#Pledge for Parity

A tipping point for gender equality in the workplace?

“The gender pay gap has never been smaller,” Chancellor Osborne confidently announced in Wednesday’s budget, as part of his argument that the Conservative Government was a champion of social justice. He also announced funding to enable longer school days, with the disparity between school and work days a long time driver of gender inequality.

Osborne’s announcements follow indications that the conversation around gender equality in business is climbing up the political agenda.  The Government’s Think, Act, Report initiative, which asks companies to voluntarily commit to their framework and actively encourage a progressive culture, has attracted signatures from high-profile organisations like IBM, KPMG, GSK, MacDonald’s and Fujitsu, amongst others.

The Women and Equalities Select Committee are also currently hearing evidence to their inquiry into the gender pay gap, with a particular focus on the efficacy of voluntary measures in businesses.  Alongside this they have recently called for submissions to an inquiry focused on women in executive management examining the barriers for women in organisations, and the steps that can be taken to improve equality.

Against this backdrop, on Thursday 10th March, in the wake of International Women’s Day, Weber Shandwick launched their own report ‘Gender Equality in the Executive Ranks: A Paradox — The Journey to 2030’. The research, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, surveyed 327 executives from 55 markets worldwide and reported on the status of women in the C-suite.

The big findings? Nearly three-quarters of those global executives (73%) believe that gender equality in the C-Suite will be achieved by 2030. Yet, most C-level executives (56%) report that their company doesn’t have specific goals in place for achieving such an outcome, and only 39% of C-level executives report gender diversity in senior management as a high business priority.

This is a topic Weber Shandwick can talk knowledgeably about. We’ve been rated the most gender equal international PR firm by The Holmes Report and 14 of our 24 global leaders are women. It’s been a priority for the agency and we’ve been working with companies for years to them make it one of theirs too. This makes us well placed to advise clients on how to reform their own policies and achieve gender balance.

Diverse and inclusive organisations simply perform better, said Stephen Duncan, EMEA’s Head of Employee Engagement as he presented the report’s findings last week. In a time when trust in big businesses is at an all-time low, a varied, balanced leadership team signals that an organisation is responsible and meritocratic.

It is imperative, Stephen outlined, that in a time of media and millennial scrutiny companies develop their own gender forward guidelines.

  1. Measure your performance in achieving gender equality
  2. Make sure that your CEO and other senior executives are champions for gender equality
  3. Gender equality is a competitive advantage in recruiting talented people
  4. The media will place you under great scrutiny if you are not making progress on gender equality

The speakers that followed were of a similar mind. Progress starts from the top. Suki Sandhu, a determined diversity pioneer who founded power lists OUTstanding and UPstanding, told the audience that inclusion is driven by showcasing role models and developing understanding that diversity and talent go hand in hand.

Hayley Sudbury, founder of Werkin, an app that assists organisations in creating and tracking mentoring programmes, then went on to demonstrate that technology could support the drive for further diversity. It is time for action, she declared, and technology is a way to open up networks and stimulate that behaviour change.

A panel discussion hosted by Weber Shandwick’s Managing Director, Rachel Friend then followed. Stacey Winters, Partner at Deloitte, kicked off the conversation with a frank account about how having children shifted her perspective on what it meant to be a woman in business and described the progressive steps Deloitte was making toward inclusivity through the introduction of  agile working and ability to take extended time off.

Dr Eve Poole, of Ashridge Business School, was more adamant. It’s simply taking too long, she argued, and recommended the introduction of majority diversity shortlists.  Dr Poole also commented on the 2008 financial crisis and questioned whether the same outcome would have occurred had there been a proper gender balance on the boards of major banks.  She highlighted that proper gender balance within an organisation can minimise the risky choice sometimes fuelled by testosterone and lead to more balanced and rational decision-making.

As the panel discussion drew to a close, two key messages from the launch shone through.  Gender diversity is at the heart of building a more productive business, attracting the best talent and increasing return. And for those that choose not to champion the cause, it is at their own risk, as media and millennial scrutiny demand more of their companies.

Momentum has gathered behind gender equality, with politics, business and wider society realising that, alongside the moral imperative, it makes economic sense to tackle the inequality in the work place. A more equal workplace means a more productive one, and more productive workplaces boost the British economy.  It is time to take action.

You can download a copy of our research from the following location.

You can also read more about the Gender Forward Pioneer Index here.

If you would like to discuss the issues raised by our research or more generally how Weber Shandwick can help you engage your employees or build your organisation’s reputation please contact (sduncan@webershandwick.com).