Perceptions through the eyes of a child
By Liz Lawson
Last week I casually started a conversation with my 7 year-old daughter, telling her that I have a new boss at work. She looked up at me, curiously, and asked, “what’s his name Mummy?” I was shocked, disappointed and saddened that my intelligent, confident, enthusiastic little girl, with so much potential ahead of her, automatically assumed that my line manager must be male. I was taken aback by this, that at the age of 7 she was already imposing her own ‘glass ceiling’, by putting boundaries around how far she can expect to progress in her future career. So, I asked her (as calmly as possible), why do you think my boss is a man? She explained simply that her immediate role models, in a position of senior leadership were male. My previous boss was male and her head teacher (in a primary school full of female employees) is male.
So, is it any wonder that she assumed the majority of senior leaders are men? Yet how disappointing that in 2018 and with constant media coverage about gender equality, equal pay etc., that our young people – our leaders of the future – are already forming the view that men occupy the top jobs; and this despite having a female prime minister and female monarch. Whilst there is a big push to increase the number of women on boards, the percentage of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms stands at 28% (www.gov.uk March 2018), a vast improvement from where we were five years ago, but is this really a figure to be celebrated?
So why aren’t we as far ahead on this as we should be? What’s holding organisations back from getting a fairer balance of men and women on their executive teams? Many organisations have tried and failed because they view it as a tick box exercise rather than it being routed in their strategy and led from the top down. Even when organisations have a clear strategy and business rationale, it can still be difficult to achieve, because without intention, their recruitment and talent management processes may favour men over women. Therefore, what can organisations do to attract and retain more diverse talent?
- Ensure their advertising strategies are diverse
- Have a diverse interviewing panel, with a range of backgrounds, cultures, experiences and perspectives
- Use structured, evidence-based processes for assessment i.e. suspend judgement and reduce the risk of bias creeping in
- Raise awareness of unconscious bias – so that key decision makers know what it is and how to reduce it
- Blind sifting – remove personal data at an initial sifting stage to take away the risk of bias judgement based upon biographical data
- Use critical thinking techniques to ensure decisions are objective and not based on inferences or assumptions
- Challenge the parameters/criteria set around what is essential or desirable in a role. Why is five years’ experience necessary when two years might be enough? Why do candidates need to be sourced from a particular industry/sector that may be traditionally male dominated? Why not widen the net and link in with networking organisations that specialise in attracting hard to find female talent e.g. female senior engineers?
- Create an inclusive working environment and culture which provides equal opportunities for all to progress. This may include flexible working patterns, a review of incentive schemes and greater emphasis on ‘how’ results are achieved rather than simply focusing on the result itself. However, most important is role modelling from the most senior leadership that this is the type of organisation they want to create.
As leaders, educators and parents we have a duty to remove unconscious bias and to promote diversity. Whilst not conclusive, there is a growing body of evidence that organisations with greater diversity prosper better and are also happier places to work and lead the way on innovation due to a greater range of skills, experience, perceptions and ideas to draw upon. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Coming back to my seven year old daughter; we talk often as a family about “dreaming big” and “following your own path” and with both my husband and I following professional careers, we don’t promote to gender role definitions within our home. However, it is clear that talking is only part of the solution, there needs to be visible change and until my daughter sees more examples of women in leadership roles in her everyday life, she is unlikely to change her perception. The same could be said for business organisations also.
Diversity and Inclusion is also the topic of forthcoming workshops being held in Cheshire, Warwick and London. Contact the team on 01625 508100 if you are interested in further information.
Should you wish to discuss any of the other services that we offer you can contact Liz Lawson on 07970 377481 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.