October 3, 2018
This is the third Women’s Issue North East Times has produced since the title was relaunched in 2015. Feedback from the previous two editions has been overwhelmingly positive but there have always been a few comments – from both men and women – who have questioned the need to publish a Women’s Issue?
But research shows that women still only hold 27.7 per cent of directors’ seats in the boardrooms of FTSE 100 companies (Cranfield School of Management 2017 analysis) and British men are still almost twice as likely as women to start their own business (Aston University 2017). Admittedly, these figures are an improvement on a decade ago but why are gender diversity disparities still so high?
Jackie Barnett spent 20 years in the corporate world, working in senior positions at multinational corporations in the UK and Europe. She often found that she was the only woman around the boardroom table and would be regularly talked over in meetings, or her ideas were dismissed – only to be embraced when made by a man a few minutes later.
Frustrated, she began working on strategies to addresses these and now works with companies to improve their gender balance through her consultancy, Jackie Barnett Consulting.
Jackie highlights just a few contributing factors to the gender divide in the workplace.
Firstly, women can be more prone to ‘limiting beliefs’ – where they don’t believe they have the ability for senior positions.
“Some women are holding themselves back because they don’t think they can do something. Quite often, it stems from a message they’ve been given when they were younger,” says Jackie. “They also tend to set higher standards for themselves.”
According to research by Hewlett Packard, men would apply for a job if they fulfilled 60 per cent of a job specialisation, whereas for a woman, it was almost 100 per cent.
Jackie reveals that job adverts can often use more ‘male- oriented language’ too.
“Businesses should be more conscious to make sure adverts use neutral language or softer language. Especially in leadership roles where often there’s quite aggressive words used.”
Similarly, a business can promote a culture – whether consciously or unconsciously – that is more suited to men than women.
Jackie cites the work of Inge Woudstra, a speaker, consultant and trainer who is an expert in diversity and inclusion and gender differences.
“In her book [Be Gender Smart], Inga talks about the differences between men and women. For example, women tend to compete on being nice whereas men compete on being the strongest or the best, which impacts their working styles,” Jackie says.
“Men also tend to be more fact-based, so they will just look at what’s in front of them, whereas women are more concerned with looking at the consequences. They will canvas opinions and analyse previous mistakes. The problem is that this is often seen as procrastination and the inability to make clear decisions.”
Jackie also reveals that women are more likely to be asked to do the housework-tasks around the office or take notes in meetings – further exacerbating gender stereotypes.
But why should companies embrace gender diversity?
According to a 2017 report by McKinsey & Company, which looked at data from more than 1000 companies covering 12 countries, companies with the best gender diversity at an executive level were 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than the companies with the poorest levels. In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team made an even bigger impact: for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity, EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) rose by 3.5 per cent.
“When you have a more diverse executive team – that embraces the differences between men and women – it improves decision making and problem solving. You get a much better diversity of perspectives,” Jackie adds.
So what’s the solution?
Jackie now works with companies to help improve their gender diversity and runs confidence-building workshops for women to help build the belief to go further in their career.
She encourages businesses to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test to highlight ways in which they may – however unintentionally – be contributing to a gender bias.
“It’s about businesses understanding how they might be holding women back.”
Jackie also emphasises the need for more women to become role models in business.
“Having examples of women who are either in senior positions or have started their own business, it’s incredibly important to show girls and women that they can do it too.”
And this is where North East Times’ Women Issue comes in. If – by highlighting just some of stories of women doing amazing things in the region – it inspires more females to apply for a senior position, or to take the first steps towards starting their own business, then this issue has done its job.
I completely agree with the sentiment from the criticism of this issue. I too long for the day when an annual Women’s Issue is seen as unnecessary. But unless there’s a radical shift in the gender diversity in workplace statistics in the next 12 months, a fourth Women’s Issue of North East Times will be rolling off the presses in autumn 2019.