As we explore Gender Parity for our TeamTalk on 7 March it has become increasingly clear that gender inequality – and by extension the benefits of gender parity – is something which impacts every aspect of society, not just our workplaces. Our businesses and organisations reflect our society. And that society is a two-tier system which runs from birth through education and into the workplace.
In this two-tier system men are routinely paid more to do the same job – even by the largest Government employer in the UK – the NHS. A two-tier system in which men are promoted on potential and women on achievements, which is a fundamental reason I am in favour of quotas for getting women into management and leadership positions. A meritocracy is great in principle, but unchecked unconscious bias will often scupper the best of intentions. In this two-tier system, women cannot opt in to the better-paid, better-promoted tier. The playing field needs to be levelled.
Our film has explored the benefits of gender parity in sport, in education, in tech and in business. And, increasingly, we have realised that women on boards is not enough to change this. It is a fantastic start – but it is not enough. This beautifully shot film by J Walter Thompson inadvertently makes the point for us; women in power remain the exception, not the rule. Admirable, but far removed from the majority of women’s lives, or aspirations. There remains much to do.
‘This Girl Can’ didn’t use elite athletes for their phenomenally successful campaign to encourage women and girls to do more sport, because elite athletes are so far removed from ‘normal sport’ for the vast majority of women. So holding up Christine Lagarde or Hillary Clinton, or one of the 5 CEOs of the FTSE 100 as beacons of female success is encouraging, but ultimately unhelpful. For legions of people don’t aspire to be CEOs, but do have ambitions to do well. Men have role models at every level of a company; for women – they peter out the higher you go up the pyramid. Organisations must strive for women at all levels of an organisation.
And at home, how are we talking to our children? How are we entrenching gender bias when discussing career options? Train driver? Astronaut? Hairdresser? A survey by Scottish Gas found that 32% of parents admitted offering their children differing career advice depending on their gender. Only 8% of parents said they would like their daughter to pursue engineering, but 20% selected engineering as their preferred career choice for their son. In this blinkered way we limit our children, we shut down their options, we curtail their talent.
For The Team – making the film has been eye-opening. It’s made us question ourselves. Do we offer equal paternity rights and maternity rights? Do we encourage that? What’s our strategy to ensure diversity in the leadership team? Do we have one? Do we think we don’t need one? Are we crystal clear that men and women are paid the same in similar roles across The Team?
Sustained change will happen when we each pledge to make gender parity happen faster in our own sphere of influence – at home and at work.