By Phil Sproston, Region Manager UK and Ireland, Top Employers Institute
By Phil Sproston, Region Manager UK and Ireland, Top Employers Institute

How to #BreakTheBias: Impactful actions to take for International Women’s Day

There are some inspiring examples of gender equality in business today, says Phil Sproston, Region Manager (UK and Ireland) at Top Employers Institute. Now it is up to others to take similar actions.

Tuesday 8th March marks International Women’s Day (IWD), a day celebrating the many achievements of women. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, because gender inequality persists, despite over a century of IWD and the many initiatives it inspires.

Research by McKinsey in September 2021 revealed that although women’s representation had improved across all levels of corporate leadership, large and stubborn gaps in the promotion pipeline remain. Promotions at the “first step up” to manager, for example, were clearly not equitable. Part of the problem lies in measurement, with other research suggesting that although more than 90 percent of companies track women’s overall representation, less than two-thirds (65%) track gender differences in promotion rates.

For enlightened businesses, IWD gives an opportunity to renew their focus on gender equality, with initiatives that last long after the day itself is over. Our latest research shows that among our 84 certified UK Top Employer organisations, nearly all (96%) say they ensure gender equality in their organisations.

So how do certified UK Top Employers work to #BreakTheBias in their organisations, when so many others struggle?

Career Support

UK Top Employer Pfizer, aims to build diversity, equity, and inclusion into every level of its business. Closing the gender pay gap is a key priority at Pfizer, the gap is the result of an unequal distribution of men and women across different levels of the business. Their strategy to close this gap includes a commitment, amongst other initiatives, to building a career support programme. Its purpose has been to enable colleagues to find clarity, momentum, and direction in making career choices. One challenge was that colleagues were not able to articulate their successes effectively. As a result, they missed out on opportunities and suffered a lack of self-confidence when pursuing others.

The business created a series of workshops to stimulate colleagues to lead, think, act and communicate effectively around their careers. One workshop encouraged colleagues to feel confident about showcasing their achievements. Another empowered colleagues to be inspirational to others, to be more courageous, pro-active, risk-taking and empathetic. And a third equipped colleagues to use facts to demonstrate the impact & value of their role.

Promotion Opportunities

These and other initiatives have clearly had a positive impact on women in the Pfizer workforce. The gender pay gap has more than halved in the last three years - coming down from 15.9% in 2018 to 7.5% in 2021. And crucially, the business has seen a significant increase in women applying for management roles, as well as an increase in those hired for senior roles.

Another UK Top Employer, Ageas, has established its Women in Insurance (WIN) programme, which provides female colleagues with the skills, capabilities and confidence to put themselves forward for future leadership opportunities. Its “in-house” support and development programme, consisting of interactive workshops and 1:2:1 coaching sessions, ensures that the business continues to develop women for promotion. The results here are also highly encouraging, with some 157 women having completed the WIN programme since its inception in 2016, with 25% subsequently being promoted.

Inspiration through Representation

UK Top Employer Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has been busy creating a culture of belonging, with a big focus on shifting the dial towards gender diversity. In the UK, it has an ambitious plan to significantly increase the IT Industry’s average of only 17% female representation.

TCS’s key initiatives include:

  • Inspiring girls and women to study STEM subjects and explore careers in the digital sector. Its flagship programmes, “Digital Explorers” and “goIT”, have 41% and 45% female representation respectively.
  • Transforming recruitment procedures to attract more women at the entry level, with currently close to 40% women filling junior roles.
  • Launching new initiatives to help retain and develop female employees to help them progress.

One TCS flagship programme has been iExcel, an executive education programme for high-potential women leaders. Nearly a thousand women leaders have completed iExcel, resulting in significant gains in role mobilisation, upward progression, engagement and retention. Another programme, STAR Mentoring, supports diverse high-potential talent by providing them with an executive mentor for six months. And a third, UK Calling, invites women working for TCS globally to apply for leadership roles in the UK and Ireland.

The power of the network

Employee Networks have also made a significant impact on TCS. These include “The Hive” Employee Network, TCS’s gender diversity network. This enables its members to share different career growth opportunities as well as network, with special tailored sessions focused on supporting women within the organisation. And the “TCS NOW - Network of Outstanding Women”, was created to provide women associates with a platform to seek personal and professional support from each other.

Top Employer Wipro UK has also found success through its employee networks with a programme called “Mentorship Circle” for its female employees. This is a company endorsed (but employee-driven) programme that aims to give easy access to mentoring. Approximately 60 female employees have volunteered to be part of the mentoring circle. Their range of activities includes creating awareness of ways of working and navigation within the organisational set up for women employees, guidance for career streams and discussion of “beyond work” issues that affect participants.


In UK businesses more widely, awareness is only slowly turning into real and effective action. While these are inspirational examples of how to #BreakTheBias through practical action, there need to be many more. For all businesses, International Women’s Day remains as a sobering reminder that although progress has been made, many challenges to gender equality persist.