Creating a Level Playing Field

ListeGender equalityning to our speaker at yesterday’s WDF on Creating a Level Playing Field, I couldn’t help but feel a bit despondent! Despite working on this issue myself for over 8 years, I got to wondering how much real progress has actually been made towards a truly level playing field in that time?

When the Davies report was published in 2011 with a clear business case for gender balanced leadership, I thought it would be a few short years before we would see significant strides being taken, but we seem to have crawled forward collectively at a snail pace since then, despite sterling efforts and millions of pounds being spent on this issue around the globe.

Looking back then I can see that a lot of the focus was on “fix the women” – confidence training, leaning in and sitting at the table. Today, measures being taken are much more subtle and have moved on to the more difficult arena of “fix the system”.

The reference material at yesterdays WDF was the GEM report on Tailoring Organisational Practices to achieve Gender Equality; a 40 page best practice guide looking at human resource processes to eliminate subtle biases in the system.

Highlights for me when reading the report included: –

  • While many firms believe they are operating a merit based system, unconscious biases mean some are privileged over others without this being detected by the system
  • A large 2015 study busted the myth that women don’t want the job, with near equal number 75% to 78% desiring promotion
  • Job descriptions should only include the absolute essential qualifications and competencies to stop women from holding back when they don’t fit all the “nice to have” criteria
  • Job description language should be reviewed to contain gender neutral language
  • A wide range of advertising sources should be used to ensure a breadth of applicants from all genders
  • Recruitment phases should be left open until a minimum number of female applicants have applied
  • Recruitment panels should have a minimum 30% of each gender and receive unconscious bias training
  • Panel chairs should be trained to ensure they elicit equal contributions from all genders
  • Unsuccessful applicants should be given feedback after interview to encourage them to reapply
  • Appraisals should be competency based to avoid small differences affecting long term career progression

All of the above appear solid sensible measures to chip away at the biases in the system, but for me the statistic that really struck home was from a 2010 report by Coleman, which stated that an individual’s performance in their day-to-day role and the results they produce only account for 10% of how successful they will be in their career. The major factors are image 30% and exposure 60%.

So to all you women out there diligently crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, and thinking about what exam to take next. Maybe it’s time instead to examine what image you are creating and then put up your hand for that assignment that will really get you noticed. After all it’s what the other team on this playing field is up to ……