Recent news that Schroders became the first FTSE 100 firm to publish its gender pay gap data – which revealed that female colleagues earn a third less than their male counterparts on average – is the latest in a long line of indicators that gender parity in the workplace is still a long way from fruition.
And while government initiatives, such as gender pay gap reporting and Philip Hammond’s recent pledge to support female returnships, are successfully throwing the spotlight on the issue of gender equality, this battle will not be won unless we see real cultural change. And we cannot make significant progress unless everyone is on board.
I was recently invited to take part in a ‘Manbassadors’ panel discussion at an event hosted by the London Business School (LBS) and Campus London (Google’s space for entrepreneurs) to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme of the evening was to share actionable tips for the start-up community on how to create and build a better working culture.
London Business School MBAs recently made headlines when they founded a group, with the backing of LBS’s Women in Business club, to support the cause of female executives. Like many great ideas, the concept is simple: men must become greater allies of women in business in order to break down barriers.
It makes sense. Most males are not consciously hindering the progress of women in the workplace, it’s just that historic practices, which are arguably more easily navigated by men, continue to inadvertently damage female talent pipelines. However, by becoming part of the solution, men can help to change culture from the inside-out – which is no easy feat within some organisations where the scale of the company means that processes and attitudes can be deeply ingrained in its very fabric.
A key take-away from the event was that start-ups are perfectly placed to drive best-practice. Entrepreneurs have a brilliant opportunity to set out their stalls from an early stage and build a culture of equality. By comparison, big banks and engineering firms, which have long-established cultures may find it more difficult to embed different ways of working. That said, we have huge multi-national clients which are investing significant resources in getting to the bottom of why females are not represented fairly at the top – and I have witnessed pockets of inspirational best practice within a variety of sectors including financial services, professional services and technology.
So what’s the solution?
While there is no easy fix to achieving true gender equality, ‘Manbassadors’ can assist in areas such as mentoring. Simply gathering groups of individuals to openly exchange ideas helps to promote different ways of thinking, helping both parties to challenge preconceived views.
There also needs to be a cultural shift around areas such as parental leave, with shared leave not being taken up readily because of preconceptions that it can damage a career. These need to be broken down, particularly as family set-ups continue to evolve. Men need the freedom to choose to stay at home, just as women need to voice their desires to return to work.
From an HR perspective, senior professionals must review their firm’s existing culture, proposition, and message to marketplace to ensure that it appeals to a wide variety of people. It is also crucial that companies ensure female role models within the organisation have a voice externally. You can do great work on your employer brand, but if females join and are then disappointed, all the work is for nothing. Once you get female talent into your pipeline, engage at every interaction and make sure you deliver on your promises.
The signs are positive that gender equality in the workplace is improving. According to recent research from the Resolution Foundation, while the disparity between the pay of women and men is still evident when professionals are in their 30s and 40s, the gender pay gap has almost disappeared for females in their 20s. If we assist the new generation of female professionals to achieve their potential, there is no reason why they should not remain on par with their male counterparts for the rest of their careers. But to do this we must get everyone involved – Manbassadors included.