(Wo)Men at Work
As the first female partner at KPMG Isle of Man and first female president of the Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce, I hope that I have broken through some traditional barriers for women in business.
As a result, I have had the privilege of speaking at several conferences over the past year on gender diversity in business, setting out both the performance advantages to be gained, and the barriers that exist. In doing so, I have drawn upon KPMG’s own research, and also the research of others, and I would like to share some of the key messages.
KPMG has done extensive research in conjunction with YSC and the Thirty Percent Club, a collaborative initiative which was set up with the aim of having 30% representation by women on FTSE100 boards by the end of 2015. Sadly, very little has changed on boards since the publication of our first report (1) in 2014, and the 30% initiative did not hit its 2015 target – even more sadly, KPMG’s most recent report (2) which looked at progress between March 2014 and July 2016 (see chart), concluded “At Executive Committee level, we cannot confidently predict a timescale for women to ever reach a 30 per cent tipping point”.
It is simply not fair, as the FTSE 100 Leadership Diversity Index published by Green Park (3) in 2017 reported, for a woman to need to be three times more educated than her male counterparts in order to sit on a FTSE100 board. But I don’t see the need for moral debate on this topic, when there are sound commercial imperatives to support diversity.
The performance advantages:
There has been a wealth of research in the past 5-10 years to show that companies with diverse boards in terms of race, social mobility and gender, perform better. According to McKinsey, areas of improved performance by diverse boards include:
- 42% performed better in terms of sales;
- 66% performed better in terms of return on capital invested, and;
- 53% performed better in terms of a return on equity
And really, it’s common sense, isn’t it? If you are surrounded by a bunch of people who are very like you, in terms of background, experience and lifestyle, then it follows that their values and perspective are likely to be very similar to yours – and a board made up of people with the same values and perspective is a very blinkered one.
The barriers that exist:
In 2016, when a women-only college at Cambridge (4) did a survey of its entire living Alumni to see what impediments, if any, to career progress they had faced, they almost certainly expected balancing family and work to come out top.
But, whilst that came in at 22%, there was another impediment that was much more significant – 38% of Murray Edwards alumni said workplace culture was the biggest impediment to career progress, and referenced:
- Gender inequality & discrimination
- Non-supportive & difficult colleagues and managers
- Feeling that their work is undervalued
- Feeling that they have to over-perform simply because they are female
A large body of research, covered in the report, reveals the problems that many women experience with workplace culture, and how these are grounded in inherent bias in most workplaces. The implications of all these biases are that women are:
Less likely to be:
- Recruited into stereotypically male fields
- Given high profile assignments
- Promoted into leadership roles
More likely to be:
- Sidelined into roles that are not client-facing or critical to the profit and loss of an organisation
- Negatively judged in performance reviews
- Leave the organisation or stay in mid-level roles
But let’s be clear – no-one is setting out to deliberately exclude women – some of these are linked to socialised male behaviour, and others to unconscious bias – and I have been really encouraged by the desire of my male colleagues and clients to engage in making meaningful change.
At the same time, let’s not kid ourselves that everyone believes in equality for men and women – in her recently published book (5), Joanne Lipman points out that in a global survey carried out last year, 1 in 5 men said they believe that women are inferior to men, and in the data from Russia and India, half of both the women and the men surveyed shared that belief – and this is in 2017!
So there is no doubting the need for change, and the past year has seen public debate at unprecedented levels about the role and treatment of women across a range of areas; gender pay, the arts, politics and business.
In response to that, I have 3 closing pleas;
- Let women be women – we will only get the advantages of diverse thinking if we allow women to be different to men, as KPMG’s (female) global CEO recently commented (6) – if women have to adapt their style, opinions and approach to ‘fit in’ and progress, then we may as well not bother.
- Let girls be geeks – it is clear that, even now, girls are encouraged to ‘self-stereotype’ from an early age, both at home and school, which leads to low participation by women in science and technology. The ‘Love Tech’ initiative here on the Isle of Man is doing great work to address this locally.
- Let men be part of the solution – the days of women gathering in a pink-branded room to bemoan their fate and the evil empire of male domination are long gone – true diversity and inclusion needs to be about including the many, many men who want to change the experience of women in the workplace.
Cracking the Code (March 2014)
Revisiting the Executive Pipeline (July 2016)
Trevor Phillips, former Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK, is Chair of Green Park’s Diversity Analytics division
‘Collaborating With Men’ Murray Edwards College Research (2016)
‘Win Win’ by Joanne Lipman (John Murray Publishers, 2018)
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