Donne Burrows on the representation of women in the workplace

Women in the workplace and the road towards gender parity

For women working across the corporate landscape, the recent news that there are now more women CEOS of Fortune 500 companies than ever before would have been hard to miss with LinkedIn and Twitter feeds full of commentary on the great progress this represents. However, we still have a long way to go on the path towards achieving gender parity and improving the representation of women in the workplace, in particular women of colour. In response to these new figures, we asked Engine B’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, Donne Burrows, for her take on the announcement.

What is your reaction to this news? 

To be honest my heart sank a little! It is still such a low number even though we’ve now had many years of efforts to promote women (and women of colour) into senior roles. Whilst there are some great examples, such as Aedamar Cominsky recently being appointed chair of Linklaters, it is still nowhere near where we should be given women make up 50% of the population.

What more needs to be done to secure further progress for women in the workplace in years to come? 

There’s no single answer to this. Lots of initiatives in organisations to fast-track high potential women through the ranks definitely does help and is the way to having a larger pool of potential senior candidates to choose from. The reality, however, is that the decision-making process on who is appointed is generally still made by the same, mostly male, mostly white executives who have their own inbuilt biases surrounding who can do the job.

Women are still hugely disadvantaged in the workplace as they are the only ones who have to take time out to raise a family and this is proven to put them further down the career ladder than their male counterparts. Until society recognises the role of women in the workplace as equal to that of men, it is very difficult to challenge these norms in any meaningful way.

As an employer, how do you nurture and grow a pipeline of female talent? 

We try to have an equal balance of CVs from male and female candidates, although this is not always as balanced as we would like particularly in some of our technology roles where we see more female candidates for junior roles where they haven’t yet pulled through to senior positions. This will improve over time. We also recognise the roles that all of our team have outside of work and especially during the pandemic. We have supported our working parents who have had to undertake home schooling and other team members who have had increased caring responsibilities at home.

In your opinion, does the ‘glass ceiling’ still exist? 

It pains me to say it but yes, I do. I suspect this is different depending on the industry, but I do think that there is a ceiling that very few women can burst through because of the inbuilt societal, cultural, and organisational constraints that exist. I believe we will change this but it will take another generation before we really do burst this ceiling for all women. We must keep going!