Gender diversity and addressing barriers to increase female representation is a key issue for many sectors and industries and unfortunately it seems that - despite policies and commitments to push forward the gender equality agenda - an abundance of data and statistics show that only marginal progress has been made in the past years.

The 2020 annual Female FTSE Board Report found that, while voluntary targets have boosted gender diversity on boards, there are still too few women in leadership positions to drive long-term change – and, perhaps all the more concerning, this lack of representation at the top could be having a knock-on effect on the number of women in the executive pipeline. The 2020 report found that female representation on boards has increased – but mainly at a non-executive level. Indeed, few women continue to be appointed to senior roles with just five women CEOs, eight women Chairs and 21 women Senior Independent Directors in the FTSE 100.

Since the report was published, we have endured the Covid-19 pandemic with women disproportionally affected by a pandemic that has shone a spotlight on social, gender and racial disparities.

According to McKinsey, the pandemic and it’s economic fallout has had a regressive effect on gender equality. In addition, recent analysis points to a lack of gender balance in Covid-19 crisis management structures and decision making. Research covering 87 UN member states shows that only 3.5% of 115 identified COVID-19 decision-making and expert task forces have gender parity in their membership, while in 85.2% of task forces the majority are men. Additional research by CARE, highlights that the majority of national-level committees established to respond to Covid-19 do not have equal female-male representation. Of the countries surveyed who had established such committees, 74% had fewer than one-third female membership, and only one committee was fully equal. On average, women made up 24% of the committees.

As the world recovers from crisis and disruption on a scale the majority of us have never previously experienced, now is the time to be driving innovation and ensuring solutions to complex issues are truly workable. We know that an inclusive and diverse workforce is an innovative and holistic workforce, which helps to ensure organisations and societies are resilient. But are we doing enough to ensure that we are putting targets and initiatives into practice?

Research has shown that while improvements have certainly been made there is still more that needs to be done – particularly if we are to address the skills gap and ensure the most talented individuals are being attracted – and retained – across a spectrum of roles and industries.

As challenges – and the technologies required to address them – emerge at speed, the need to have a wide-ranging, skilled workforce will only become more pressing. It is vital that we ensure there is gender balance in our workplaces and industries to not only address fairness and biases, but also to safeguard the holistic perspectives that gender representation, and diversity more widely, can bring.

We all need to continue to further the debate, increase the academic focus on gender-related issues, and challenge gender stereotypes so that everyone, in all their diversity, can pursue their chosen career and have opportunities to thrive and lead on an equal basis.

That’s why in this issue of Alumni Matters we examine the progress that has been made when it comes to addressing gender parity across a variety of industries – along with the challenges that remain and the value that prioritising true diversity and inclusion can bring, both to businesses and when it comes to solving key societal issues.

Included in this issue:

  • Gender, civil-military relations and peacekeeping: Dr Ava Patricia Avila (PhD Defence and Security 2017) shares her insights on the integration of gender perspectives in civil-military relations and peacekeeping and the importance of visibility of women in leadership roles.
  • Supporting early career women in the water industry. As the water sector faces an increasing number of challenges, attracting and retaining the best talent is key – and a vital part of this is encouraging more women to aspire to exciting careers in the industry.
  • Research has shown that women in aviation tend to be underrepresented in technical and leadership roles. Discover the five actions that organisations can take to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry.
  • The negative impact of unrealistic ‘perfect’ images on social media and in advertising is an issue that doesn’t just affect women and girls, it affects men and boys too. But research has shown that, despite the negative impact of such images, consumers want to seem them. Marketers need to build awareness of their audience’s dilemma into their strategies, says Dr Tamira King, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Marketing and Sales, as shares her thoughts on the impact of advertising and social media on body image.
  • Inspiring the next generation of engineering heroes: as part of International Women in Engineering Day 2021, Cranfield has launched its ‘engineering heroes’ activity – encouraging children to get involved with a range of engineering-related activities.

We hope you enjoy this eNewsletter.