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Tackling gender equity with Boardwave and Bain & Company

Gender equity is a hugely important topic for businesses today, both in Europe and beyond. It’s complex, multifaceted and often deeply personal, and requires sustained efforts across sectors, geographies and genders to achieve meaningful progress.

The evidence is clear. Companies with more women in executive positions outperform their peers. Despite this, women remain underrepresented in boardrooms worldwide.

That’s why we recently co-hosted a Boardwave Debate @Breakfast with Bain & Company to discuss the key issues around gender equity, to help us accelerate commercial success and reap the benefits of more balanced boards and workforces. We were lucky enough to have a room filled with action-orientated women and men ready to make a difference, including Bain & Company’s Jayne Zecha, and it’s safe to say that everyone came away brimming with energy and, importantly, ideas for how we can move forward.

For those of you who couldn’t make it, or who want to relive the event, take a look at what we covered below.

Gender equity as it stands

We discussed the current state of gender equity, particularly in relation to European businesses.

A major concern for our Members is the idea of tokenism. Our industry needs genuine investment and concern to address gender equity, and unconscious bias training as a tick-box exercise or introducing gender quotas with no further thought simply isn’t going to be effective. The room agreed that there is a wider programme of work required to drive broader cultural change - gender equity isn’t an issue with a quick-fix solution.

Data is a key part of the puzzle. Businesses need more transparency and data sharing around gender, such as the number of female Founders approaching VCs, getting to pitch, securing funding etc. It’s only with this data that we’ll understand the true situation as it stands and where we’re missing the mark. Current data shows that just 2% of all VC investment in Europe goes to female-founded businesses, showing that there is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure true gender equity.

Initial thoughts from Boardwave Members around the steps businesses must take to improve gender equity include:

● Developing the right hiring funnel to capture diverse talent and support them through the hiring process

● Making small changes, which are then sustained and kept on the long-term agenda

● Mentorship from leaders for diverse talent

● Ensuring the culture of the organisation is open to diverse ideas and voices

Talent acquisition and retention

Gender equity in businesses starts at the point of talent attraction and acquisition, and often factors into retention rates.

Bain & Company says that bold ambition and sufficient investment in an equitable talent journey is a vital step in ensuring gender equity, across recruiting, hiring, development, performance recognition and compensation and benefits - especially relevant given the 19% unadjusted gender pay gap in the European tech sector, rising to a shocking 26% in the UK.

Talent acquisition and diversity is harder for small businesses - in principle, it clearly makes no sense to exclude any talent, but the realities of needing a specific role immediately can overshadow the priority for diverse talent.

It’s also important to recognise that when hiring someone from a diverse background, they are most likely on a different journey, and will need different support to thrive - and this includes women in male-dominated sectors and businesses.

The need for experience can also pose a challenge in the talent and recruitment process - businesses should consider potential as well as previous experience, alongside finding ways to provide more women with the experience they need. Needing talent quickly means that the same type of profiles tend to get considered for roles, which often excludes women.

Board roles

Many women experience barriers to securing board roles, so to achieve gender equity, we must think of alternative options to the way boards are currently selected. For instance, board audits may help identify gaps in experience or expertise, or highlight male-dominated boards that would benefit from female input.

There may also be the potential for a woman to observe a board for a period, then get the support she needs to become a board member elsewhere.

Businesses currently leading the way in terms of gender equity on the board include Etsy, PagerDuty, Grubhub and SurveyMonkey, all of which have women comprising at least 50% of their boards.

Members also discussed the fact that buy-ins, in terms of shares, to get on boards can be exclusionary meaning women unfairly miss out on board positions.


The conversation turned to the value of ‘reverse mentoring’, where junior employees mentor senior employees to ensure that their voices are heard. While it can be highly effective, it’s important to ensure that it’s not a one-way conversation - both parties must be equally invested for the best chance of driving real change.

Another important consideration here is to avoid overloading diverse talent. There are often many asks on diverse members of the team, and asking or expecting them to do all the heavy lifting in conversations around diversity, inclusion and equity can be a burden - so any of these discussions must be handled sensitively and without asking too much of diverse talent.

Organisational culture

Many of the issues around gender equity stem from the overarching organisational culture, meaning it’s a big challenge for businesses to solve.

Nuances in behaviours can make a big impact, with the minority feeling excluded even if they’re given opportunities if they feel ‘othered’ or not included in the organisational culture.

According to Bain & Company, there are four key areas to consider for every organisation wishing to become more inclusive:

  1. Behaviours

  2. Structures, systems and processes

  3. Leadership and peer mindsets

  4. Rituals and norms

All of these factor into not making diverse talent feel like a minority in the organisation. Once you know what your diverse talent needs, you need to act upon it by providing the right support and embedding their journey into the business culture, ensuring everyone feels included and heard. Employees who feel fully included in their organisation’s culture are 6x more likely to stay, so it really does pay to focus on your DEI strategy!

So, what’s next?

Following two hours of lively debate and discussion, we came away with several action points from our Members and Bain & Company for the Boardwave Community:

● Establishing and encouraging mentoring cohorts across businesses

● Creating case studies about companies leading the way on diversity

● Supporting warm introductions on key topics

● Investing in DEI data infrastructure to understand the current state and track progress

● Sharing frequent updates on DEI efforts and outcomes with all stakeholders

● Installing high-velocity feedback loops to accelerate learning, progress and transparency

● Continuing the conversation!

Want to get involved? We’d love for you to join our gender equity working groups - all genders welcome! Just contact to get involved and together, we will work towards solutions for some of the biggest challenges in gender equity today, along with the role we all have to play in making sure people of all genders have a seat at the table and their voices are heard.


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