Fixing the broken rung:
action to improve gender balance

20 December 2019

Last month’s Hampton-Alexander Review, concerning the improvement of gender balance in FTSE leadership, reports positive if rather slowly moving trends, but indicates that there is still much work to be done. In particular at the very top of organisations there is a distinct lack of female CEOs to ensure businesses have strong pipelines of talent enabling progress to continue. The narrative seems to be less about the glass ceiling and more about, in the words of the also recently published McKinsey and Company report “Women in the Workplace 2019”, a need to fix the broken rung”.

The data driven Hampton-Alexander Review is unsurprisingly full of headline grabbing and important statistics, for example, how close the FTSE 350 is to achieving its target of 33% women in senior leadership positions by the end of 2020. It also provides useful insight into the specific action some of the top companies are taking to improve gender equality as well as research from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London on inclusive workplace cultures and behaviours.

In my view, much of the action being taken to improve gender equality could and should be used to improve inclusion and diversity in every area, not just gender.

So what is business doing to improve gender balance?

Lloyds Banking Group, Card Factory, Direct Line Group and Marshalls use diverse shortlists. Brewin Dolphin ensures panels responsible for promotions are gender balanced. Direct Line Group uses “language decoders” to ensure job adverts don’t alienate women, particularly for roles typically dominated by men. Burberry runs unconscious bias training for all colleagues.

Lloyds Banking Group and Burberry have programmes in place to develop talent pipelines. At Lloyds Banking Group members of the Board sponsor women considered to have the potential to reach Group Executive Committee or direct report to GEC roles within one to two years. It also ensures that women are moved to roles which allow them to fill gaps in their experience which might act as an impediment to progression.  Both Brewin Dolphin and Direct Line Group have networks to provide support.

Card Factory offers flexibility with working hours without the need for permanent contractual changes.  

Brewin Dolphin and Diageo have enhanced parental leave and pay schemes which employees are entitled to regardless of gender. Employees at Diageo are eligible for 52 weeks’ parental leave with the first 26 weeks fully paid. Brewin Dolphin has instigated coaching for employees before taking parental leave and on their return to work to enable a smooth and successful transition into and out of the workplace.

Many companies have a focus on creating a culture of inclusivity and acceptance. Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London points out that:

Where there are hostile workplace cultures we can’t simply ask women to lean in and try harder to reach leadership positions…. we need to build inclusive environments where colleagues can raise challenges confidently, diverse leaders can flourish and everyone can produce their best work.

The King’s College research focussed on the need for diversity to go side by side with inclusion, ensuring everyone feels valued in the workplace. Clearly employees cannot feel valued in a workplace in which “micro-aggressions” (behaviour which ranges  from  interrupting/talking over someone to insults or swearing) are tolerated and it is not correct to lay the blame solely on the individual protagonist; workplace culture plays a key role.

The #thisisme movement at Direct Line Group is an internal social network for employees to share what makes them unique, with a view of creating a culture where diversity is valued, respected and celebrated. Burberry emphasises inclusion: recognition and respect of diversity of thought, approach and experience. It seeks to embed an environment of creativity and belonging.

A key theme in the Review is that if we are to see real change, leaders need to welcome diversity and reward an inclusive culture. 

The action being taken by these top companies is welcome and necessary. Employees are individuals and there is no “one size fits all” solution to get more women to the top of organisations. As the McKinsey report notes, gender is just one of many aspects of women’s identity that shapes their experiences. It states that women of colour, LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities distinctly have the worst experiences overall. The McKinsey report refers to the experience of women in corporate North America but this is no doubt just as true in the UK. Companies need to address the unique challenges that different groups of women face and listening to women is likely to be the key to this.

Many companies are putting substantial resources into trying to improve gender equality but unfortunately there will always be employees whose individual experience will not reflect the management vision of an inclusive culture. In my experience, allegations of discrimination and harassment are generally being taken far more seriously than they were five or ten years ago. The fact that gender balance is in the spotlight has no doubt contributed to this positive development. 

About the author

Niki often acts in complex cases requiring her to navigate overlapping issues such as equal pay, discrimination, harassment, sickness absence, performance and misconduct.

She has particular experience of representing employers and employees in the higher education, retail, media, professional and financial sectors.  

Latest blogs & news

BEIS White Paper on Audit Reform: Will Kwarteng's reforms really unchain entrepreneurs?

In 2012, as a recently elected MP, Kwasi Kwarteng co-authored “Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Properity”, a political pamphlet which championed risk-taking and innovation in the UK economy, and which ever since has led some to label him a fervent Brexiteer. Appointed as the Business Secretary in January 2021, only a few months later his department (BEIS) published one of the longest and most ambitious government White Papers in recent years.

Barder: Exceptional and rare

Cate Maguire looks at how the Barder principle has been applied in cases involving 'known unknowns'

World Menopause Day - time to break the taboo!

World Menopause Day was held on 18 October 2021. It is an opportunity to break the stigma and taboo that still exists around menopause and to encourage open dialogue about what is a natural and very significant transition in a woman’s life.

Redundancy and negotiating an exit package during the pandemic

Coronavirus is having a serious impact on businesses and the global economy. Sadly, many businesses have been impacted to the extent that they have or will have to put cost-cutting measures in place. For some individuals this will result in their role being put at risk of redundancy.

