Lawyer, accountant, engineer, doctor, IT professional, financier: every profession emits a different image and perhaps, traditionally, a different gender association. Even now, I see adverts promoting stereotypical gender roles. But finally, we are seeing a change in perceptions of professions and many industries are evolving so that experience and ability drive recruitment decisions. At the same time, social norms and expectations are changing, as is education, so that young people are encouraged to fulfil their potential, whatever profession that leads them towards.
Companies are waking up to the reality that diversity also makes business sense. There’s evidence to prove it – a great deal of research shows that companies that achieve gender diversity are more likely to improve performance, and more importantly, the bottom line.
The importance of gender diversity
The data doesn’t come as a surprise to me. A gender-diverse team more accurately reflects the world we live in. When women are well-represented at all levels, it enables the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base. As is well understood, men and women often have different frames of reference, life experiences, viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which, when brought together, enables better problem solving and potentially leads to superior performance at the business unit level. Ultimately, companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in a global economy where those with the best talent will be the most successful.
Gender equality is talked about regularly and openly today. What has really shifted is that this has become a board level agenda item. Indeed, one that isn’t last on the agenda on a Friday afternoon; for many, it’s become a significant part of their business and human capital strategies. That’s not always been the case. It’s clear that real progress has been made to engineer gender equality into social and business culture, but there is still a long way to go. Some sectors and clients are still just setting out on their journey, and we suspect that in the mid cap and SME market there is even further to go. Statistics on their board rooms suggest this to be so, and we know female entrepreneurs still find it harder to access funding that their male equivalents. All areas that need attention.
On 6 April 2017, regulations came into force in the UK requiring all employers with more than 250 staff to publish their gender pay gap. Employers have until 5 April 2018 to publish the difference in average pay and bonuses between men and women. The Government plans to release league tables of gender pay gaps across different industries which are likely to have a considerable impact on companies’ brands and reputations. However, is this enough to cause long-term change? And what about all of the SME’s which make up a significant proportion of the UK market? An all-encompassing approach that identifies and seeks to permanently address the underlying factors that cause the gender pay gap is needed.
The BBC faced significant backlash from the public and its female employees after the gender pay gap between the top earners was revealed; it’s already having a negative impact on their brand and reputation as an employer, and the fallout will no doubt continue to rumble on. As a public organisation, the Corporation is naturally more scrutinised than private businesses might be, so it will be interesting to see whether by April 2018 big brands will simply take the backlash and assume it will blow over, or decide to make real changes now.
GlaxoSmithKline Chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, says that closing the gender gap fosters innovation and matters to anyone interested in the bottom line.
Promoting gender diversity
Companies that are proactively promoting gender diversity are reaping the rewards. For example, the global company Sodexo states “gender balance is our business” and its mission is to make it everyone else’s business too. Their data shows that 40% of all staff members in Sodexo are women – that’s up from just 17% in 2009. What’s more, 43% of the members on the board of directors are female and the company runs 14 gender balance networks worldwide. They found that when there is an optimal gender balance within an organisation, employee engagement increases by 4%, gross profit increases by 23% and brand image strengthens by 5%.
Dell is another highly successful company that ensures men and women receive equal employee rights and equal employment and promotion opportunities. Dell’s CMO, Karen Quintos, says: “The world today needs more inclusive thinking, and women naturally bring traits to the table that help companies succeed.”
Dell has joined a programme called MARC – Men Advocating For Real Change – based around training at all levels and focusing on the natural biases both men and women have. Every employee has done it – including the CEO and founder, Michael Dell.
Ultimately, gender diversity is imperative for companies today – not only for brand growth, but also to remain competitive. Particularly with companies’ gender pay gap data being published by law, we may be about to see some big changes.
CEO at Talking Talent - Enabling Women’s Leadership | Executive Coaching | Female Talent Development