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How HR leaders can combat gender inequity

We explore how HR leaders can help women to assume senior leadership roles across.

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HR’s role in the fight for workplace gender equality was a key discussion topic at SHRM24

Human Resources (HR) is one of the few female-dominated sectors worldwide, with women accounting for 71% of HR professionals and 86% of HR generalists. Despite this, HR leaders have a crucial role still to play in combating the persistent gender inequity in the global workforce.

A US poll run in 2023, surveying HR workers in the United States, showed that 87% of men held managerial roles or higher, compared to 70% of women. Men were also more likely to earn six figures, with 56% of men stating that they earned $100,000 or more annually, compared to 38% of women. Additionally, 21% of women reported earning less than $50,000 a year, compared to 11% of men.

In the same year in the UK, a poll run by the Young Women’s Trust showed that one in seven HR decision-makers viewed men as better-suited to top jobs. In fact, close to one in five stated that they were reluctant to hire women whom they perceived as having the potential to start families.

This year, the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2024’ shows that female employment rates have risen globally. However, progress for women has slowed overall, with pay equality forecast to take five generations to achieve at current rates. The World Bank estimates that closing gender gaps in areas such as employment and entrepreneurship has the potential to increase global gross domestic product by 20%. However, to date, Iceland remains the only country to have closed more than 90% of its gender pay gap.

It is evident that while women hold the majority of roles within HR, sexist attitudes and pay disparities within the sector persist. These inequalities and what HR leaders can do to reverse negative trends and ensure equity, were key topics of discussion at this year’s Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s annual conference.


At the end of June, several members of the Mauve Group team travelled to Chicago, USA, to attend what is the world’s largest HR convention, and an annual staple on the Mauve Group calendar for the past 11 years.

Speaking at SHRM this year, Jennifer Broerman Spencer, Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Lenovo, noted that in order to ensure organisational success, HR departments must focus on diversity at all levels.

Spencer is speaking from experience. Sharing her thoughts on a panel entitled ‘Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders: Lenovo’s Trailblazing Women Leadership Program’, Spencer explained that in 2014, HR leaders within Lenovo noted that the number of women in executive roles was declining. In response to this, the company took intentional action to combat the declining number of female leaders.

Spencer described a “broken rung on the corporate ladder”, which resulted in women failing to progress into the senior management roles, which precede higher roles such as CEO and CFO positions. Lenovo committed to ensuring greater numbers of women began entering these roles.

SHRM notes that since its implementation, 170 women in eight cohorts have completed Lenovo’s ‘Women’s Leadership Development Programme’, with 41% achieving subsequent promotions, The company has now had three women vice presidents, and 22% of executive roles within Lenovo are held by women.

Women in leadership at Mauve Group

Following its inception in 1996, Mauve Group has placed significant emphasis on supporting women in leadership. With CEO Ann Ellis at its helm since day one, the contributions of Mauve Group’s majority female staff have been valued and their success and progression within the company facilitated in a number of ways.

Mauve Group was the pioneer of the flexible working arrangements which have become the norm post-pandemic. Mauve has been offering remote, hybrid, and flexible working options since its early years. This approach has allowed and continues to allow its team members to manage work alongside the familial and caring commitments, which so often exclude women from the workforce or prevent them from holding full-time positions.

In 2022, CEO Ann Ellis won the ‘Women in Business’ award at the Go Global Awards in Tallinn, Estonia. In response to the win, Ellis highlighted Mauve Group's drive to improve female business opportunities through more accommodating and equal workplaces, saying:

"As a female founder, I hope this award inspires more women to turn their ideas into international businesses. It symbolises the push to improve flexibility and equity in the global workplace – we want to spearhead a new era of work that gives women greater opportunity in business."

Mauve Group’s new Directors

In July of 2024, the company announced three new Director roles, each of which is held by a female staff member. Lorna Ferrie, Joanna Hart, and Annette Ord join the organisation’s team of Directors, each arriving to the role with decades of experience in global business expansion from their tenure at Mauve Group.

With 17, 20, and 23 respective years at the company, each new Director brings a dynamic skillset and clear vision for their department.

Mauve Group’s commitment to investing in and supporting its female staff is evidenced by the fact that its Director and Senior Leadership teams - which are spread across more than five countries – are largely female-led, with women comprising over 60% of the senior leadership team and 75% of director-level roles.

How HR leaders can combat gender inequity

Taking the lead from companies such as Lenovo and Mauve Group, and adopting the necessary dedicated systems and processes to support female staff, HR leaders have the power to make serious strides towards gender equity in the workplace.

HR leaders should commit to paving the way for women in their organisations to enter leadership roles as easily as their male counterparts, by ensuring consistent career progression opportunities for female staff.

Ensuring gender quotas are met, flexible working arrangements are offered where necessary, and outdated attitudes are challenged are all ways in which HR leaders can have a positive impact on gender equity in the workplace.

How Mauve can help

Mauve Group have pioneered flexible working and have a long-held commitment to supporting women in the workplace. If you’re seeking to ensure equity in your global hiring processes, our Salary Benchmarking service can help. Our experts benchmark local salaries, expectations, and appropriate benefits in the location in which you wish to hire. This ensures that you are offering fair and competitive remuneration packages to your staff, no matter where in the world they are.

Contact our team today to find out more.