful work environment. Her legal expertise provided attendees with the tools needed to navigate the complexities of employment law and ensure compliance.

Women’s Health and Wellbeing at Work

Speakers: Ginisha Vekaria, Workplace Menstrual Wellbeing Programme Manager, Endometriosis UK

Clio Dawkins, People Operations Director, Serco UK & Europ

Claire Heuclin, Fertility In The Workplace Coordinator, Fertility Network UK

Speakers discussed supporting women’s health conditions in the workplace and ensuring reasonable adjustments for conditions like menopause, endometriosis, IVF, and pregnancy. The session emphasised the need for employers to be proactive in addressing health issues that disproportionately affect women, advocating for policies that accommodate and support women’s health and well-being. Practical solutions were shared, including flexible working arrangements and employee assistance programs.

Representation of Women in Leadership Roles

Professor Geeta Nargund, Chair of The Pipeline and Senior NHS Consultant presented a compelling case study on increasing representation for women in senior leadership and on boards. She articulated the strong business case for expanding female leadership, citing numerous benefits such as enhanced decision-making and improved organisational performance.

Professor Nargund emphasised the necessity of removing complex barriers to career progression by taking an intersectional approach, addressing the unique challenges faced by women of different backgrounds. She also highlighted effective strategies for improving equality and diversity in board appointments, ensuring that leadership is truly representative and inclusive.

She highlighted statistics from the Pipeline’s Women Count reports 2023:

Between 2002 and 2012, the UK lost 40% of its senior female executives, highlighting the need for sustained support for women in business.

  • Sector Variability: Gender parity in boardrooms varies significantly. Sectors like transport and health have over 40% female representation, while private equity, IT, and mining have less than 20%.
  • Global Context: UN Women reports that globally, women hold just 26.7% of parliamentary seats and 35.5% of local government positions.
  • Challenges: The Treasury Select Committee’s ‘Sexism in the City’ report reveals a toxic culture in financial services, and PwC analysis suggests it will take 29 years to close the gender pay gap.

These statistics paint a stark picture of the current landscape, underscoring the persistent barriers women face in reaching leadership positions.

The variability across sectors suggests that while progress has been made in some areas, significant challenges remain in others. This data serves as a call to action for businesses to implement targeted strategies to support women at all levels.

Professor Geeta Nargund speaking at the conference

Statistics about women in leadership

Why Promote Gender Parity?

Promoting and supporting women in leadership roles benefits businesses:

  • Performance: Research from the London Business School shows that gender diversity on FTSE 350 boards correlates with better EBITDA margins over time.
  • Recruitment: Two-thirds of UK employees consider workplace diversity important when job hunting (YouGov).
  • Retention: Companies with low DEI scores are nearly twice as likely to lose staff (Druthers Search).

These findings highlight the tangible business benefits of gender parity. Diverse leadership teams bring varied perspectives, leading to more innovative solutions and better financial performance. Moreover, a commitment to diversity can enhance a company’s reputation, making it more attractive to top talent and reducing turnover rates. By fostering an inclusive environment, businesses can build stronger, more resilient teams.

What Senior Women Want from Businesses

The Women Count 2023 research highlighted the main obstacles senior women face:

  • Work Environment and Culture: 47%
  • Lack of Opportunities for Advancement: 28%
  • Management and Talent Pipeline Issues: 13%
  • Leadership and Support: 12%

The survey results reveal that nearly half of senior women identify work environment and culture as significant barriers to their advancement. Issues such as unconscious bias, lack of inclusive policies, and insufficient support systems contribute to these challenges.

Addressing these areas can create a more conducive environment for women to thrive and progress in their careers.

Practical Solutions for Businesses

Businesses can take several steps to support women in leadership roles:

  • Leadership and Development: 43% of senior women want improved leadership and development initiatives.
  • Opportunities and Advancement: 33% desire clearer progression frameworks.
  • Support and Inclusion: 24% seek enhanced support and inclusive practices.
  • To address these needs, businesses should:
  • Implement systematic diversity approaches tied to business objectives.
  • Measure and report on gender parity across all levels and hold leadership accountable.
  • Tailor personal and career development initiatives.
  • Ensure recruitment and promotion processes are free from bias.
  • Recognise and support women’s ambitions and well-being needs in the workplace.

By taking these steps, organisations can create an environment where women feel valued and supported, leading to higher engagement, better performance, and greater retention of top talent.

Tailored development programs, transparent progression pathways, and a commitment to inclusivity are essential components of this strategy.

The Women in Leadership conference reinforced that while women do not need to change, the culture within organisations must. By implementing robust diversity strategies, measuring progress, and supporting women’s health and well-being, businesses can foster an inclusive environment that leverages the full potential of their female workforce. This cultural shift benefits women and enhances organisational performance and resilience.

For more information on our upcoming events and training programmes, visit our conferences page or contact us directly.

Upcoming events:

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By emphasising the importance of cultural change and providing practical solutions, this conference highlighted the steps businesses can take to support women in leadership and achieve true gender equality.


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