Gender Equality: Be Bold For Change in the City

Today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BeBoldforChange.

As the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 states:

“All things held equal, with current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in 83 years across the 107 countries covered since the inception of the Report—just within the statistical lifetime of baby girls born today.”

“More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realizing the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.”

Action needs to be taken across the world on many fronts including health, education, economy and politics to accelerate the move towards gender equality.

This is a massive global issue but how can City organisations address their gender inequalities?

Accelerating the Pace of Gender Equality and Inclusion in the City

Despite much work over many years, women are still struggling to progress in the City - and in other parts of our economy. There has been some progress following the work of organisations such as the 30% Club, and now 27% of FTSE-100 board members are women, up from 12.5%. However, the numbers of women in the levels just below the board are discouraging. To help more women to progress their careers to the higher levels, organisations need to change further to attract, retain and optimise female talent.

Business leaders as well as Inclusion and Diversity professionals, Human Resources, Learning and Development and Talent Professionals, all have parts to play. So does every line manager and woman herself.

Leading Change

As with any change, there need to be clear drivers. What is the “burning platform” for change? Business leaders need to fully appreciate the consequences of not enhancing gender equality and inclusion. This could include talent shortages by failing to attract and retain female talent.

For example, what would be the cost of one of the more senior women in your organisation not coming back after maternity leave or resigning after a few months back at work? Not only are there the costs of recruiting her replacement, the disruption to the team and the time taken for the new recruit to get up to speed but also the wealth of organisation-specific knowledge and expertise that walks out of the door with her. This is, of course, a choice for each individual woman to make but often, with additional support and flexibility, organisations are not only able to retain their new mothers, but engage them for optimum contribution.

These costs are “Away from” or Push” factors. What will it feel like if we don’t create greater gender equality? We often try to avoid feelings in business but essentially, despite our corporate sophistication, our brains move away from threats and towards reward and pleasure.

It is therefore also helpful to identify and articulate the “Towards” or “Pull” factors to your organisation of greater gender equality and inclusion. What will this feel like? A change vision has more power if it also has a positive emotional charge to it.

While there is undoubtedly a moral case for greater equality, emphasising both the push and pull factors of the business case, provides greater leverage.

Link Gender Equality and Inclusion Directly To Business Benefits

By starting with the organisation’s strategy and identifying how greater inclusion and diversity (on all fronts, not just gender), will support this,  one can develop a powerful incentive for change. For example, research has shown that organisations with gender diverse boards perform better than all male boards. Also, at  a time of skills shortages, it makes sense to nurture and retain the skills you have in-house. With women making up around half of the population,having senior levels match the profile of your customer base, makes sound business sense too.

Be Visionary

All change starts with a vision of where you are heading. What would real gender inclusion look like in your organisation? How would that play out in reward, promotion structures, recruitment, flexible working etc. Even as simply as how people contribute and respond to each other  in meetings. Currently many women find meetings a challenging environment to perform at their best.

If that is your end point, what are the milestones along the way? What will half way there look like, for example? What about a quarter of the way there? These milestones are not always easy to articulate but, the more clearly we can see our desired gender-equal future in our mind’s eye, the easier it will be to get there.

As Walt Disney said: "If you can dream it, you can do it.”

The more this vision can be created jointly the better. The vision then need to be communicated in a way that inspires and motivates others. It is much easier to be bold, and encourage others to be bold, if there is clear vision.

Handling Resistance

As with any change, there is likely to be some resistance to more efforts to support greater gender equality. Some people will either disagree with the approach or indeed more fundamentally take issue with providing support to women. Sometimes men are resentful of any woman-only development activities as they feet it compromises their own career opportunities.

It is necessary to listen to such resistance and find ways to reduce the perceived threat of change. One way some organisations are tackling this is by creating gender balanced networks, rather than women only networks.The more we can show that greater gender equality will benefit the whole organisation and get men on board, the better.

Collaborate With Others

Who are your champions of change? These can be men, women, individuals and groups. Who is senior enough to sponsor the gender equality work in your organisation? One of the pledges of the Women in Finance Charter is that organisations will have a member of the executive team responsible for gender diversity and inclusion.

As well as being in service of the organisation’s strategic direction, how can you align your gender equality goals with those of others in your organisation?

Identify Quick Wins

Like all change initiatives, the more you can identify and enact “quick wins”, the more momentum you can gain. As people see progress, more are likely to wish to become involved. What could be the quick wins in your organisation?

Take Baby Steps

We need to think big but it often works best to start by acting small. One reason why people don’t make the changes they want in their life is because they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task they have set themselves. This is often true of weight loss or seeking to enhance fitness and in other dimensions of personal change. Being ambitious is good and you may have come across the concept of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). These big goals can be inspiring but need to be broken down into bite sized chunks. When coaching my clients, I am a great advocate of taking baby steps. Once the brain derives the satisfaction of achieving small goals, you will be much more motivated to move onto the next one.

For example, is there one woman in your organisation who has real leadership potential but who would benefit from the support of a coach to help her breakthrough to the next level? Or could you help her find a sponsor, perhaps? Maybe many women are entering your business at early stages in their career but then leaving to go elsewhere. What one step could you take to begin to tackle this?

What Action Will You Take?

We are all being encouraged this International Woman’s Day to Be Bold for Change. In the context of your organisation, what could you do that would make a difference and move the dial a little further towards woman’s equality?

Catherine Cuffley is an executive coach and founder of Thinking Choices Limited ( She specialises in working with organisations in the City of London to help them to develop their women leaders. She works with senior professional women in banks, insurance companies, law firms and management consultancies etc. to support them in achieving their next leadership position. This may be a place on the board or indeed their first leadership position and everything in between.

Catherine is the author of the forthcoming book, SHIFT: Insights from a City Coach on Succeeding as an Authentic Woman Leader and she also speaks at conferences and events, such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) on the application of neuroscience to leadership, amongst other topics.

Catherine has spent many years in the City in a range of Human Resources and Learning and Development roles. She has also worked as a Change Management Consultant in financial services organisations. She has repeatedly seen the way in which many talented women in City organisations are not quite reaching the more senior positions they seek. Catherine’s mission is to support women in fulfilling their potential and maximising their contribution whilst enabling organisations to optimise their female talent.

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