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100 years until gender parity? No thanks.

“Oh, I think there’s equality in our office. There’s an equal split between men and women in all roles. Of course, we’re reporting to a man at the top.”

This was just one quote that we picked up when out and about, collecting vox pops from members of the public for our TeamTalk 3: Balancing the Books, the case for Gender Parity.

Should we laugh or should we cry? Many people when asked, “do you think there is a case for gender parity?”  will answer in the affirmative. And yet, at recorded levels of progress it will take 100 years for parity to be achieved. Look at the 30% club. A brilliant initiative, but why 30%? Yes, it’s a mark at which we start to see real progress, but the message should be 50%.

So the line, “of course, we’re reporting into a man at the top”, it isn’t funny at all. It’s indicative of a sadly ingrained way of thinking. It’s something we need to get out of our heads.

Unfortunately, it’s a way of thinking established at an early age. Supported through a pay gap that starts with pocket money, where girls earn less than boys. The prejudices may well be sub-conscious, but they are there.

It’s ingrained through language: Stephen Kelly, the HR Director at Avanade recently shared with me the insight that where boys at school might be termed as ‘boisterous’, girls would be described as ‘highly-strung’. He was quick to point out to me the damaging effect of that language where one term is deemed to be ‘fun’ and another ‘difficult’.

It’s also reinforced through access to play, where girls aged 6 through 17 do two more hours of housework every week than boys. Why is that right? How is that allowed to happen and be part of our mentality. It’s a way of thinking we have to break, because this isn’t just about seeing things as unfair.

I feel that it is when we think about these issues in terms of social justice alone that we fail to stir ourselves into action. It’s not immediate enough. Perhaps if we looked at this through the lens of productivity.

The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in the UK has seen 2 million women take up a sport. The impact of that on the human psyche can’t be underestimated. Increases in health are accompanied by increases in attitude, productivity and self-belief. All of which will have a positive impact of business and society. Should your business be focusing on improvements in these attributes? I bet it should.

‘This Girl Can’ is about making sports for women acceptable and desirable. As Kate Bosomworth at Sports England recently told me, “the research we did pointed to images of women doing sport that weren’t real. When you do sport, you go red; you sweat. But most imagery features the perfect body. As a result, we found that women feared being judged”. All this stems from the lack of gender parity in attitudes to sport that we have allowed to go unchecked. And that affects positive mental attitude. That’s not good for any of us.

Or let’s think of things in terms of customer connectivity? How can an organisation possibly connect with its customers if its employee base– and especially its employees in decision-making roles, doesn’t truly reflect its customer base? A report as far back as 2009 found that companies reporting a higher level of racial diversity bought in 15 times more sales revenue. That diversity has to include gender diversity as well. This has to have an impact on the way companies think.

Think of it in terms of sustainable families. How are we possibly getting the best out of society when gender parity is not in place? How can a family best perform if the dice are loaded against one half? From an economic point of view, we need gender parity to ensure we are giving equal opportunity and therefore, realising the potential of every member of society.

Gender parity isn’t about women’s equality alone. It’s about creating a society where we all benefit – better business, better education, better sport, better culture, better families and better communities. Gender parity is a cultural issue, and it’s about time we stopped talking in platitudes and started doing something. I don’t fancy waiting 100 years.


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