After all these years – like the most annoying, amnesic gadfly – I’m still going on about it because the message clearly isn’t resonating: diverse companies make better companies, so gender issues are everyone’s business.
Though we’re intelligent enough to build smart everythings, grow trillion-dollar companies, develop quantum computing, genetic engineering and conjure up algorithms that predict our whole existence, we’re still struggling to nail the basics: we’re driven by bias – conscious and unconscious – and we’re still not affording equal opportunities to men and women across the workforce and beyond. We’re just not taking it seriously.
Fresh research published in the past week by the Cranfield University’s School of Management shows that, although we think we’ve got gender diversity all figured out, we really haven’t.
Let’s start with the good news.
Figures released in early July by the Hampton-Alexander Review show that the FTSE 250 index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies is on track to meet a 33 per cent target for women in senior leadership positions by 2020. Aside from the fact that I personally think the target should now be 50 per cent, it’s admittedly praiseworthy.
Just over 32 per cent of FTSE 100 board positions are now held by females, which is up from just 12.5 per cent in 2011. And across the FTSE 250, the proportion has jumped from 24.9 per cent to 27.5 per cent.
Retailer Kingfisher and real estate portal Rightmove hold the top positions with half of their board members now women, and asset management firm Schroders deserves (cautious) kudos for being the most improved company over the last year, having elevated its proportion of female board members to 45 per cent from 27 per cent.
But now let’s stop with the back-slapping.
The FTSE 100 still only has seven female CEOs (that headline-friendly stat about men called John or Steve still applies) and while the number of female non-executive directors across the index has increased to 311 from 280 over the last year, the number of women holding chair roles has fallen from seven to five.
As Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, says, “the case for workplace equality is watertight”. Companies with diverse boards simply perform better financially, she reminds us in the latest Cranfield report. Bridging the gender gap, she adds, could add £150 billion to the UK economy by 2025. And yet, peak behind the mildly-encouraging-but-still-far-from-satisfactory numbers, and the message is grim.
The research points to growing evidence that, once a woman in the UK is appointed to a board position, she tends to have a significantly shorter tenure (just 3.3 years compared to her male counterparts’ 6.6 years) and is less likely to be promoted into an even more senior role than a man.
What does that mean? Companies are probably engaging in tick-box diversity measures. They’re appointing women because of the symbolic importance of the move: because it’s optically advantageous to do so. Not because diversity is a one a well-documented, evidence-based strategy of improving financial performance. Not because its proven to enhance competitiveness, employee satisfaction, retention and reputation. And not because a woman might be able to bring a suite of skills to the table that will enhance productivity and help an organisation to thrive. No, it’s because too often a woman is a quota and once appointed, her job is done.
Crucially, there’s evidence that the problem extends beyond the FTSE 100, to the small and medium-sized companies, the backbone of our economy if you will. They provide the vast majority of our jobs and arguably dictate national workplace culture. Out of the over 10,000 companies subject to mandatory annual gender pay gap reporting, hundreds missed this year’s deadline. I spent hours crunching the submissions and hundreds were statistically improbable and therefore likely incorrect.
Of those that did meet the deadline, a third released their figures within the last two days before the cut-off. It’s the equivalent of a university student spending the whole academic year ignoring work and then being forced into a 48-hour library marathon in order to submit a half-arsed dissertation of questionable accuracy to scrape a pass. It’s a painting-by-numbers style of corporate governance. In the best case, it’s following the letter of the law but not the spirit of it. In the worst case, its manipulating the truth to skirt around regulation that has the potential to create real change.
The sad conclusion we can draw is that scores of companies are failing to understand the true value of enhancing diversity across the upper echelons. Too many companies are approaching the “gender problem” as little more than a once-a-year bureaucratic headache to be addressed swiftly and efficiently by the HR department and then shelved for the next 12 months. Tokenism rules.
Gender diversity is still widely perceived to be a women’s issue (apart from on International Women’s Day when marketing opportunities are too good to ignore), just as ethnic diversity is seen as something that’s of no consequence to the well-heeled white exec. We need enforceable regulation to change the picture and serious repercussions for those who dodge. This is no longer a numbers game. It’s reality, it’s non-negotiable and it’s absolutely everyone’s responsibility.
.(tagsToTranslate)Gender diversity(t)gender equality(t)corporations(t)Voices
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