We celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 against a backdrop of bad news stories; companies reporting an increase in their gender pay gap; a depressingly small number of women achieving the most senior positions in business and society; lack of progress in delivering gender equality in the workplace. The current narrative around women in employment describes a lack of opportunity, recognition and reward. The story continues with public castigation of the companies failing us so significantly in these areas.
My fear is that when we focus on the bad news, when we engage so indiscriminately with the negatives as if these are the only story, we create additional barriers for women by sustaining and embedding this unbalanced and inaccurate reality. In doing so, we risk turning talented and motivated women away from achieving their career potential. We also risk alienating organisations and stifling their potential to drive change because we don’t provide them with the mechanisms to power that change.
Conversely, when we celebrate success and progress, and invest women with the tools they need to leverage transformation in the workplace, we empower them to challenge gender disparity and to progress their careers with confidence, via effective strategies for success. Couple that with supporting businesses in cutting through the complexity of achieving gender balance, and providing them with practical drivers for change, and the opportunity to achieve significant progress becomes a reality.
As employers, we realised long ago that the effective way to help our people grow, develop, change and become the best they can be, is to support them; to build them up, provide solutions and help to implement them. Shouldn’t we be adopting the same sort of approach for organisations?
That’s why the #BalanceforBetter campaign resonates so powerfully with me. We don’t just need gender balance, we need balance in the way we reflect the world around us. Balance in the way we identify what needs to change, and balance in how we support and engage individuals and organisations to effect that change. Of course we must hold to account the 40% of companies who have submitted their gender pay gap figures for 2019 and reported an increase in that gap. That is simply unacceptable. It’s also just one part of the picture.
The moral imperative for gender equality is clear. For organisations, the business case for gender balance is equally compelling. There is a significant and growing body of data to show that companies with more women on their management boards consistently perform better than those that don’t, that growth is faster, that return on equity, sales and investments is higher.
McKinsey reported in 2016 that equal representation of women in the workplace could add $28 trillion, or 26%, to global GDP by 2025 and £150bn to UK GDP. Put another way, gender equality could provide Mr Johnson with his NHS side-of-the-bus money 1,000 times over…rather more tangible as a Brexit backstop!
The real picture is one of change, of a situation in flux. There is undoubtedly a wider and deeper commitment to challenge gender disparity from organisations, decision makers and employees. Whether that commitment has come from wanting to do the right thing, or wanting to accelerate the bottom line, we need to build on that commitment by providing the enablers to make change happen.
We are making progress, and there is much to celebrate. There’s also clearly still a long way to go before we can truthfully say that we have achieved gender balance, parity and equality both in the workplace and more widely in society. Let’s keep it in perspective though. While we call out bad practices, dismantle the myths that protect the status quo and challenge organisations that are not doing enough to embrace equality, let’s also celebrate the successes on the way. Let’s champion the organisations that are leading change, applaud the individuals pioneering progress and new ways of working and let’s inspire and motivate our young women and men to enter the world of work with passion, confidence and on an equal footing.