Jess Sandham says to address gender disparity we need to demonstrate gender neutrality at work and at home
According to a report from the MSCI, at the current rate businesses are progressing; gender parity will not be achieved until 2045. The list of reasons for this lack of movement is lengthy, but none have such an impact as the static mental models leaders have about their role in driving progress, and structures that no longer support contemporary work approaches.
Women are often overrepresented in lower-level positions due to outdated, traditional hierarchies that place some roles as of significantly less value than others. Tackling this requires people to be brave enough to recognise their pre-existing biases and to have an open dialogue about them.
For me, a key point is fostering positive attitudes towards all working roles, especially with children, and using gender-neutral language. Gender-based interests, hobbies, and activities are instilled in kids from a very young age, and often these attitudes prevail in their working lives. As a society, we need to challenge each other on gendered roles, use neutral language, and value every person’s contribution regardless of their position.
Gender-based interests, hobbies, and activities are instilled in kids from a very young age, and often these attitudes prevail in their working lives
I recently heard two girls aged about 9 or 10 discussing how much they loved Formula One and wanted to be drivers one day. But, due to a lack of female representation in the industry, they didn’t think this was a realistic ambition and quickly persuaded each other they could never be F1 drivers. Visible role models are vital in all types of organisations to promote mutually inclusive gender language and perspectives.
Rethinking our definition of role models can help with this – it doesn’t always have to be a senior executive or business leader. Anyone can be a role model and advocate for themselves and others by talking about what they do and being visible. Businesses need to find a way to support diverse role models through pathways such as sponsoring, mentoring, and allyship.
One of the main problems with how gender is reported, which often causes gender disparity, is that the UK still only legally recognises two genders, and this is the information employers must collect to report to HMRC for tax and National Insurance purposes. Without data, you can’t fix the problem, or you’ll fix the wrong problem. Businesses with the right data are better equipped to tackle issues and take targeted action.
Getting the right data can be tricky. Offering employees a way to self-identify outside of binary legal gender can help. Being honest about how companies use their data is essential for everyone to feel comfortable and promote a culture of transparency. Visible recognition and transparency encourages people of all genders to have the space and confidence to self-identify inside and outside of their workplace. Businesses should talk openly about how data can positively impact the way they support people and report their pay gaps. You shouldn’t need data to create change, but it can certainly support it.
Jess Sandham is head of research, design and transformation at RightTrack Learning