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Why Improve Female Representation in Middle Management?

Female representation on UK business management boards in increasing but there are far fewer female employees from entry level positions reaching middle management roles. Why is this an issue to business leaders and what are the benefits of improving this? Also, how can your business look to make active steps to change this? We spoke to Dr Chinny Nzekwe-Excel, Associate Professor of Enterprise and Corporate Development at Birmingham City University Business School to get her thoughts.

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Why Improve Female Representation in Middle Management?

Female representation on UK business management boards in increasing but there are far fewer female employees from entry level positions reaching middle management roles. Why is this an issue to business leaders and what are the benefits of improving this? Also, how can your business look to make active steps to change this? We spoke to Dr Chinny Nzekwe-Excel, Associate Professor of Enterprise and Corporate Development at Birmingham City University Business School to get her thoughts.

The Changing Business Landscape

Over the last decade there has been growing progress to improve female representation across businesses, with 39% of female representation on boards in FTSE 100 companies in 2022.  

However, progress across businesses as a whole remains slow, with companies failing to boost representation to the same level in middle management and executive roles, with only 30% of these roles in the UK, taken up by women.

In certain sectors the representation is even lower with just one in seven tech sector middle managers identifying as female.  

Why is Female Representation in Middle Management Lower? 

Dr Chinny Nzekwe-Excel at Birmingham City Business School states’ Reasons may be varied depending on the sector, gender bias and individual preferences.’

Gender-bias in promotions is a serious issue, with men more likely to be approved for promotions through an organisation, even in female-dominated industries such as nursing. This gender-bias can lead to less confidence in female employees, less training opportunities and less female employees applying (or being encouraged to apply) for job promotion opportunities in the first place. 

Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of women’s networking organisation AllBright raises the lack of female networks as a key challenge – ‘Women need networks. They need coaching. They need mentors’.  This is part of a wider issue around access to positive female role models in organisations.

57% of women in UK businesses believe having a relatable role model is crucial to further career success, with less than half of female professionals believing there are female leaders in their organisation they can relate to. 

 Experts also argue that ‘Queen Bee Syndrome’ may play a role, with senior female leaders distancing themselves from juniors due to threat perception and adopting perceived male characteristics needed to be successful in a male-biased office environment.  

‘Some may argue that females are comparatively reticent towards taking risks that open up opportunities to advance to middle management positions.’ states Dr Chinny. ‘Nonetheless…organisations need to put some practical measures in place, which validate their acknowledgement of the value of females in leadership and middle management roles.’

The Impact of Underrepresentation in Middle Management

‘Considering that several organisations acknowledge the benefits of having females on leadership and middle management positions, it is a puzzle why females are under-represented in these positions in industries.’ states Dr Chinny.

‘Essentially, the low or lower representation of females in middle management roles in businesses may mean that businesses are not leveraging the full potentials of all individuals alike for the purpose of boosting their growth in all aspects of the business such as engaging with clients/customers, empowering their workforce, advancing their operational & financial strategies and ensuring a sustainable business.’

Underrepresentation in middle management isn’t something that can be wiped under the carpet, it can adversely impact your business performance leading to: 

  • Failure to meet workforce goals – Middle managers play an influential role in shaping the hiring of the workforce, without better representation in this area, it can lead to business leaders struggling to meet their overall workforce representation aspirations.  
  • Declining workforce engagement – Without this better representation, it can also lead to a decline in engagement in middle management for workplace diversity change, making the process increasingly difficult for business leaders.  
  • Continuing drop off of female staff – Ongoing underrepresentation in middle management continues to lead to a large drop off in female representation with a 7% drop off in female representation when individuals in entry level roles are promoted up into management.  

What are the Benefits of Better Representation in Middle Management?

Greater representation can not only improve your diversity but it can improve your business success and productivity through: 

  • Improved decision-making and problem solving – greater diversity is known to improve responses to a particular problem, improving decision making and innovation.  
  • Diversity of perspectives –  greater diversity in perspective helps ensure everyone in the company feels represented and improves employee wellbeing.  
  • Avoidance of groupthink – improve diversity limits groupthink which can lead to decisions being made irrationally or without good thought.  

How can Businesses Improve Their Middle Management?

There are various management approaches a business can take to improve representation at this level, thought could include: 

  • Female-led mentoring – senior female figures mentoring junior female workers helps to break down barriers in perception but also offer those individuals role models for career progression. Female workers mentoring male employees is also an opportunity to share a greater understanding of perceptions across the business and help with improving fairness across the business. 
  • Review the gender pay gap – is there a gender pay gap in your business? Reviewing this and giving equal salaries to people of all genders in your business is one effective way of addressing inequalities. 
  • Improve focus on work-life balance – are childcare issues adversely impacting your female employees taking up management positions? How can your business put procedures in place to address this? This is just one of the challenges you can tackle by focusing on a work-life balance review in your business. 

And what of Dr Chinny’s thoughts on this? ‘Having an effective transparent support system to enable and empower females to take on strategic, leadership and middle management positions is something that needs to be clearly in place. Governmental laws and regulations may also play a role towards improving female representation in such roles/positions.’

So it’s clear that middle management matters and having a process of improving and a system can make a massive difference to your employees and your business.

Are you a business leader interested in finding out how you can improve your management practices to improve better representation and performance in middle management? Find out how the Help To Grow Management programme, delivered by Dr Chinny Nzekwe-Excel can help you improve your workforce management techniques.

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