It's International Women's Day on Saturday 8th of March. A time in the calendar when anyone who values Inclusion stops to consider the progress being made in the workplace and society at large. In terms of Gender representation, the past three years demonstrate both a positive and plateauing of progress. The four Nordic countries of Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden remain at the top in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report. While here in the UK, the welcome increase in the rate of females joining the C-Suite, experienced immediately post-Davies Report, has slowed.
This 'slowing' has caused a turnaround in views on 'target-setting' from unexpected quarters. In Germany, the CEO of Siemens (hitherto opposed to any form of quotas) has been vociferous in his advocacy of the need for positive-action targets. And this week, the head of the UK's biggest business lobby group - the CBI - has called on all British companies to introduce targets to boost the numbers of senior women in their ranks.
John Cridland, Director-General of the CBI, said that the pace of progress for getting women into senior positions had been too slow and the issue had to be looked at with urgency. Only 18 months ago, the CBI was firm in its opposition to such a move. So why the change now – and how will this happen?
“The current leadership needs to set a really good example and show that on their watch things will change” explained Mr Cridland to The Times Newspaper, adding that targets had an important part to play.
“If a company or an institution sets a target that it wants to achieve for the proportion of senior level posts that are held by women, that provides the whole organisation with a very clear signal that the boss is serious about changing this.”
That change is needed. A report from PwC released on Monday ranks UK at 18th out of 27 OECD countries in the Women in Work index, which measures a range of issues including the gender pay gap. In 2000, Britain was at No.14. Women who work full-time still earn 18% less than men – and PwC warned that the UK had to increase the rate of change in women's economic empowerment, or risk falling further behind other rich nations.
The Lord Davies report of 2011 argued that by 2015 (i.e. in 10 months' time) women should make up a minimum 25% of FTSE 100 boards. But figures released earlier this year heightened fears that this target could be missed. And the pace of change demanded by Lord Davies continues to tax the need for ensuring 'meritocratic' appointments, with the CBI chief noting, for example, that while companies and institutions such as the Treasury and the Bank of England must make appointments on merit, setting strict criteria for applicants will mean that in many cases they end up with a male-only shortlist. Certainly, the City institutions are not role-models. Threadneedle Street has come under heavy criticism for having no female numbers on its nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee since 2010. Charlie Bean, the deputy governor, is stepping down in July – and many hope that he will be replaced by a she. Mr Cridland's view on this could shatter the glass ceilings once and for all, not just at Executive level but at the senior management strata too.
“If you actually say I will have a balanced shortlist by gender and I will allow for the fact that the most talented women candidates may not have as many years' experience because of other things they've done in their life, but I'll measure their performance on what they have achieved rather than on how long they did, you might end up with a different shortlist.” says Mr Cridland.
Putting such practice into action is now surely needed. It's two years since the seminal Credit Suisse and McKinsey reports which finally showed a concrete link between balanced representation and greater organisational performance/shareholder value. We all suffer if this does not happen – and we need to make every day women's day.
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