Striking the balance – gender equality

tb 37 p.77Fay Sharpe, managing director of Zibrant, explores why you should promote gender parity in the workplace.

Last month, the CBI announced that the UK is currently on track to meet its target of 25% of female directors on FTSE 100 boards by 2015. Four per cent below target with only a year to go (21.6%), there still seems much work to be done across UK business. Despite this, I believe that companies can, and do want to do more to ensure gender parity in the workplace.

One concern that seems to be raised across UK business is the difficulty of introducing programmes to foster gender equality. I can appreciate a dynamic shift in office culture is never easy, especially if the status quo mentality has been institutionalised within the company historically. Any change is going to have an effect, but it can so easily be a positive one. This is not a women’s lib thing, and in fact most women simply want to be recognised for what they do , irrespective of gender. This is about keeping talent, and developing and supporting it for the benefit of your business.

Bringing female staff on a corporate par with their male colleagues is a long overdue exercise, but it’s not about all-female shortlists for job roles (in itself illegal), or showing unfair or preferential treatment to one sex or another. Very simple systems can be put in place to guarantee more equality.

For example, the “Think, Act, Report” guidelines (available at www.gov.uk) provide a simple step-by-step framework to help companies think about gender equality in their workforces, particularly in relation to recruitment, retention, promotion and pay.

At Zibrant, women make up 75% of our workforce, so we ensure that they receive fair representation across our senior management (we currently have a 60/40 split female-to-male). Furthermore, our female staff are paid at the same level as their male colleagues, which is not a difficult practice, but one that is unfortunately not replicated across the UK.

Another excuse that senior management seems to find, and one which concerns me, is the implication that women who decide to have families cannot devote themselves professionally. I was on the receiving end of such a comment early on in my career and I have striven since to introduce practices that make it entirely possible for women to balance the personal and professional. By introducing flexible working, family credits and work-from-home schemes, I have been able to retain my most talented staff, and encouraged fidelity and integrity in the company through an empathetic approach.

Rhetoric is one thing, but actively offering a pro-women business structure is another. It requires encouraging self-motivation in female staff, but also reassuring all members of your team that they have equality of opportunity, and will be judged on their merits as opposed to their gender. As such, there is absolutely no reason that models similar to those above cannot be replicated across companies nationwide.