‘No going back’ how 2018 has drawn a line in the ground for gender progress in leadership.

Jul 15, 2018 | Articles

2018 has demonstrated significant progress in improving gender diversity but more needs to be done to promote more women into leadership.

The first half of 2018 has been busy around gender diversity. Globally activism has ramped up most notably with the ‘Me Too’ campaign galvanizing action and shaking up the film industry. Elsewhere global and national indices are paying more attention to the rate of progress for achieving gender representation in leadership.

Data matters in benchmarking progress

Gender Pay Gap reporting was launched in two European countries, to tackle inequality by creating greater transparency around pay for men and women in larger organizations. In the United Kingdom,  organizations with over 250 employees were required to report on their gender pay gap. Germany has taken a slightly different approach with the Remuneration Transparency Act that allows women to find out how their salary compares to men in similar jobs in companies with more than 200 employees.

Further afield, Canada has taken its gender commitment further by setting gender budgeting as a core pillar of its budget for 2018. Canada will proactively integrate gender priorities into its budgeting across all sectors. With all this progress and significant milestones, why did Chatham House (also known as the Royal  Institute of International Affairs) a London-based independent think-tank decide to title its 5th annual two-day International gender policy forum ‘No Going Back’? While there are some great examples of initiatives to move the dial on women’s leadership, the data is showing inconsistent movement. In other words, progress isn’t always achieved and often not at a consistent rate.

The data shows progress is still slow. The first Gender Pay Gap reporting in the United Kingdom earlier this year, exposed 78% of companies pay men more than women (based on hourly pay).

The second Gender Leadership report for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit identified which countries had made the most significant gains and losses around women in leadership across public, private and political leadership. In the private sector, the percentage of female CEOs and Board roles had increased by 5.5% over the two-year period amongst the 53 countries (www.boardwalkleadership.com). Beyond the Commonwealth countries, data from the World Economic Forum demonstrates women occupy less than 50% of leadership positions in every industry. Based on these rates of change it is estimated to take 217 years before we achieve gender parity, that means our great grand-daughters should be at an equal level with men (Global Gender Gap Report).

Progress still isn’t happening fast enough

The intense level of activity suggests progress is happening, but as the data shows the rate of change at best is glacial and if left unchecked can regress. No Going Back is a call to action by Stephane Dubois who heads the Chatham House Gender and Growth Initiative, ‘We have to acknowledge progress, but we have also to recognize there is a lot more to do. We need to unlock institutional barriers and empower women so that they can play their part in contributing to the economy.’

Tackling gender leadership is not about ‘fixing the women’, in fact, it is increasingly recognized as a catalyst for creating a work culture that is better for everyone. However, the fact remains when women make up 50% of the population there is no justifiable reason why they do not have a stronger leadership representation in organizations. Promoting more women into leadership will not be solved by a silver bullet and there is a great deal of work in this field in developing interventions and policies that work across the organization to build inclusion. Peter Duff, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, (EMEA) BP Plc emphasizes the inclusion ‘We know that Diversity is important – but inclusion is key because if we can get this right, much of our Diversity and inclusion ambition will follow.’

We find companies already have strong policies in place to support and nurture diverse and inclusive cultures. However, implementation at the management level often causes challenges. Managers who build a strong reputation and following amongst their teams share similar characteristics. These individuals really take time to get to know individuals they work with and demonstrate genuine curiosity about their colleagues. Successful managers recognize they don’t always have the answers but will be open about what they know and more important honest about what they don’t know and seek input on how to solve uncertain situations.

Leaders hold the key to change

Dissecting the barriers so often described in organizational cultures, the most effective way to challenge the institutional obstacles is through active and visible leadership from men and women who want to challenge the status quo. Peter Duff describes the role of leadership support at BP Plc, ‘We aim to ensure our leaders at all levels demonstrate our belief that gender balance in our company is important. Important for us get to better decision making, important to remain competitively advantaged and important because it is the right thing to do.’

This top-down approach sets out a clear message to stakeholders, change is happening, but genuinely useful leadership filters throughout the organization. Individuals who take a stand against the barriers and ensure no one in their team can go ‘back’ are reinforcing the line in the ground by moving on and upwards for even more progress.

Follow me @Shaheenajj Find out more at https://www.henley.ac.uk/people/person/dr-shaheena-janjuha-jivraj