Underpinned by a legislative regime since the 1970s designed to prevent sex discrimination and unequal pay between men and women, the UK has enjoyed successive and ever bigger waves of young women gaining the education and skills to enter the work force as professionals, now standing at 5 million strong. The UK also boasts 1 million female-led companies and the digital age has greatly expanded the opportunity for entrepreneurship for women to be their own bosses.
The workplace inflicts a stiff ‘motherhood penalty’ that produces a yawning gender pay gap for women in their 40s and 50s as men more readily gain access to managerial and executive positions, radiating from there to board positions, where Lord Davies’ initiative for FTSE companies has led some to endorse the merit of a diversity of directors on boards.
On the whole, however, employers often overlook the potential to optimise talent management practices to accommodate maternity and support the work-life balance of employees, prevent sexism and unequal pay, and offer women an equality of opportunity to accede to top jobs. Companies that do so could be more likely to establish a lasting competitive advantage and the UK economy will gain too from releasing the talent and energy of women at work.