Do companies actually believe in gender equality?

Diversity programmes may be great to pad out the CSR page on your website, but be ready to practise what you preach.

by Gabriel Phillips
Last Updated: 15 Nov 2016

In one of Jeremy Corbyn's latest mea culpa moments, he called for small firms to report their gender pay gaps, claiming that women were overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs.

You first, came the unsurprising response.

Corbyn refused. Curiosity piqued, The Times then obtained and published the figures, revealing that men occupied all the senior roles in Corbyn's team while women were relegated to the lowest paid positions. Oh dear.

Here it seemed was yet another example of someone paying lip service to equality, without themselves acting in a meaningful way to bring it about.

Hypocrisy starts at home

Diversity problems are hardly limited to politics, of course. Business has its own share of embarrassing stats and stories.

Take our supposedly enlightened cousins in Silicon Valley. Facebook and Twitter are happy to talk about the importance of diversity, but only 16% and 13% of their tech roles respectively are occupied by women.

Many seem to work under the false assumption that there aren’t enough qualified women to work or even talk about the lack of gender diversity in the sector. A recent panel on ‘Gender Equality and Inclusion at the workplace’ hosted by PayPal failed to include a single woman speaker while Michael Moritz, the CEO of Sequoia Capital, said that the company was not willing to ‘lower their standards’ for the sake of diversity.

The difference is that, while some businesses limit themselves to making a song and dance about their ethical 'successes', others actually admit their shortcomings and try to fix them.

Facebook dedicates millions of dollars to build communities that support underrepresented groups in the technology sector. Twitter, meanwhile, has committed itself to a list of diversity targets for 2016 such as more diverse interview panels and having targeted recruiting at American colleges and universities.

Some companies have admirably taken responsibility for their shortcomings and tried to tackle the issue head on. Ulrika Decoene, the Head of the AXA Research Fund, recently spoke out about the lack of women in STEM subjects while Unilever vowed to end the use of sexist stereotypes in their advertising.

These are tangible things, which may not have transformed diversity and inclusion in their sector but are at least signs of a real commitment to improve.

Though we need more voices calling for gender equality, business - and political - leaders will have the greatest impact if they recognise their own shortcomings first.

Picture credit: Neela, Ste & children Lamb/Flickr


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