There can be no gender equality without cultural change

We can't talk our way out of inequality. We need new behaviours, says consultant Clare Filby.

by Clare Filby
Last Updated: 05 Feb 2018

Many companies in the FTSE 350 bang their chests about the leaps and strides they’ve made (or are making) towards achieving gender balance in their boardrooms. But the truth is their words aren’t always translating into real change. Only today, the IFS revealed that the UK's gender pay gap is still 20%, in large part because women remain less likely to reach senior roles than their male colleagues.

The perception that things are getting better for women is not strictly false. There are numerous examples of female-heavy non-executive boards in the City. However, if we strip all the female non-execs away, the supposed progression looks sluggish at best. We’re left with a notable scarcity of women in senior operational roles, never mind at the CEO level (which is 96% male in the FTSE 350).

There is clearly much more that needs to be done to eliminate unconscious behaviours and enable women to get to the leadership level where they have influence over strategic decisions as well as the overall direction of the business.

Whilst they can certainly be beneficial, need it be the case that external pressure groups fire up their powers of persuasion to make a ‘plea’ to senior decision makers? Why not just develop a corporate culture where opportunities are plentiful and success is created for all?

But this means leaders need to think and act differently.

We know, regardless of gender, that transitioning into better roles with more responsibilities will shape your development and career success – and yet many women are not in the right roles to give them that platform. Why is that? 

It is often said that women won’t put themselves forward until they are 100% sure they can do a role – and I think that’s often true. Senior management must actively own their responsibility to encourage and support high potential women into the next role. Given the right environment, women will undoubtedly demonstrate their capability and shine. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, with the right support, there’s a directly proportional relationship between professional success and self-confidence, tenacity and resilience.

The ideal culture should also embrace, rather than tolerate, women’s pursuits beyond the boardroom. Just as entrepreneurs give 100% when they’re ‘at work’ as well as when they’re focusing on other endeavours, women who have flexible schedules deliver better results. Nurturing an output and results-based mindset when it comes to productivity is simple, effective and mutually-benefitting.

The emphasis here is on opportunities and value. And as important as legislation is, especially in the light of promoting transparency and equality, do we need a regulator to hammer the point home? Isn’t it just good business sense to encourage value creation to anyone and everyone in a company?

Diversity should be a pillar of a sound business strategy rather than something to strive for under the pretence of ‘doing the right thing’, a mere buzzword in a conveniently-timed PR exercise.

Wherever you look, gender balance in the City is a topic that rears its head time and time again. It’s actually been a ‘hot topic’ for over a decade now. There are conflicting reports of where we’ve been and where we’re heading – some say we’re in a dramatically improved situation, some say that the current discourse is helping to lay the foundation stones for long-term change. I think the latter is true… but when are we going to stop talking about it and start doing something? 

Clare Filby is a partner at consultancy Elixirr.

Image credit: Christian Chan/Shutterstock

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