International Women's Day: A global celebration of inclusion, talent and diversity

This Friday marks International Women’s Day – a great time to reflect on the importance of gender balance, both for economies and communities to thrive.

Recent research from McKinsey has found that organisations with a healthy gender balance are 21% more likely to outperform their competitors. Previous Women and Work Commission reports have also shown that unleashing women’s full potential could be worth £23 billion a year to the Exchequer.

Meanwhile, a Leeds University Business School report found that having at least one female director on the board appears to cut a company’s chances of going bust by about 20%. Clearly having a diverse and balanced workforce works.

At O2, we are on a mission to create an open and inclusive culture, from top to bottom. As a customer led organisation, it’s vital that we have a diverse and balanced workforce that reflects and understands the needs of our 25 million customers.

We support our women from the start of their careers, right through to the executive team, where, last year, we achieved 50/50 gender parity.

With this week also marking National Apprenticeship Week we’re opening up applications for our next cohort of apprentices – another area of the business where we see full gender parity. We want to bring as many women into STEM as we can and working with women at the start of their careers is a huge part of this.

In recent years, we also implemented our Career Returners programme, something we spoke about with Channel 4 at the end of last year. Designed to bring female and male talent back into the workplace, giving those that have had a career break, typically to care for their family, the confidence to return.

Our returnship programme is now into its third year with 100% of our latest cohort taking on roles within O2 which is fantastic. What’s more, nearly all of those that have taken on roles with us have opted for full-times positions, something many women don’t think they can do when they first join the programme. This has demonstrated to us just how impactful our flexible working culture is.

I’m proud to be bringing so many talented women back into the workforce. A failure to attract women back into senior roles in the workplace is accentuating the gender imbalance within businesses, particularly in the tech sector.

Programmes like returnships are so important in addressing this, not least because according to a report from think-tank Radix, a lack of older women working is costing the UK economy £50bn a year.

For an issue as important as diversity and seeking balance in the workplace it’s critical that we don’t work in isolation though. From hosting Think Tanks with other HR teams to the work we do with BT, Ericsson and Vodafone encouraging female students to consider a STEM career, we want to help women succeed in the workplace.

While International Women’s Day is, of course, a fantastic way to call on people around the world to celebrate women and champion for further equality it’s important we continue that conversation year round. Only when the workforce is filled with unique and talented individuals, will we, as a business and a country, reach our full potential.