Empowering Equality: The Impact of Employee Ownership on Gender Diversity in Business

Employee ownership provides a fairer model that’s statistically shown to create fairer, more welcoming workplaces.

As the voice of the EO sector, and with women making up two thirds of our own staff, we embody, promote, and champion the values of International Women’s Day every day.

But the day offers a valuable opportunity to take stock of where we are as a society – and just how far we still need to go.

Stark Data

Data reveals, unsurprisingly, that most business owners in our economy are white, cisgendered men.

The Longitudinal Small Business Survey shows that more than 93% of SME business owners in the UK are white, while the UK Female Entrepreneur Index reports that only 16% of UK SME business owners identify as women.

Perhaps the starkest figure comes from the latest ‘Women, Business, and the Law’ report from the World Bank. It found that not a single country in the world has equality for working women.

Employee ownership (EO) helps address this inequality by spreading ownership across a variety of diverse groups within a business.

Our data demonstrates that employee owned businesses (EOBs) are more than twice as likely than their counterparts to have diversity and inclusion policies in place. This includes gender pay gaps and representation in senior roles.

Elevating Women’s Voices

We spoke to a few of the female senior leaders in the EOA community to understand how a variety of EOBs from across different industries are empowering women.

Martina Höfner – Operations Director, Esteem Training

Esteem Training were established in 1986 by Trudy MacKenzie and specialise in delivering leadership and management training and Modern Apprenticeships to the construction industry. It made the move to EO in 2022.

EOA: Tell us about your founder.

MH: Our Founder Trudy MacKenzie had a vision to set up a business that would grow and develop individuals and that culture of nurturing and inclusion remains today. We encourage our team to work flexibly, without affecting their career progression.

EOA: What does your Board structure look like?

MH: The Esteem Training Limited Board is made up of five individuals and is 80% female. It is vital our Directors and Board are diversity champions and lead from the front. As a Director and Board member, I strive to be an inspiring role model in supporting employees to develop themselves, seek new opportunities and to work flexibly, which we know positively impacts females.

EOA: How can more women be welcomed into construction?

MH: Within our Construction industry, women are chronically underrepresented, roughly 15% of the Construction workforce.  There are several practical measures organisations can put to work, such as flexible working, considering implementing a 4-day week, providing role models in senior positions, coaching and mentoring as well as continued education and engagement around equality and diversity.

EOA: How has Esteem Training helped create a fairer workplace?

MH: We want our employees to feel valued and introduced a contractual 4-day working week in 2020, with no reduction in pay. Furthermore, In 2022, we became 100% employee owned, demonstrating our commitment to our team and building a business that we can all be proud of.

We believe our employee ownership status sends a clear message to any prospective employees, that the business is run for its employees and all have a vested interest.  Around 25% of UK households are single parent households (90% led by mothers) and we believe that by operating with more flexible working hours and practices, and implementing a four-day-week, we stand ourselves in the best possible position to attract talented females into Esteem Training.

Joan McCoy – Director, White Ink Architects

White Ink is an employee-owned RIBA Chartered Architectural practice – primarily providing Architectural services to clients, developers and contractors throughout the UK, Ireland and further afield in both the public and private sectors.

EOA: Tell us a bit more about the role of women at White Ink

JM: As creators of the built environment, we believe it is critical that it is designed by people who reflect the diversity of those who use it – and we are proud that over 50% of our employees and 40% of our management team are female.

EOA: How do you inspire and empower women?

JM: We actively encourage our team to become ambassadors for working in architecture and construction. One example is our participation in the ‘Sisters IN’ programme. One of our female associates is supported in outreach work in Cambodia where she is mentoring a young female architect.

We provide training and support for both professional and personal development and encourage wider participation in the construction industry.

EOA: How has employee ownership further elevated women at White Ink?

JM: We have taken on board feedback and we share information on how the practice is performing, a dialogue we are using to grow and evolve and make it clear there is opportunity for more individuals to progress within the practice . Our team members on maternity leave regularly use KIT days to join us on EO days for lunch and updates on the business and to catch up with colleagues.

Our in-house Employee Forum is majority female at present, led by our current female Employee Trustee, providing a platform for employees at all stages of their career, to improve the business, culture and community of the practice and to provide leadership around what it means to be an Employee Owner.