The one where it’s all about women

I remember some years ago watching a dreadful film called “Junior” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson. The fact that I thought it was dreadful whilst trapped on an aircraft for 8 hours only reinforces how bad it really was. Tedious story short “The Governator” plays a scientist who agrees as part of a fertility project to carry a foetus in his body.

Dodgy Arnie films and a transgendered person in the US who now male carried a baby to full term aside women are solely responsible for the difficult part of satisfying the genetic imperative. Fact.

In the process of completing an essay for college recently I took time to read a number of journal articles, published government reports and NGO reports on the topic of women in business and the gender pay gap.

First some statistics:

In 2010 the gender pay gap in the UK was 16.4%. This equates to women working for no reward from November 2nd every year (Fawcett Society Report)

64% of the lowest paid workers in the UK are women (Fawcett Society Report)

Only 12.5% of the corporate boards of FTSE100 companies are women (up only 3% from 6 years earlier) (Women on Boards Report)

60.5% of women work in only 10 of the 78 total occupational classifications (and with the exception of teaching the 10 does not include any professions) (DfEE Report 2001)

It would be easy (and I must confess I had largely taken the easy route) to assign all of these differences to women being out of the workplace through childbirth and parenting. If I’m honest my apathy on the subject was based on “well men can’t have kids” but reading the statistics above (and much more) has left me feeling that organisations need to do more than they are doing because although the statistics are changing positively year on year (check the ONS website if you don’t believe me) they are in tiny increments which don’t for my part tally with the contribution the women I know make the workplaces I have known.

I should add some caveats here:

  1. I know some fabulous women who are very successful and have broken glass ceilings
  2. I work in an organisation that is over 80% female
  3. The same organisation has an exec co that is 38% female (so although not truly representative statistically significant by comparison)

So apart from the propagation of the species (which is kind of important) what other reasons exist for the gap and the glass ceiling in corporate life. It should be noted there are no citations for this list (although plenty exist) and it is NOT exhaustive

  1. Corporations are largely still culturally male
  2. Access to informal networks (think the old boys’ network) is restricted both in opportunity and time to women balancing work with family
  3. Acceptability of role at senior levels is still largely male (without consideration of suitability)
  4. Women who want to work part time “crowd” to occupations that are more tolerant of it and where they won’t be penalised either formally or informally for balancing their lives
  5. A lot of the “go further” activities in organisations e.g. Training, rely on commitment outside of working hours

What I find interesting in this case is though rafts of policy have been enacted since 1997, the change is taking time and I don’t believe we’ve got the family friendly policies right yet in terms of where they are positioned and the reaction that generates from organisations (the automatic defensive to the ‘right’ to work flexibly) and a blog post worth reading (including the comments) on this topic is here . Saying that, I don’t believe a positive discrimination approach will work as not only is it legally dubious but also I think it will leave women feeling exposed and vulnerable to criticism in a way that would be more unhelpful than the results it could achieve.

One thing I am sure about is that the solution to this problem is beyond my wisdom or purview but in everything I’ve read the message that comes through is that not enough is either known or understood about the positive impacts that women have in organisations. In the spirit of this I will close this post with…

Last some facts:

  1. Companies with more women on their boards were found to outperform their rivals with a 42% higher return in sales, 66% higher return on invested capital and 53% higher return on equity (Women on Boards Report)
  2. Organisations benefit from “feminine leadership” with the challenge facing organisations the need for competitiveness, aggression and task orientation (what could be considered male traits) are seen as less valuable than good communication, coaching, being intuitive, flexible and more people orientated in general (stereotypically female characteristics). (Powell et al, 2002)
  3. In Europe and the USA, women account for approximately six out of every ten university graduates and in the UK women represent almost half of the labour force. (Women on Boards Report)
  4. European Women continue to devote twice as much time as men to domestic tasks: 4h29m for Women, 2h18m for Men (Women Matter, McKinsey & Co.)
  5. Children born today will be 30 by the time I retire so can we please ensure they are well cared for in their formative years to ensure my old age is a happy one

Note: This post only scratches the surface of a very complex situation and for those who are interested in more detail there is loads available, start with the reports linked here and follow the trail.

