“The men won’t like it.” Really?

Gender equality infographic via Independent newspaper

I had two very contrasting experiences this month.  Both were very illuminating on the topic of how companies respond to the challenge of bringing a better balance of women into the management pipeline. The experience of women working in those companies is poles apart. Let me share them with you (obviously no names).

I had appointments with two very different companies who wanted to find out more about how Changing People could help with their commitment to gender equality.

The first meeting was with a very large, international firm. I met with the head of HR, a woman, and we established an instant rapport. We discussed the inherent problems for large traditional organisations trying to change accepted practice, recognise unconscious bias, and so on. I went through a mini questionnaire designed to help identify any gaps or areas where the company could improve.

The upshot of this was depressingly familiar: we have few women in senior posts, we know women leave because they don’t like what they see above them, exit interviews tell us they are not prepared to work the long hours and give up weekends. Yes, the senior team say they want more women in senior posts, but they don’t do anything about making it happen. Yes, we have a women’s group- we run it in our own time and it doesn’t have a budget. We have to ask speakers to donate their time (Inevitably the speakers are usually women, once again being undervalued).

The HR director was very keen to get more women into senior posts and wanted a cohesive and coherent strategy, rather then the piecemeal approach currently in place. However, she hadn’t yet been able to get board sign up to this and doubted if she could. “I’ll have to come at it sideways” she said. “The men will complain if we do too much”

Contrast that two days later with the company I mentioned in my post on Golden Skirts & Gender Equality. This was a smaller company than the previous one, although still quite large with an international profile.

The CEO’s desire had been to create a company where work life balance was good for everyone. It wasn’t something they did just to ‘help women’. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t have a women’s group either because they didn’t need one. They have had no problem in finding women for their boards and have some excellent examples of gender equal practices. I was meeting with the HR Director and, on hearing of their many successful initiatives, and the positive responses to the survey, began to think they had no need of our programmes,  (designed to help businesses boost their numbers of women in management) and said so. I didn’t want to waste his time.

I was wrong; they were extremely interested. For, as he said:

“We don’t want to rest on our laurels. We’re always looking for good initiatives and training for our staff. We don’t want to get complacent.”

I asked him how the men on the staff might react to training specifically for women. “No problem”, he said, looking surprised.

He then encouraged me to speak with the women and ask about their experiences. I can honestly say I have rarely been in such a ‘happy’ workplace. I don’t mean happy in the Stepford Wives sense of fixed smiles and ‘have a nice day’ platitudes, but genuinely happy, from reception to top floor.

In both cases the message coming down from the top was crucial. Lip service to equality will change nothing. Companies with more women in senior posts are continuing to thrive, and in time, those who do not pay attention to this issue will find themselves looking old fashioned, and subject to government scrutiny.

I know which place I’d like to work in.

Posted on September 22nd, 2015 by

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