The office environment is still geared towards men and this needs to change, says Amy Crawford.
Reading time: 3m 30s.
Throughout our lives, the biggest influencers on our behaviour and aspirations are the people close to us. Our friends, family and colleagues, but when it comes to our employment are companies falling short?
I believe that despite having women on their executive teams and boards, most businesses are failing women. Because while having women at the top is a positive and encouraging sign, those women often lead very different lives and have different support systems from the women at other levels in a business.
Their reality is so far removed from the average female employee that often their ‘family friendly’ HR policies and/or social media campaign on International Women’s Day doesn’t scratch the surface of addressing the issues women face in the workplace.
In so many ways modern British culture is more progressive and more awake to the idea of gender-neutral messaging than most people would have thought possible ten years ago. More and more businesses are waking up to the ideas of providing equal opportunities for men and women and closing the gender pay gap.
The game is rigged and most women know it and see it, every day.
Things are moving in the right direction, and thankfully women now tend to have better opportunities within the existing structures of the corporate workplace.
The age of Don Draper’s Mad Men may appear to be dead, but the reality is that many of today’s modern workplaces are direct genetic descendants of that world. Women are being given equal opportunities to succeed – but in a man’s world. The game is rigged and most women know it and see it, every day.
It might not be written in the black-and-white of a HR policy, but working women know about the odds stacked against them in the climate, the structures and even the language of the workplace itself. Earlier in my career, I myself was excluded from the invite list (in favour of male colleagues) to watch a cricket match as it was assumed that, as a woman, I wasn’t interested.
So much for corporate hospitality.
In this kind of toxic corporate environment, certain narratives are accepted as par for the course, while others still strike the wrong note. One employee’s hangover is good for a laugh, possibly evidence of the hours put in having drinks with clients the night before.
Another employee arrives stressed out after the nursery drop-off from hell, but this particular story doesn’t really have a place in corporate culture.
Consider also company celebrations, networking events and parties. Is it acceptable to put £50 babysitting costs on expenses? If the answer is ‘yes’, are all employees aware of this – is this a decision consciously factored into proceedings by the event planners? If the is answer ‘no’, what does this say about how important that parent is to the team?
We should aim to re-energise the large proportion of the workforce who are trying to give their companies their best while also maintaining a work-life balance. This calls for managers at all levels of a business who are tuned in to these alternate narratives.
When companies are next discussing gender diversity, instead of focusing on how many women have a seat at the top table, they should be trying to ensure that there are women at every table throughout the hierarchy of the entire business.
Yes, it is hugely satisfying to see more women take the top spots on executive boards. These women model success and drive others to be more ambitious. But this is not an end in itself.
Women at the top are more likely to have support systems and financial security that many women will never be lucky enough to have. This in turn can lead others to feel less able to achieve such success due to their own situation and create an alienating effect.
And due to the high salaries at the top levels, gender pay gap data can also be skewed to hide the absence of women in middle-management roles. This is where more women ought to be: leading teams, inspiring those like them to break through the barriers holding them back.
When businesses seek to empower women, the changes they make should not be merely cosmetic or simple tokenism; real, lasting empowerment must be cultivated from within.
About the author
Amy Crawford is chief operating officer of AVADO