Gender equality in 2017... or is it the 1950s?
Ladies, don’t burn your bras, no matter how tempting in 2017!
I am not one for burning my bra – they’re not cheap and a lot of care goes into choosing them – but I wouldn’t mind taking a torch to a few of the tedious, outdated and frankly next-level, ‘look-to-camera’ things that have come to light of late, fuelling the ever-swelling and swirling gender (in)equality debate.
First things first – I firmly believe in ‘total gender equality’, that the right person for the job should get the job, regardless of gender (or any other diversity for that matter). Merit based on talent, skills, perspective, experience and personality should win out.
Yet while it may have seemed that the glass ceiling was cracking, perhaps it was just creaking and growing rose-tinted.
According to the World Bank, as of 2014 women in the UK made up 46% of the labour force. The Office National Statistics shows that between 1971 and 2017 women in employment has increased from 53% to just over 70%, while for men it has fallen over the same period from 92% to 80%.
Yet according to the British Council, women hold less than 30% of positions of power, and as a Telegraph article from last October written by Claire Cohen rightly highlights, 30%, or roughly a third, appears to be a bit of resistance point for us women in business:
“As of the 2015 general election, 30 per cent of our MPs have been women. For the past few years, campaigning organisation the 30% Club has been pushing for a third of all FTSE 100 board directors to be women (we’re currently on 26 per cent). Now, we're told we make up less than 30 per cent of leaders. Yet, we're 51 per cent of the population. As stock takes go, it’s pretty depressing. Gender equality to aisle five please.”
And it into this sulphurous mix the gaping pay disparity between male and female talent at the top of the BBC; actor Tom Chambers essentially defending the gender pay gap with the very antiquated viewpoint that men earn more because they have women and children to support (hello 1950s); social media backlash and complaints to the BBC after it named a female Doctor Who (really in 2017?!); the ongoing argument over women’s pay in Hollywood, with actress Salma Hayek arguing that men do a lot less work for more pay, and feel entitled to yet more (no comment [cheeky wink emoji]).
In the same article in The Guardian the author Julie Bindel quotes recent analysis from Deloitte that at the current pace of change, the pay gap in
UK will not be eradicated until 2069, 99 years after the Equal Pay Act came into force.
So far, so exasperating, but I think what I find most perplexing is that a diverse workforce is proven to have a significantly positive affect on business, productivity and ultimately the bottom line. So why is something that seems like a no-brainer struggling in this day and age?
As I said, I believe in total gender equality and that the right person should get the job, but unfortunately I don’t believe it’s happening sufficiently.
I have firsthand experience. I was recently asked to comment for Insider Magazine on a property tech challenge set up by my friend Shaf Rasul. I loved what Shaf wanted to do – as resident entrepreneur at Strathclyde University he offered up £25,000 in prize money to those budding property entrepreneurs that inspired him and his team of judges. Good. Great. Inspiring.
Fast forward to the press release on the results. An all-male panel and all male winners. Seriously?
But then if our top leadership don’t act much better, what can we expect. Just look at a recent interview with Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia, who talked about sexism in finance, with particular reference to her time working for Fred Goodwin, the ex-RBS boss, where he fostered an environment of ‘win at all costs’ macho culture, which she found damaging and ultimately led to senior management losing control.
I am a member of the Association of Scottish Business Women and ex-president of Moray
of Business Women. I’m a huge supporter of these groups. I believe women do business differently, we can bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the table. However, ultimately if we had balanced, diverse, mutually respectful and collaborative workplaces, teams and organisations would simply be more effective. The women vs men debate is slightly weary, we can all as individuals bring different qualities and thinking to situations, imagine if we could combine effectively – we can but dream I suppose.
Society needs to be far more accepting of women in senior roles - even though it likes to say it is, there are still problems in the board rooms that people are ignoring.
It is changing, of course, but fast enough? I don’t think so.