Our society has tended to be abundant in our celebration of male achievements – from the figures we learn about at school to the people we commemorate on our banknotes. After all, we’re all familiar with the names Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking.
But what about Rosalind Franklin (pictured), who famously contributed to our understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA and viruses? Or Maria Goeppert Mayber, who discovered the nuclear shell of the atomic nucleus? Or Gladys West, who used her mathematical and programming expertise to invent an accurate model of the Earth which was used as the foundation for the creation of the Global Positioning System (GPS)?
Although these inspirational women, along with many others, paved the way for girls to follow suit, we’ve neglected to focus on them in the same way that we do on men. And the sad reality is that when children picture a successful person – say, a scientist – they tend to imagine a man.
It is for this exact reason that role models are so vital in early education: they are key to changing perceptions. If young girls aren’t given examples of successful women in underrepresented industries, they will often assume that success within that industry is not achievable or possible. As a result, we’ve seen a shortage of women both within traditionally male-dominated industries and in senior positions.
But role modelling is not only an important factor in early education, role models are also fundamental in the workplace as an effective way to foster female talent early on and throughout their careers.
The impact of role models
One way we can pave the way for more girls to pursue roles traditionally perceived as male-dominated is by promoting visible female role models within the business. Indeed, it was the Rockefeller Foundation which emphasised this point: “Having female leaders in positions of influence to serve as role models is not only critical to the career advancement of women, but stands to generate broader societal impacts on pay equity, changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting a more diverse workforce.”
One way for HR and the broader organisation to drive this is through the introduction of inclusion networks. These networks give employees a platform to feel included and, as a result, are a vital way to ensure that specific people throughout the business receive the proper support and advice they need. However, in order to realise this, it is the responsibility of the senior team to take the lead by championing people within their organisation, as well as encouraging other senior people within these networks to act as mentors and role models.
Another initiative that companies can look at implementing is reverse mentoring. At Fujitsu our Perspectives reverse mentoring program has been hugely successful, with a number of our senior executives on the board being mentored by employees from a different background – including female, BAME, LGBT+, younger and disabled employees. Reverse mentoring aims to build the insight of senior leaders into the experiences of women and diverse talent in an organisation, so they can identify tangible actions they can take to ensure a more inclusive environment. We’ve found that another benefit of reverse mentoring has been to build the confidence of our diverse mentors to interact with and provide their honest feedback to senior leaders.
Adopting a holistic approach
While fundamental, role modelling is just one initiative organisations should implement to eliminate gender bias. Driving true gender parity needs a holistic approach – from gender pay reporting and inclusive networks to bias-awareness training, there are a number of successful initiatives and programmes that can help deliver on this.
It is only by engaging a diverse array of people in business that we can hope to protect the future competitiveness of the UK economy. And from enhancing agility to promoting innovation and improving customer relationships, fostering a culture of inclusion is crucial for improving business performance, continued growth and success.
Sarah Kaiser is employee experience, diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA