The theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) this year is ‘Choose to Challenge’. Ninety years on from the first IWD in 1911, it sometimes astonishes me that we are still having these conversations. A lot has happened since then, and some progress has indeed been made. But we are far from being an equal society.
At Grain Sustainability we are fortunate in having a 50:50 split across the team. Pay equality isn’t ‘an ongoing conversation’ – it just happens. It’s something that we defined right from the start, and it’s how we do business. It’s important for us to be inclusive and diverse in how we work. It’s interesting to see, therefore, that we could be considered unique. The 2020 CR & Sustainability Salary Report from Acre, Carnstone & Flag reports that in 2020, the average gender pay gap in the UK was 16%. The rest of Europe reported a gap of 22%, while North America was 14%. A small average improvement has been noted since 2018 — but it’s hardly great strides. It’s not down to the number of women in the role: for in-house jobs the gender split was 40% male / 60% female, while consultant roles reported a balance of 45% / 55%.
A positive pipeline
One of the problems often cited is the lack of pipeline. In McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 Report, they refer to the ‘broken rung’. It means the point at which women lose ground at the first step up to a managerial position. In 2015, they reported that the women who represented 45% of entry level roles resulted in just 17% of C-suite positions. Fast forward to 2020, and the ratio is 47% entry level to 21% at C-suite. And yet, according to the Davies Report, having just one woman on the Board cuts the risk of going bust by 20%, while Credit Suisse reports 5% excess returns in companies with at least one female director (compared to an all-male Board). Surely it makes good business sense to have a more equal workforce?
Shifting the balance
How do you begin to address these challenges? Clearly, there’s a lot to be done. BAE Systems has set targets for women graduates and apprentices — and recognises that work needs to be done to build the pipeline for these roles. Their approach includes ‘Girls in Engineering’ events and school outreach programmes. Lloyds Bank is considering agility at the point of hire, ensuring that flexibility opens the roles to more women applicants. Diversity Women Media gives case studies on the Best 100 Companies for Women’s Leadership; it’s well worth a read.
Choose to challenge
In the examples above we’ve seen programmes put in place to address the issues of gender balance (notwithstanding that there are many considerations around diversity, including age, ethnicity, orientation, background, beliefs). They’re good initiatives. But for me, the real #choosetochallenge rallying call is for the everyday actions. Calling out unconscious (and conscious) bias; taking time to explain that gender pay gaps exist; framing conversations around equality; not letting unacceptable behaviours be explained away as ‘oh, that’s just how X works’; and practicing what you preach.
Successful organisations — those that will bounce back after this period of tough economic instability — will be those which have a more rounded and holistic approach to gender equality; and who recognise the value, skills, innovation, flexibility and insight that having a well balanced business brings.