On International Women’s Day 2020
- Women in the insurance and financial services sector are effectively working 123 days, more than a third of the year, for free. That’s twice the average across all sectors.
- There are still only 6 female CEOs in the FTSE 100.
- Three quarters of women say their workplace makes it more challenging for women to advance their careers than men and nearly half of men agree with them.
- Globally, the WEF anticipates the economic participation gap between women and men will take 257 years to close.
Women are still in the minority while representing 50 percent of the population
At the beginning of March The Hampton Alexander Review announced that it had sent letters to 63 companies asking how they intended to improve their gender diversity. The majority of these companies were FTSE 250 and 350, but the Review’s letters include 4 FTSE 100 companies, which despite having reached the 30 percent target of having board positions filled by women, still have all male executive committees. Moreover, men are still seven times more likely to be finance directors than women.
The Fawcett Society’s Sex and Power Index 2020 reported a “Dismally slow pace of change with stark inequalities continuing to thrive in the UK today.”
No matter what sector of business or society is considered, women are still in the minority whilst representing half of the population. Only 2 out of 12 Supreme Justices are female and in the Civil Service and Academia women account for around 30 percent of senior roles. In Parliament, women make up 34 percent of MPs and 27 per cent of Peers.
It’s a global issue
These UK figures are mirrored globally. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, reveals that gender parity will not be attained this century.
Drilling down into the facts and figures, it will take 95 years to close the gender gap in global political representation, with women in 2019 holding 25.2% of parliamentary seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions.
And in terms of global economic participation, the WEF anticipates the gender gap will take 257 years to close. Worryingly, this is an increase of over 25 per cent on its 2019 report. Yes, we’re going backwards.
Female FTSE 100 CEOs and the Pipeline
Returning to the UK and representation of women at the top of business, there are currently 6 female FTSE 100 Chief Executives. That’s the same number as two years ago and when one steps down, a female replacement is by no means guaranteed. More positively, the FTSE 100 insurance company, Admiral, announced on 5 March that Milena Mondini de Focatiis, who is currently head of UK and European insurance, will take over as CEO next year.
Whether women with the necessary skills, experience and ability aren’t in the workforce or whether those carrying out executive search simply aren’t looking for them, is a moot question.
Many senior women in professional services feel that the situation is no better, perhaps worse, than when they started work in the 70s and 80s. They now see women and men entering their professionals in equal numbers. Yet, for the last decade the percentage of senior roles held by women remains around 25 percent and when they look at the women coming through the organisation, there simply aren’t enough of them still in the workforce in their 40s to make a significant impact at the very top.
A Grant Thornton report released in 2017 revealed that the UK was in the bottom 6 countries in the world for female representation in senior management roles. This is nothing short of shocking.
It’s not surprising that senior and junior women alike are concerned by the low numbers of females progressing within their organisations. As we move towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, the picture is pretty grim.
Retaining women beyond their late 30s is a significant issue. And women drop out not just because of what’s known as the “motherhood” penalty but for other reasons, too. Many of them to do with corporate culture. Of course younger women ask questions about how they will manage a career and bringing up a family, but they also talk about the barriers that still exist for women progressing their careers.
Workplace culture isn’t female friendly and men agree
Research published in 2019 by Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, backs up this view on cultural barriers. In a survey of nearly 6000 employees, split 53 per cent male, 47 per cent female, it discovered that 74 per cent of UK female employees said that their workplace culture makes it more challenging for women to advance their careers than men and, interestingly, 42 per cent of men agreed.
Interestingly, 81 percent of senior female employees said that their workplace culture presented career advancement challenges for women, yet only 72 percent of junior female employees reported those same challenges.
Surprisingly half of senior female employees report they face these challenges ‘always’ or ‘often’ indicating that “things get worse not better” as women progress their careers.
Young women and men enter professional services in equal numbers and are confident that they’ll compete with their male colleagues on an equal basis, but by their late 20s, early 30s the men begin to push back. The women are surprised and often for the first time realise that the playing field in the workplace, unlike that at school, university, graduate entry programme isn’t as level as they thought. In fact, they realise that not only is the playing field not level, they’re not even sure of the rules of the game.
The classic cartoon showing a group of men and one woman seated around a boardroom table illustrates perfectly one of the issues.
There isn’t a woman who hasn’t experienced saying something that goes unheard only to find that when a man says the exact same thing it’s lauded as a “great idea”. Not only is the woman not heard, the man gets the credit. It’s a double whammy that hits really hard.
Yet the Murrays Edwards research reveals that the commonly viewed challenges for women such as their being interrupted in meetings, not being credited for their work and men having access to informal networks and sponsors are ranked far lower than expected.
What comes at the very top are women being judged more negatively when they behave like men, and men and women being evaluated differently.
Emma Codd, Managing Partner for Talent at Deloitte, was Women in the City’s Woman of Achievement Award Winner in 2015. When questioned about her success in increasing the number of female partners at the firm by 18 percent in one year, Emma She said she had questioned every unreasonable reason “not” to promote women – for example saying
“She’s not quite ready” or “She has a two year old, she’s probably going to have another child” or “Her husband’s recently been promoted, she’ll need to support him”. These “reasons” are rarely, if ever, said about men.
However, effecting deeply embedded cultural change, that is societal as well as organisational, is difficult.
Will the situation improve?
The Women in the City Knowledge Bank features many of the reports that have been published in the last 10 years. These put forward the case for increasing the numbers of women in senior roles – but very little has changed. There have been initiatives, there have been programmes. All try to “fix” women, but women don’t need fixing so it’s not surprising that we’re getting nowhere fast.
The Women’s Business Council 2017 Report predicted that by 2024, the UK would need nearly 2 million new managers and if those roles were to be split equally between men and women, 1.5 million of those new managers would need to be women.
Currently, 73% of entry-level roles are occupied by women, yet only 34% of managers, directors and senior officials in the UK are women. In the 6 years to 2017 this proportion increased by only one percentage point.
These figures indicate the scope of the problem. It’s a very long winding road and the end is way, way ahead.