Women in the Workplace – Ladies Magazine Handouts – Really?

Oct 24, 2016 | Blogs

Written by Karin Laljani

I don’t know about you, but attending a conference or a panel on the gender pay gap, inspiring girls to go into any field they desire, discussing talent pipeline and so on – the last thing you want to see on the chairs or tables are women’s magazines with fashion, home design and marriage headlines. Don’t get me wrong, women and men’s magazines are fabulous. But there is a time for everything. Well, a bit like locker room talk, if you are into that kind of thing…

For once on the 20th October there was no magazine, just a great agenda. Policy-UK had put together a really interesting list of speakers and gathered over 100 women and (I think) 2 men for Women mean Business. Not that this was women-only invites, however these discussions unfortunately have yet to gather momentum across genders.

Things have changed however.

Equal pay regulation is in place in many countries. In general for us in the UK, the US and the wider developed world, we are much better off in the last 100 years in making our workplace diverse – even beyond gender diversity. Some more steps are about to be taken too. For instance, the UK government is introducing mandatory Gender Pay Gap disclosure. The move is still in the final consultation stage, but it will have a lot of companies asking themselves: But why the gap – we do everything we can to improve diversity? Some clear points of view were made at the conference. Dame Helen Alexander shared some insights from the Hampton / Alexander Review; the way forward to delivering the 2020 targets of 33% board members being women on FTSE 350 boards – that is through a voluntary business-led approach as opposed to government imposed quotas. I happen to agree.

The biggest challenge, however, is the balance in the current leadership talent pipeline – women in leadership roles who can step up to these board roles. They are few and far between still. So the real work is in developing a pipeline with a better gender balance. By making the numbers visible across all levels, it will spark debate about how to accelerate that process.  It will take the gender diversity discussion to a broader audience, with a broader view and work-place solution – yes beyond the needs of women.

This week HBR announced the top 100 CEOs of 2016. Lars Rebien Soerensen of Novo Nordisk is at the top of the list. In an interview, he was asked about work-life-balance and to what extent he was trying to model behaviour for the rest of the company? His answer is at the heart of developing the talent pipeline successfully. It is, Lars acknowledges, a very complex issue. He discloses that the generous maternity leave created to protect families and mothers in Scandinavia, is actually a hindrance to building a career. If you take maternity leave for a full year, the company moves on. And women who do that a couple of times in their thirties are unfortunately being left behind. We’re working on the right formula for developing female talent, but progress has been excruciatingly slow.’ The fact is that 12 years after maternity leave women’s hourly pay-rate falls 33% behind men’s – highlighting Lars Soerensen’s point from a different angle.

Lars Soerensen also said he was probably not the best role model. Well who is? I write this blog on a Saturday, because I can; the laundry is done, my husband is travelling, the dog and I have had our long lovely walk, and my son is on a football tour in Italy. More importantly – I feel inspired to write today. Some might say I am a bad role model, but frankly the work-life-balance does not do it for me and it never has. Work-life integration does – I love what I do, so why not do it on a Saturday? Next is a ladies magazine or my book of the week. This is not a signal to my colleagues to do the same thing and it is not possible in all professions, but we need to start getting beyond the traditional work-life balance talk.

As leaders we should focus on developing a balanced diversity pipeline. Flexible working for all and access to mentors for career development are two solutions I hope will top the list going forward. Not from a policy perspective only, but a much wider culture change is required.

The leadership talent pipeline is not our only challenge to meet future targets of gender diversity in corporates. How we measure productivity is another one; how performance is rewarded, and everyone’s well-being in life, not just at work – these challenges are sort of integrated, right? CEO Sam Smethers of The Fawcett Society was the icing on the cake for me at the conference last week. Sam made all of these points, and that women lose out by ruling themselves out, due to other priorities in their lives. The fact is that you can be full-time, poor and inefficient. Part-time, brilliant and efficient. Almost too obvious a statement to make – but it is so true. So go for that dream job, don’t limit yourself – you are good enough and it will all work out just fine.

Sam also challenged the attitude to flexible working. Most think about flexible working as a concession or a reward. It should just be the way we work. I am sure that this debate will go on for many years to come. Different sectors will develop different solutions. If that can be aCCelerated via the Gender Pay Gap disclosures that is good news to me. For the simple reason that there is a business case for gender diversity – for society, companies and the individuals.

Oh and by the way – in case you are interested – 2 women made it to the top 100 HBR CEO list – Debra Cafaro and Marillyn Hewson. Great role models for sure, but so are many of the men! Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP came in second on the CEO list – Sir Martin Sorell’s response to why there are only two women on the list it pretty spot on; the reason why there are so few women at the top is that there are so few women at the top. Pipeline focus please – not the current leadership rankings, which is a result of the last 20 years.