Preparation for Public Inquiries - Webinar Summary

In light of the announcement that an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic will begin in spring 2022, Kingsley Napley hosted a webinar last week on the theme of Preparing for Public Inquiries in conjunction with Blackstone Chambers and FTI Consulting. For anyone who missed this event, a recording is available here (LINK) and we have also prepared the summary below.  

Why it’s time for youth mobility visas for EU nationals

The Youth Mobility Scheme allows employers to access younger workers from countries such as India and Iceland for two years. With skills shortages afflicting critical sectors, now might be the time for the government to consider a youth visa agreement with the EU.

Back to the office? - Your legal rights on returning to work during COVID-19

In revised guidance first published in July, the Government stated that it is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can.  In line with that, many employers have planned and begun implementing a return to the workplace.  However, as the latest figures and the Government’s recently published Autumn and Winter Plan seem to indicate, it is clear that the risk of contracting COVID-19 will continue to be a genuine and serious one for some time.

Covid and post-Brexit immigration rules serve up a recipe for disaster in the hospitality sector

From being the centrepiece of England’s post-Covid recovery with ‘eat out to help out’, the hospitality sector is now struggling to rebuild after lockdowns, furlough and rising food prices. At the same time many restaurants, cafes and pubs are coming up against the hard realities of a post-Brexit immigration policy and discovering what it means for their business.

Proposed changes to the flexible working regime

Earlier this year it was announced that the Government had plans to consult on changes to our flexible working regime. The Government’s Consultation Paper has now been published and illustrates the Government’s intentions regarding how flexible working rights will operate in future.

Is a personality clash in the Boardroom a fair reason for dismissal?

A recent case has highlighted a trend that that we have seen over recent years, with Employment Tribunals finding that the dismissal of a senior executive can be fair where there has been a breakdown in relations amongst a management team and one director / executive is considered to be more at fault (Moore v Phoenix Product Development Ltd EAT/0070/20).  Also, the procedural requirements for such dismissals may be more limited, in this case, the fact that no right of appeal was offered did not render the dismissal unfair.

"Was it something I said?” Whistleblowing during the pandemic

You may be surprised to learn that, without realising it, you may be a whistleblower. If you are a manager, you could easily come across a situation in which you are expected to manage (or even dismiss) a whistleblower, without anyone warning you of the dangers. 

 

What rights do employees accused of bullying have?

Employers have a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their staff and this includes those facing such allegations, says Bina Patel

The “Great Resignation”? Things to consider for employers and employees

In recent weeks, a number of commentators have predicted the “Great Resignation”—a mass exodus of employees leaving their jobs following the wake-up call the pandemic has afforded them. Microsoft research has indicated that almost half of the worldwide workforce is ready to resign this year, with just under 40% of UK and Irish workers saying they are ready to quit. Many have had cause to re-evaluate their careers during COVID and with lockdown restrictions set to ease further, people are considering their options. If the “Great Resignation” is upon us, there are a few things employers and employees should bear in mind.

Back to work – where exactly does this leave employers in the aftermath of “Freedom Day” ?

“Freedom Day”, and what it actually means in practice, is not proving to be as straightforward as some had hoped (and arguably as the Government had initially led the business community to believe).  Employers can be forgiven for feeling confused as to what is expected of them and what they should be doing in terms of bringing their employees back into the workplace. We are by no means at the end of the debate, but we summarise below, the latest developments

Disciplining an employee for posting racist comments online

We have seen examples of people being ‘outed’ for posting racist comments online by individual bystanders who have been able to find their LinkedIn profiles and then contact relevant employers calling for the employee in question to lose their job.  Unfortunately, this is nothing new. But what can an organisation do in these circumstances, if it wants to demonstrate that it stands against racism and discrimination?

Back to the workplace – the new guidance and key considerations for employers

With lockdown restrictions moving to “Stage 4” of the Government’s roadmap to recovery, one of the key questions will be what this means with regard to returning to the workplace and, in a recent article, we considered the rights of employees on this issue.

Law firm partner’s profit share allocation was a reasonable exercise of discretion

Most disputes between partners of professional services firms are settled either through confidential negotiations or arbitration.  A public resolution of the matter through a full hearing and reported judgment is a rare occurrence. A recent example of such a case involving an ex-partner of a law firm is a useful reminder that it is difficult to challenge profit share or bonus decisions as an irrational exercise of discretion.

Regulatory compliance, trust and confidence in the financial services sector

In a case that attracted national media coverage and emphasises the crucial importance of regulatory compliance and the highest standards of professional conduct in the financial services sector, the High Court dismissed a breach of contract claim brought by an investment manager.

Your legal rights on returning to the office in the UK during COVID

So the Prime Minister has announced that most restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic will be lifted on 19 July, despite acknowledging that the pandemic itself is far from over and that case numbers are expected to continue rising.   

 

Leading the way: it’s time for action on pregnancy loss

In recent weeks, it has introduced a formal workplace policy providing paid time off for all staff who are directly or indirectly affected by pregnancy loss. This is not only a significant enhancement to the provisions required by law but is also, I understand, the first of its kind being put in place by a UK law firm. We hope other firms in our sector and beyond will follow suit and normalise protection in this space, thereby supporting the wellbeing of those affected and protecting talent.

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility