Why Equitable Life stopped men writing job specs

Equitable Life CEO Simon Small reveals how the mutual addressed gender imbalance in its talent pipeline.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 04 Feb 2020

The old adage that business is all about people is never more apparent than after a high-profile, morale-sapping scandal. Take once-mighty mutual Equitable Life, which has had to operate for nearly 20 years with a black mark against its name.

CEO Simon Small and his predecessors have made talent retention and development a priority. In this briefing, he explains how the company addressed its gender imbalance in senior roles, taking the proportion of women from 35-40 per cent to half within two years.


"We felt that just setting a target would mean we’d potentially be promoting women over men for the wrong reasons, which could cause problems with our male workers. So we set a target but said we had to employ the right person for the role.

"We looked back to every stage in the food chain of employment, from someone thinking there’s a vacancy to getting a job. What we found was that quite a few of these stages were governed by men, who thought what they were doing was absolutely appropriate. 

"Take writing a job spec, which had a 65 per cent probability of a male writing it. A job spec written by a man was very different from one written by a woman, we discovered. A man would write down so many requirements that the person had to be almost god-like to get the job.

"What we saw was that when a male went for that job, they probably wouldn’t get to the bottom of the list, they’d assume they could do 80 per cent of these things and they’d wing it on the rest. The women would get to the bottom of the list and decide they couldn’t do the last item, so they didn’t apply at all.

"We started having our executive committee write or review these requirements so that it only had ones that were essential. Most of the time, we found women weren’t comfortable putting themselves forward without encouragement, so we started mentoring those two levels below C-suite."

Key takeaways

Screen for hidden recruitment biases. Ideally get someone outside of the normal hiring process.

Set up mentorship programmes. This is generally good practice, for men and women.

Make it measurable. Progress – whether that’s towards a quota, target or otherwise, is unlikely to occur without having some objective way to assess it.

For more information

Three top bosses share their approach to diversity and inclusion in this panel discussion. This research reveals how gender imbalance attracts the unwanted attention of activist investors. Or for a wider view of the need for diversity, read this in depth feature about pervasive ageism.

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon/Pexels

Tags:

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Dominic Cummings & the importance of belonging

The PM's departed special adviser presents certain business lessons, whether he intended to or not,...

How to manage pandemic-induced burnout

There's more to burning out than just being worn out. Here's how you can protect...

How to lead when you're forced to isolate

Do a few things brilliantly rather than trying to do too many things reasonably well....

Managers overestimate how engaged their staff are

There is a perception gap between employees and managers, according to a CMI study.

Can bullying ever be unintentional?

Even the calmest of heads isn’t immune to the odd sharp word.

How to think like your customers

Lockdown makes it harder to understand their motives, but there are ways of getting close...