Harvir Sangha, the entrepreneur challenging gender balance in the workplace

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year the theme is #BalanceforBetter. It’s about finding ways to improve the gender balance across the world. And workplaces are the front line.

It’s no secret women are under-represented across professions in Britain. Only a quarter of FTSE 100 board members are female, and two-thirds of MPs are men. The ratio of women in leadership roles is terrible – just one in five.

And whilst discrimination undoubtedly plays a role, there’s a more practical factor also at work. Young professionals are thriving in the early stages of their career but women often find themselves to be held back if they decide to have children.

They want to return to work, and employers desperately need their talent, but a lack of flexible working options limit their careers.

“It’s baffling,” says Harvir, founder of a new flexible-working platform for women called Doyenne. “Women make up almost 50 per cent of the workforce, but often the further up an organisation you look, the less women you’ll see. One major reason is that women decide to have children, and then for a variety of reasons – sometimes out of choice and sometimes not – we may end up either taking a career break or demoting ourselves. We need more women present in the talent pipeline so that eventually we can see more in leadership positions.”

Harvir created Doyenne to help address this problem. The platform has a jobs board that lists mid-senior level roles that all offer some form of flexibility so that women have the opportunity to apply knowing that flexibility is on the table. “The word Doyenne means the most respected woman in her field,” says Harvir. “Leadership words are often associated with men, I want to promote a word that empowers women”.

The idea is simple. She’s offering employers access to a vast pool of untapped talent. Women with exceptional skills and experience are either not in the workforce or not progressing their career due to a need for flexible arrangements. Employers with the right attitude can reap the benefits via Doyenne.

“There’s research to show that flexible workers are actually more productive and loyal employees ” says Harvir. “And the flexible approach works for everyone, not just mothers.”

The OECD agrees. A 2016 paper called Be Flexible! looked at how the Nordic nations outperform rivals by using flexible working. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark lead the world on economic productivity – and co-incidentally also rank highest for flexibility. In Sweden, parents of both sexes are allowed 16 months of paid leave at 80 percent of their salary. Dads often take an equal allocation, building happier families and eroding the maternity gap.

McKinsey, a consultancy, calculates bridging the gender gap could add 840,000 female employees to the British workforce, and increase GDP by £150 billion.

Harvir believes Doyenne can help in many ways. “We are working with a partner to deliver online training packages, especially for mothers who have been out of the workforce for a while. There will be a private forum where they can access peer support and professional help. It is like LinkedIn for women.”

As the founder, Harvir is a great role model herself. She was driven to set up Doyenne after becoming a new mother and finding that her desire to progress her career and not return to a full-time office-based role seemed to be at odds with each other.

“If I could get back one hour a day? With an 18 months baby who’s awake most of the night? I’d sleep! Is that a really bad answer?”

She chose Tide to open her business bank account to help her cope with the demands of being an entrepreneur.

“I asked around and browsed various business groups for the best business banking option and I heard Tide mentioned a ton of times.”

The user experience appeals to her. “I like the fact that the app is really simple and straightforward. Costs are categorised into different colours within the app. I just login and see the bright yellow showing my clients paying me, which is always a good feeling.”

And the extra services offered by Tide are useful. “I don’t have the most user-friendly accounting software that comes free through my accountant,” she laments. “So I much prefer looking at Tide.” Tide’s account reader gives Harvir’s accountant ongoing read-only access to her transactions, so they can help whenever is necessary.

For Harvir, the mission to build Doyenne into an industry-changing force for good is a personal crusade: “Too many women leave the workforce for a few years and then feel like they’ve lost skills and are out of touch. I felt like there has to be alternative. There has to be more for women.”

On this International Women’s Day this is a cause – and an entrepreneur – truly worth celebrating.

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