How far have we come, how far have we got to go?

Kate Farrow Leadership Gender Pay Gap

Kate Farrow discusses the responses from our 2018 IWD everywoman progress survey

It is a year of landmarks for women; from the 100-year anniversary of getting the right to vote in Britain to the introduction of mandatory Gender Pay Gap Reporting in the UK and the global juggernaut of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. International Women’s Day (IWD) this year had #PressforProgress as its theme — underlining the fact that, with all that said, we still need to keep the wheel turning.

On average, women make-up 50% of the population in most countries, but are under-represented in every area of influence. Businesses are beginning to invest time and financial resource into creating a more balanced slate of talent because it is ‘the right thing to do’ — but perhaps more now than ever with real energy because research has demonstrated big business benefits to this inclusion, from more innovative thinking and higher motivation to greater productivity.

At everywoman, on this #PressforProgress IWD, we were interested to see just how our members viewed the progress that has been made — and that which is yet to come. So we asked you to give us your views on a few key questions: firstly, did you feel there was more gender equality in the workplace than when you started work?

We kept it to three simple options: yes, no, I don’t know — but of course, we know that variables such as occupational segregation can influence this. Some industries, notably technology, are more ahead of the curve than others — and, of course, technology is in every business, so that means that every company is looking at inclusion from that perspective, even if that is the only angle they are taking.

Overall, the data told us that nearly 60% of our members feel progress has been made since they joined the workforce. Broken down by the decade in which the respondents started work, the results were interesting. Of those who said there hadn’t been any progress, 97% were female, and the biggest proportion entered the workforce in the 2000s. Nearly two decades into their careers, this group might be starting to feel the effects of the curse of the middle management situation. 

This is the point at which companies leak most female talent for various reasons; either women think they have to leave their current employer in order to progress their careers, if their experience is of a male-dominated workplace, or they are looking above them and not seeing any female role models. 

In the yes group, by contrast, 93% were women and 31% of that group entered the workforce in the 1990s. They grew up with a female Prime Minister — and will have seen the incremental changes that businesses are making to make the workplace more inclusive, purely due to the fact they’ve spent longer in the workforce.

So is there progress to be made around gender equality in the workplace — and if so, how much? You were split pretty evenly between ‘yes’ and ‘yes but there is still a long way to go’, with just 5% feeling that only fine-tuning needs to be made.

But what does that progress look like? If we’re to #PressforProgress, then in what direction? Overwhelmingly, the figures tell us that our membership base want to see more women in leadership positions and believe that to be a key influence in the progress of gender equality in the workplace.

Modern ideas of transformative leadership are more in line with qualities women generally share: empathy, inclusiveness and an open negotiation style, and stats from sources such as our everywoman workbook Diverse and Inclusive leadership: A guide to getting started bear the fruits of this out. Companies across all sectors with women on their boards significantly and consistently outperform those without. Furthermore, inclusive leaders improve performance and productivity by 81%, motivation by 84%, innovation by 86% and greater engagement and loyalty by 81%.

Alongside more female leadership, closing the Gender Pay Gap was also cited as a big driver. The Gender Pay Gap reporting legislation, which came into effect in April 2017, calls on employers to be more creative about how they solve the issue of occupational segmentation and the lack of women in certain roles, IT, engineering, sales — and also in leadership. 

It could be argued that businesses are not even scratching the surface of this segmentation at the moment, unless it has real commercial impact — which is why the tech sector is such a high-profile case in point, actively doing everything it can to change the number of women entering it. It’s a move that is not just about talent, but also about rising concerns that unconscious bias is being written into coding which is impacting all technology and specifically AI - a big topic of conversation at our everywoman in Technology Forum this year.

And of course, involving men in the conversation is vital to us all moving forward together. The majority of those who responded to the survey from our network were, unsurprisingly, women — although we did have representation from men, who currently make up 15% of our everywoman membership base.

I would say that in 99.9% of the businesses that we work with at everywoman, the question ‘what about the men in our business?’ is raised at a certain point. And I have heard men themselves question why something like the everywomanNetwork is even needed?

We as women know that sometimes we find the workplace a challenging place to be, or can be frustrated that our careers are not progressing at the speed that we would like, but most men will never have had those thoughts or feelings. So I see it as a positive that they are asking the question.

Overall, the best response is empathetic and educational — to encourage men to get on board with the conversation in a time when we need everyone to understand the business benefits of inclusion. But reaching that inclusion demands action.

It is self-evident that qualifications, skill, motivation and the right personality for the team should be the deciding factor on who is employed for a job role. However, that is still not what is happening; unconscious bias means that people are often employing and promoting in their mould. And that is leading to more men working up the career ladder quicker than women. 

Initiatives designed to get women into more senior positions or those which are male-dominated are not ‘positive discrimination’ — they are called levelling the playing field. So let’s remain objective and fall back on the numbers. With only 23.5% of FTSE100 board members being female and 13 heads of state out of 178 globally how can we say that we have reached a level playing field?

Only when ‘business as usual’ means everyone has equitable opportunity afforded to them, can we truly say that our #PressforProgress has run its course.

Listen to Kate Farrow’s webinar on the results of the everywoman survey.