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Gender is a business issue

AT EBAY, hiring and promoting more women within the organisation is not a gender diversity issue; it’s a business issue. About half of our sellers and buyers are female, so while this is a talent concern, it’s also critical for helping us to get as close to our customers as possible.

We’re finding that it’s hard to attract great talent, even in tough economic times. Supporting and encouraging women professionally is important, as it should be to any smart business looking to attract the best people. This is why we have been working with the UK’s largest female business community, Everywoman, over the past 18 months to help us identify the three specific things we can do to help more women reach leadership positions.

Firstly, we are working to create a rich programme of mentoring and sponsorship in the business, pairing high-potential female employees to more senior women and men.

We have also created a dedicated women’s network in Europe, which has more than 350 members in more than 12 countries just two years after its launch. It is a grassroots initiative, run independently by a committee of more than 10, and it connects women across eBay Inc. to build and develop their own network, and focus on their professional development.

Finally, we have put in place development opportunities in leadership and in particular skill sets such as negotiation and presentation. The take-up has been encouraging and we are already starting to see the fruits of it, but we know that meaningful change will take time.

I’ll be speaking at the Everywoman of Influence Dinner this week. The event will bring together business leaders from across the UK to discuss the advancement of women in business. We are viewing this as a networking opportunity for our staff. Senior women and men in the company have been invited to attend with a more junior member of staff; we hope that this will act as an informal mentoring opportunity and expose less experienced colleagues to their own professional network.

We have also invited some of our top female eBay PowerSellers. We don’t see our promotion of women in business as restricted to just our employees. Facilitating women to get ahead professionally extends to our customers as well. As an online business, we thrive on change and on challenging ourselves as a business to do things differently.

For other organisations aware that they have work to do to increase the number and seniority of women in their organisation, rest assured: it doesn’t need significant financial investment – just a consistent focus on the right things. Focus on creating the right environment to grow talent. Encouraging and facilitating female staff to connect to other men and women will allow them to build a network of support for themselves. This should be multi-level: a great many people can play an important role in an individual’s development. Women need encouragement to network but also to hold on to and make the most of contacts.

This needs to happen at every level in the business; it’s as important for senior women as it is for young women coming up the career ladder. For women like me, who recognise that challenge and change are essential to their continued success, the Everywoman Club, for example, connects top women and provides a forum where we are able to share best practice, experiences and build strong business relationships.

Clare Gilmartin is vice-president of eBay Marketplaces, EU

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