Addressing gender disparity and empowering women to thrive in their careers

Posted on Friday, March 8, 2024 by Andrea Prendergast

A long way to go for gender equality in business

When Callum and I became Co-owners of Ryder Reid in 2018, we took the time to really think about our values and establish how we were going to ensure that as a business we continue to contribute positively to the world around us. As a gender-balanced organisation originally founded by two pioneering women (at a time when purely female-led businesses were rare!), pushing forward with workplace equality, diversity and inclusion has always been an absolute given for us, and this is something Callum and I have continued to instil in the way we and our team work every single day.

Gender equality at work is not just about hiring an equal number of women as men and paying them the same – it’s about making a career possible for all genders, and it’s about inclusion. Which is also this year’s International Women’s Day theme #InspireInclusion! As a working mum of two girls, who has for the last 24 years witnessed women battling prejudice, bias and many other obstacles in their careers and in the workplace (obstacles our male counterparts just do not face), I make it my business to do what I can to help limit these challenges for future women in business.

There’s the motherhood penalty, which means new mothers experience a 60% drop in earnings compared to fathers in the decade following the birth of a first child, alongside multiple other disadvantages. There’s the Gender Pay Gap and the fact women are still paid significantly less than men for equal work – we’re currently earning around 85p for every man’s £1!

This is before you get to the day in day out lack of support for women’s diverse needs. For example menstruation and menopause, both of which can leave women too debilitated to work, but neither of which are currently covered in the Equality Act (although the ERHC recently reinforced guidance to employers, which was a great step). For a perimenopausal woman in her 40s like me, this is a scary reality. I want to do what I can to prevent younger women coming up having to carry this burden or worry about managing the needs of their bodies against the demands of their work, unsupported and unrecognised. At Ryder Reid we have a menopause policy, however it’s not yet legislation for businesses to do this and currently only 20% have one.

There’s also the pressure women feel to conform to certain behaviours in order to hold down a career and get ahead at work. In my earlier days as a Recruitment Consultant there was an unspoken feeling that adopting stereotypically “male” characteristics would help a woman to get ahead. A 2022 Harvard Business Review article said “Masculine defaults are a form of gender bias in which characteristics and behaviours typically associated with men are rewarded and considered standard practice… this might include being self-oriented, independent, assertive, competitive, or risk-taking.”*

I definitely felt the need to adopt some of these qualities earlier in my career, although thankfully this seems to be a pressure that younger women are slowly shrugging off. The push for diversity and inclusion in recent years has shifted things along in terms of more people recognising that everyone should be empowered to show up to work as themselves - including women. I see more and more young women coming to Ryder Reid with the awareness and confidence to be who they are and to set their stall out, and businesses should be prepared for this positive shift in the mindset of their female candidates.

Changing the tide

I am privileged to be in a role which enables me to make active change within my sphere of influence, specifically within the business I lead and in the lives of the women I support. In the Recruitment industry, less than 30% of board members are women, despite 41% of the force being female. This clearly shows the gap in opportunity and we rally against this when progressing our own team of brilliant Recruitment Consultants. One of whom, Gemma, celebrates 12 years with us this year. In that time, Gemma has progressed from reception to Head of Legal, and we’ve been delighted to empower, promote, and elevate her exactly as she’s deserved to be, and we’ve loved seeing her unlock her talent and potential.

This internal approach extends to our candidates who are the core of our business. We’re dedicated to recruiting from a wide pool of talent, regardless of gender, background or education, and give everyone who comes to us an anonymous Equal Opportunity form which enables us to monitor who we attract and improve how we’re working to ensure everyone has a fair go. I know this to be especially important in the legal industry because the sector is still very much male-dominated. Although there’s now an equal weighting of female lawyers, The Law Society’s annual survey found that still women comprise just 35% of Partner roles*, which is indicative of a systematic and persistent gender bias.

At Ryder Reid we take the time to find out about our candidate’s diverse needs, because it’s crucial to helping them secure the right role for them. This is something which is especially relevant to women who might, for example, need flexible working patterns to manage their work alongside their domestic responsibilities (a juggle which research tells us women are still bearing the brunt of*!) We also run an annual salary survey, in which we provide our clients with transparency about salaries to ensure equal opportunities for all candidates. Meanwhile all of our own team are remunerated equally based on performance.

Empowering, inspiring and celebration - a call to action

It is crucial that as individuals we take steps to rally against all workplace inequality within our sphere of influence. In the recruitment industry we have an opportunity to directly impact another woman’s life by empowering her in her career, and I urge every professional in the sector to make it a priority to take the time to understand the women they support and the additional challenges they face, and to advocate and advocate and advocate for them.

Whether that’s picking up the phone to a distressed candidate and being her cheerleader when she needs it, advocating for a mother getting back into work after raising her kids on maternity leave, or celebrating a female member of your team. It all makes a difference. This is an approach we drill into our team at Ryder Reid, so that our female clients and candidates experience the recognition and support they deserve.

The flip side of witnessing the pain points women experience in their careers is that I’m lucky to be continually inspired by those who overcome them. I am regularly bowled over by the strength of the women who come to us looking for work – up against it and struggling for all sorts of reasons, but determined to go out and find a job that will meet their needs and unlock their potential. I love that we get to play a part in transforming these women’s lives for the better by helping them to secure a role they deserve and that works for them and their families.

This Women’s History Month I’m taking the opportunity to celebrate the most inspirational women I’ve been privileged enough to work with over the years - starting with our own team member Keira, who overcame rejection as a young candidate and went onto have a glowing career alongside IVF and becoming a mother to two autistic children. The more stories like this that we can share, the more change we can make. I hope you enjoy reading about Keira’s inspiring and empowering journey!

Written by Andrea Prendergast, Ryder Reid Legal co-owner and Executive Search Director. Andrea started her recruitment career in 1998 in her hometown of Liverpool. She moved to London and joined Ryder Reid in 2008, becoming a director and shareholder three years later, before buying the business in 2018 with Callum Smith, Ryder Reid Legal Business Director.


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