Powell, G.N., Butterfield, D.A., Parent, J.D., (2002) “Gender and Managerial Stereotypes: Have the Times Changed?” Journal of Management, 28(2)

All other references are linked to download



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12 responses to “The one where it’s all about women

  1. Lilly

    Great post!

    Can I expand on that “corporations are largely male” point… The biggest problem as I see it is that careers are run according to a pattern which is hopelessly outdated, of ramping up in your 20s and 30s – ie women’s prime child bearing years – and also our long hours culture assumes you have a wife at home to look after you. This not only doesn’t work for women but as our expectations of family life change, I’m not sure it works for a lot of men either.

    • You’re right. As you say ‘ One thing I am sure about is that the solution to this problem is beyond my wisdom or purview’ and the same goes for me even though I am exposed to the issue quite a lot.

      A few weeks ago I listened to a talk given by Dr Ruth Sealy (Deputy Director of the International Centre for Women Leaders at Cranfield School of Management) on quotas for women on boards. Ruth is one of the lead researchers on the ‘Women on Boards’ report you quote from above.

      I started with the firm view that there should not be minimum quotas of women on FTSE boards but Ruth’s talk, covering some of the points you make above and quoting some of the companies that don’t have any women (including a FTSE food company who’s employees and customers must be 99.9% female) made me think that something has to happen.

      Ruth said that achieving a reasonable balance will take more than a generation. Perhaps quotas – which have been successfully implemented in some countries – might be worth looking at but what astounds me is the lack of foresight, creativity, common sense, openness – whatever we want to call it – of the Directors of our largest companies. Surely the numbers alone should make them consider women for their Boards?

  2. Brilliant and how true. The Sex Discrimination burden of proof laws need sharpening up and the EO Commission has a lot to answer for. Still far too many Japanese organisations operating in UK that fail (or refuse) to understand/abide by our equality laws. Yes, I know they bring business and employment to the UK but that is no excuse to disregard our legislation. It seems Japanese Corporations operating in the UK continue to refuse to promote women into senior managerial positions. Any statistics available please?

  3. Rob, Great post, really interesting. You’re right, the system doesn’t work well for far too many people or businesses. It’ll be a great day when substantially more companies wake up to finding the best people to outperform their competitors, regardless of who the employees are or where they come from. You’d think that Now would be an excellent time to do that.

    My experiences with this subject are as a mum. At the time of having my first child, my SME employer made me feel awkward for wanting to go home to my baby after work was done and my own sense of fairness made me feel guilty if I ever needed time off for my little boy (luckily rare).

    The main person who made me feel that ‘baby pressure’ at work was a female.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, within 6 months, I left. I was lucky to work in an industry where it was possible to set up my own business based on my skills and experience.

    It seems mad that there couldn’t be accommodation between me wanting to be a great mum And a great employee. I see alot of companies making sense of it, but so many more, not.

  4. Great post.
    similiar to Kay my experiences are as a mum, but I think I am a lucky one. I manage to combine mummydom with working part time in a relatively senior role in my business. I also work alongside three working mums on flexible hours and their dedication is astounding. You may see us all less in the office but you can speak to us at all hours and the work not only gets done but to a better standard.

    From speaking to others in my industry I have been told that part time working doesnt work in recruitment. I like to think I am proof to the contary.

    However from looking at the male/female characteristics I think I see to be a chap!


  5. Sorry I clearly meant to write: ‘I think I seem to be a chap!’

  6. 1) Junior is an awful film.
    2) This is an excellent post Rob, some great information on the current level of ‘equality’
    3) Love the insights you’ve drawn out from the stats and from your personal experience
    4) There is no easy answer to this, but there are strong groups out there trying to get this right, and your message serves to reinforce that stance
    5) You’re assuming you’ll be allowed to retire in 30 years time…

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  8. emily

    Terrific post, Rob. I’ve had this same type of conversation dozens of times with my high-achiever female friends. It is so much better than it was 30, 20, 10 years ago, but there is great progress yet to be made. I think that a major difference between today and decades before is that men like you recognize both the value of women in the workplace and the fact that there is disparity in representation at the top. Great job!

  9. jane smelter

    the statistics quoted fail to take into account hours worked, or separations from the career track.

    Moreover, look at enrollment rates at Uni and Grafuate programs…more than half women.

    This is largely fighting the last war; next question is…where have the Menfolk gone?

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