Parity: ‘the state or condition especially as regards status or pay’ – Oxford English Dictionary
Gender parity is still a long way off not only in the UK but throughout the world. According to the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, we will not achieve gender parity until 2133….which seems a long time to wait.
In the UK we have made pretty good progress – if you consider it was only 88 years ago since women got the vote. This is a considerable
achievement when you think in Switzerland women were not allowed to vote until 1971 and in South Africa some parts of the female population were not allowed to vote until 1994. Unfortunately though, progress in the UK has slowed and we now all need to take responsibility both individually and corporately for accelerating change.
Women make up an almost equal number of the workforce as men and they play a vital part in our economic, social and political success. Research continually shows that more equality between the sexes results in greater economic prosperity, more productivity and a higher GDP, so women are vital to business success. We also know that women currently constitute around 60% of junior managers, 40% of middle managers but only 20% of senior executives – so in addition to there being a ‘glass ceiling’ there is also a ‘glass pyramid’.
Creating gender parity is not just about fairness but about access to talent. Many women’s careers are fizzling out before they reach their full potential as senior leaders, so creating a ‘brain drain’ of female talent. Of particular concern is what happens when a woman decides to start a family – the potential loss of talent at this time is enormous. This is often because a woman may choose to alter her lifestyle but more worryingly it is often the result of inflexible working practices and a culture that demands an ‘all or nothing’ presence in the workplace, so job shares and flexible/creative career planning and working is not possible.
So what can be done to speed up change and help women scale the glass pyramid?
- Some organisations have implemented Gender Parity Programmes and these can undoubtedly help and increase the motivation of women simply because they believe gender parity is on the radar of their organisation. However if there is not authentic, demonstrated commitment to these programmes from those people in leaderships positions the results will be mixed.
- There needs to be a genuine understanding of the challenges faced by women as they aim towards those more senior positions, with a clear identification of the behaviours needed to help a woman succeed. These career paths may not be traditional therefore giving the flexibility for women to raise families and continue working.
- Organisations can ensure that there is a clear career trajectory which is accessible to both genders and is made very visible to all parts of the population within an organisation.
- More progressive corporate policies relating to flexible working arrangements with progressive options for childcare provision and support whilst a family is being raised
- Work to change organisational cultures so that the working environment becomes supportive and removes bias either conscious or unconscious.
- Establish networking groups where like-minded people can share ideas and experiences and provide ‘thinking partners’ for each other.
- Continually strive to be the best you possibly can be through a range of initiatives which may include formal workshops, informal help groups, extensive reading or identifying sponsors, coaches and mentors.
- Seek out these mentors or coaches so you can work with them either informally or formally. Identify women you have respect for in the working environment and who inspire and motivate you. Learn from them; use them as a sounding board, ‘thinking partner’, coach or mentor. Promote your stories of success and sell yourself.
As time goes on and new generations come into the working world there will be huge changes taking place. My children’ children will expect parity as a norm – they will demand it. They will not tolerate the glass pyramid. Culturally things will be very different as traditional gender and workplace structures change. However until then everyone has a responsibility no matter how small or big our contribution to speed up the rate of change and achieve gender parity much sooner than the predicted 2133.
Let’s move now from TALK to purposeful ACTION and shatter the glass pyramid once and for all.
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