IMPROVING GENDER EQUALITY IN WORK – WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM LONDON’S BUSINESS AND POLICY ORGANISATIONS?
This event, held at Birkbeck, University of London, on 18 March 2015, aimed to bring together academics and practitioners from different fields to discuss how to foster gender equality in the workplace. The initiative forms part of the actions of a current four-year European project “TRansforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research” (TRIGGER), running at Birkbeck, and focused on gender equality in science disciplines.
Professor Philip Dewe, Birkbeck, welcomed the panel, that included: Jo Beill, Solicitor at London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Nicola Cardwell, Senior OD and Development Consultant, Diversity and Inclusion, PwC; Professor Henry Etzkowitz, Stanford University; Sue Johnson, Senior Diversity and Social Policy Officer, Greater London Authority; Professor Nick Keep, Birkbeck; Jeanne Le Roux, Founder JLR People Solutions Limited; Siobhan Martin, HR Director and UK Board Member, Mercer. Professor Colette Henry, Dundalk Institute of Technology chaired the panel.
Overcoming gender inequality has been a key challenge for universities, firms, charitable organisations and public authorities for years, but still discrimination exists. Discrimination can be visible, such as vertical and horizontal segregation. These mean, respectively, fewer women in top positions, and an unequal representation of women in specific professions and disciplines.
Discrimination can also be invisible, such as unconscious gender bias in selection and promotion procedures. This can have an impact on salary discriminations. These issues can be addressed in a number of different ways: Professor Henry Etzkowitz underlined how often measures for improving equality assume a ‘fix the women’ solution, while the problem is more at the structural level, and a better focus is ‘fixing the system’.
A lack of women in senior leadership positions was a theme raised by all of the panellists. This topic generally receives a lot of attention from the media, especially because it is often targeted by setting ‘quotas’. This is a controversial measure, which, as underlined by Jeanne Le Roux, does not show inclusiveness, but can even create more tensions. Professor Nick Keep emphasized how the presence of women at the top of the hierarchies is greatly impacted by the number of women who are entering a profession or academic discipline. It is, therefore, important to understand where the point at which women drop out occurs. Sue Johnson gave a similar reflection, and stressed that measures for improving gender equality should be targeted to different areas: for example, a challenge she meets is bringing more women into the construction sector. Siobhan Martin focused on the relevance of supporting individual development and training as measures to pave the way for gender equality, while Nicola Cardwell underlined how it is important that leaders care, and are shown to care for gender equality. Joe Beill provided another important input by asking the audience to reflect on how gender is related to other types of differences and discrimination, such as race and ethnicity.
During the debate with the audience other topics emerged. These included the importance of flexible working to increase diversity in organisations and improve individual well-being. Flexible working allows people, especially those with family obligations and caring responsibilities to better spread their workload. Transparency in salaries and in promotion procedures is also part of the process by which gender inequality is identified. It is important to recognise that it is often informal processes which support people in climbing up the career ladder. However, these very processes are sometimes those which discriminate against women. Consequently, it is pivotal for each organisation to understand how different processes work and how they can be counterbalanced by, for example, sponsorship and mentoring programmes. Both bring together a more senior with a more junior member of the staff, with the aim to support the more junior person in advancing their career. Mercer is particularly active on sponsorship.
Panellists agreed that organisations should make sure that staff needs are heard, and that staff achievements are visible. Moreover, organisations should try to keep the proportion among women and men all across the career ladders.
The audience challenged the panellists with more questions. A recurring theme was what organisations and managers can do for equality. Measures might include more than on bottom-up initiatives, in which staff and employees work towards improving organisations’ strategies and cultures. In fact, gender inequality is often experienced by people in the form of everyday sexism first. For this reason, organisations should find ways of empowering people, both women and men, to stand up. It seems clear that more equality could be achieved when more people, from the lowest to the highest levels, are committed to it.
To close the event, Colette Henry asked each of the panellists to give one thought on what organisations could do to improve gender equality. Panellists highlighted that:
it is important for each organisation to find a way to make gender equality an important and visible issue everybody should care about;
the path towards gender equality and diversity can be difficult, consequently resilience is necessary, and it is essential to celebrate victories;
people should be made accountable for equality and transparent procedures are a must.
According to the panellists, if you are a champion for gender equality, a good strategy for pushing people to change, is to support arguments with data.
Clearly discrimination and a lack of diversity do not pay off. Increasing equality means changing cultures in organisations. This is something that organisations should not be afraid of.
More information at www.bbk.ac.uk/trigger
NYUAD ANNUAL RESEARCH CONFERENCE
To celebrate the move to the Saadigat Island Campus, the NYUAD (New York University Abu Dhabi) held its first NYUAD Annual Research Conference 2015 from 28 February 2015 till 1 March 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
THA President, Professor Henry Etzkowitz, was an invited keynote speaker at the Conference, and made a presentation on: Triple Helix: Universities-Enterprises-State: Innovations in action. A video of the presentation and a slide set are available at www.triplehelixassociation.org/th-repository.