Apparently ‘all of the good women have been snapped up’ according to the latest research on the numbers of women recruited to leadership and Board positions. How short-sighted must the respondent have been to use that excuse for not promoting a woman into a leadership role. Or rather, how short-sighted is the organisational culture that it hasn’t recognised the potential of women so that their pipeline is not only gender narrow, but also talent restricted.
Because whilst I believe there is an unconscious gender bias still in many industries, and indeed some still ‘boast’ either covertly or overtly about their macho culture seeing it as a badge of honour, I believe that it is the organisational culture that perpetuates this discrimination rather than the individual.
Sure there are the dinosaurs around; we all have seen evidence of that! Thankfully though these are declining in number as the environment changes. Hard on the heels of that study was the row following the announcement of the Treasury's failure to appoint a woman to the Bank of England's rate-setting committee. The vacancy as a result of a man stepping down, was filled by – you’ve guessed it – a man.
Economics is seen as a man's world
Now I’m not saying that a woman should have been picked because there should be a public demonstration of increasing the numbers of females on the monetary policy committee to show the way for others. Not being party to the selection committee I cannot say that Prof Haskell was not the most worthy candidate there. I do wonder though whether the other candidates were of equal worth and if so, was it unconscious bias by the mixed gender panel that steered them towards selecting a man. Economics is seen very much as a man’s world still and the subtle power plays that reverberate within the industry may well have played their part in their final decision.
Sarah Smith, professor of economics at Bristol University, made that very point, that economics suffered from "serious under-representation of women at all levels" and that “"the profession is going to have to think seriously about attracting a more diverse range of people."
It’s not helped either that the Deputy Governor referred to the economy recently as going through a ‘menopausal’ era. If ever there was a sexist, demeaning statement that was it! It’s difficult, it’s troublesome, it’s past its productive peak, ergo it’s female.
The Culture Challenge
What do we do then? We know that culture change can be difficult and that there will be many challenges as deep rooted prejudices and unconscious biases are exposed – often to the individual’s surprise. We also know that cultures are directed by the leadership. It requires a bold step to challenge one’s own assumptions about how the organisation deals with gender diversity and to ask incisive questions of every department, every section head, every Director.
It’s a bold step that more CEOs should take because until they do there will always be excuses not to recruit women to Board positions or to provide the environment in which they are able to step up whether that be economics or any other industry.