At Essentia Consulting, we believe it’s important to have diversity; to take positive steps to break down barriers where they exist to an inclusive environment where everyone can progress. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes sound business sense in today’s competitive, commercial environment.

Understanding the challenges that women have faced and still face in the workplace is vital to this process.

You don’t have to look too far back in the history books to see if we’re mentioned at all, women have had mostly domestic roles. Spinners, milliners, midwives and weavers were usually women but the demands of running a big household before electricity were such that, few even had time to work and the professions teacher, lawyer, doctor etc were generally closed to women.

All change

Then the Industrial Revolution came along, and it changed everything. Britain became a country where most people lived in towns and worked in industry, instead of being farmers and this included women. But conditions were awful, and children as well as women worked long hours in factories.

In the late 19th century, the invention of both the typewriter and the telephone meant more jobs for women and finally, the professions were opened. The first woman to qualify as a dentist was Lilian Lindsay in 1895, and the first architect was Ethel Charles in 1898.

The dawn of technology

So much for the history lesson. But even as the 20th century dawned and women took on more varied roles, it was still unusual for married women to work. During the two world wars, this changed it had to and women took over the men’s jobs while they were away.  But things returned to ‘normal’ after the wars ended.

Into the 1960s, and new technology at home, like washing machines and hoovers, meant women had more time to leave the house. At the same time the economy changed, with the growing service industries that we would recognise today, creating more opportunities.

Mind the gap

So, women were doing the same jobs as men but being paid less. And although in the early 70’s, an equal pay act was passed and in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act followed, the suspicion remained that many employers didn’t want equal pay for women, because they thought they would lose money and that trade unions were against it too, thinking it would lower men’s wages.

Some industries introduced equal pay for women before others. Women’s wages in the civil service and teaching matched men’s wages in the 1950s. But despite changes in the law today in the 21st century, women in Britain are still, on average, employed in lower paid jobs than men and can struggle to reach leadership roles.

All this is in spite of the fact that many recent studies showed a link between more balanced gender distribution in a company’s management and its profitability. In fact, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation.

Why diversity works

So how does diversity in its broadest sense, affect success? Well, if you have a lot of a certain type of person, particularly in leadership roles, it’s fair to suggest that they will tend to think in the same way and make similar kinds of decisions. Fewer ideas are exchanged and this is inevitably limiting for your business in terms of what opportunities you might identify and pursue.

On the other hand, a group which reflects what’s going in the outside world will be able to identify a variety of problems and bring a completely different dynamic. Given how fast the world moves, anything you can do to help respond to changes and to thrive is going to help. So while business leaders might understand that diversity is vital to the future success of their business the impression throughout an organisation is the route to CEO will still be a challenge for those outside the traditional mould. We want to challenge this perception and as we’ve discussed, women have come a long way!! Hooray!

At Essentia Consulting Limited, we want to continue to promote the personal and professional development of female employees and our delivery stat’s confirm this across the business.