International Women’s Day: Continuing the Fight

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”- Susan B. Anthony

Could it really take another 217 years for the equality that suffragettes fought so hard for to be achieved? 

Although this year marked 100 years since (some) women were granted the right to vote in the UK, gender equality has still not been achieved. The World Economic Forum currently estimates that it could take another 217 years to get there. Just last year, the UK gender pay gap stood at 9.1%.

While the majority of entry level roles are taken up by women, this does not always translate into a proportionate number of female managers or directors. APCO is a women-owned company, 56% of our global management team are women, more than half of our offices around the world have female managing directors. Yet, even in a company that is truly women-focused and dedicated to promoting gender diversity across its global network, the number of mid and senior level positions are probably disproportionately filled by men, given a large majority of our junior staff around the world are female. We are not alone. This sort of vacuum is reflected in organisations and companies across, not only the UK, but the rest of the globe.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘pipeline problem,’ it has been shown that the much talked about gender pay gap is the product of structural inequalities in the workplace, as Anne-Marie Slaughter acknowledged in her infamous article ‘Why Women Can’t Have It All.’ This means that women often have to make sacrifices for choosing to have families, plateauing along the so called ‘mummy track.’

A report by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found that this plateau is responsible for creating a 20% gender pay gap in the long term. In fact, the report suggests that having children is the primary reason for today’s gender pay gap. Equal pay is required by law, but rather than not being paid the same for doing the same job, women are not doing equal work to men.

Yet, millennials may hold the key to reinventing outdated corporate culture. As a millennial, I could be accused of playing to the egocentric stereotype, but there is independent research to back me up on this.

By 2020, nearly half of the working population will be millennials. This very fact will undoubtedly instigate a quiet shift towards a more liberal, flexible, working environment, one that is more inclusive for both men and women, as companies seek to attract and retain millennials.

Both men and women in the millennial generation have been shown to be looking for the same things; primarily, a work/life balance. It is therefore important to recognise men as fundamental allies, and beneficiaries, of increased gender diversity. According to research by the consulting firm BCG, millennial men are the key to breaking the glass ceiling. Men under 40 are more likely to look for and support flexible working; defined as a willingness to adapt schedules of meetings, adjust the distribution of work across teams and judge performance based on outcome rather than hours.

As a natural consequence of companies seeking to realign themselves with these new millennial demands, they will inevitably start to break down the traditional barriers to the progression of women in the corporate environment. Greater flexibility will enable many women, and men, to adapt where once they had to accept defeat.

As employees of a women-owned company, with a female founder, and all the female directors in APCO’s London office balancing family life with flexible working, we are among the privileged few who have role models in their company who highlight to junior members of staff that adapting, without plateauing, is possible. In fact, our Deputy Managing Directors are both part-time working mothers. However, it is still an uncomfortable truth that in 2017, many companies are resorting to ‘how-to’ guides to help them address the gender inequality in their work place.

Everyday sexism remains rife throughout the corporate world, which is why the Chartered Institute of Management has started a new campaign, ‘Broken Windows,’ to shed light on the small, and often unconscious, behaviours that continue to permeate corporate culture in many companies and ultimately contribute to continued gender inequality. These commonly include; being talked over in meetings, having ideas appropriated or being described as pushy when being decisive.

But perhaps a ‘how-to’ guide is what is needed. A concerted, step-by-step effort to get men involved in diversity programmes, introducing wider support for employees with children, promoting training in reducing unconscious bias and implementing a flexible work policy for both men and women.

Progress has been made and, while lots of battles have been won along the way, we have not yet won the war against gender inequality. But we should not see this as a fight against men for equality of opportunity but rather as a fight alongside them, to finish what the suffragettes started.