<img src="https://secure.leadforensics.com/146720.png" style="display:none;"> The Gender Agenda: Are We Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is?

The Gender Agenda: Are We Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is?

A recent survey of the UK labour force (CMI Analysis of Labour Force Survey, 2021) shows that there are around 560,000 missing female managers in the UK workforce right now.

To equal the proportion of females in the UK population, an additional 800,000 female managers will be needed by 2026. This is an increase of 24% from 2021.

Recent research commissioned by the CMI (The Everyone Economy Report, 2022) clearly identifies that women continue to remain over-represented in insecure and low-paying roles, they make up just 38% of senior leadership positions, there is still an enduring gender pay-gap and companies are failing to take action. Women lack coaching, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities, only 1 in 5 managers and leaders advocate women for key projects, roles or promotions. And, arguably, most significantly, there is asay’ – ‘do’ gap across UK workplaces. And these are just a few of the facts that I have found during my research for our upcoming Women in Leadership Programme, registrations for which have rocketed beyond our wildest expectations – demonstrating the ‘real’ issues around gender-inclusivity in our workplaces today (and hopefully a growing desire to genuinely do something about it in terms of the development of authentic gender-inclusive strategy).

Exploring The 'Say' - 'Do' Gap

When discussing authentic/values driven leadership, Simon Sinek (2011) introduced his authenticity triangle and noted that “authenticity is when you say and do the things you actually believe.” He notes that if any of the points of the triangle (made up of believe (ie our values), say (communicate) and do (action), are missing we are at risk of being considered to be inauthentic. If we believe in something and talk about it but don’t actually do it, we are merely paying lip service to it. Unfortunately, evidence demonstrates that this generally is still the case when considering the gender agenda in many UK organisations. We say, but do not actually do – perhaps businesses are responding to socio-cultural trends, fashions and industry buzzwords, or perhaps they want change to happen but don’t quite know how to practically achieve it. Whatever the reason, we need to be careful that what we are doing (or just saying) is not purely tokenism.

Taking the gender pay-gap as an example, in 2017 the UK Government legislated that organisations with over 250 employees should publish their gender pay gaps. After 6 years only half of these organisations are transparent about pay, less than 1 in 5 are transparent about how they reach pay decisions, and only 1 in 10 encourage discussions around pay. It is interesting to find that published pay bands do increase the number of applicants for jobs for women.

The most significant issue for companies is the leaky pipeline. Retaining women and supporting their progression into more senior roles is a real issue with 1 in 3 women considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their career in 2022. Women face plentiful obstacles in their careers (fewer opportunities, lower pay, childbirth, childcare, elderly caring responsibilities, hormonal changes and menopause to mention a few). These can build up through one’s career and lead to a likelihood of falling off the corporate ladder. Losing highly skilled women during critical times in their lives is poor return-on-investment. Also, choosing to leave the workforce can lead to massive pension gaps for women later too.

The Business Case for Gender-Diversity

The irony of the situation is that organisations that are genuinely and fully able to close the say-do gap are likely to reap the business rewards. In recent research, McKinsey (2021) noted that organisations in the top quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are likely to experience above average productivity. PwC (2018) note that companies with greater gender diversity are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained profitable growth. Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards report significantly higher financial performance.

In today’s increasingly uncertain, volatile and changing business environment a relentless focus on genuine inclusion in the workplace is central to a better economic and social future. We need a new and different kind of a plan. Diversity (including gender-inclusion) is not the problem, it is in fact the solution. As Gary Coombe from Gillette (Case study in the CMI Everyone Economy Report, 2022) recently noted, “If you don’t create a diverse and inclusive team, you’ll have a weaker team than the competition. So it’s got to be a central business strategy.”

What Are We Going To Do About It?

One may argue that the solution to the issue of ongoing gender inequality is not fixing women, but rather it is doing the work that is needed to improve old fashioned, outdated systems that weren’t designed for women to be able to thrive. We need to change the system.

Gone are the days of the ‘girlboss’ – women leaning into a masculine model of leadership. Leigh Stein (2020) argues that “the girlboss didn’t change the system she thrived in it. Now that system is cracking and so is this icon of millennial hustle.” The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a widespread re-evaluation of qualities that are most likely to lead to successful leadership within organisations today and interestingly those that have come out on top include emotional intelligence, empathy, communication skills and resilience. Feminine qualities are not a weakness, they are a strength and are essential for managing the complex problems that organisations and the world face today.

Here Are Some Practical Tools For Implementing a Gender-Inclusive Culture:

  • Put together a gender-inclusive strategy: Keep it simple, practical and make sure you are able to track your progress.
  • It’s essential to gain commitment from the top, and it’s essential to recognise the central role of all managers not only HR and EDI specialists.
  • Implement a flexible working culture: One may argue this is the most important element. It can benefit all and lead to increased productivity and happy more engaged workforce.
  • Embrace a culture of learning and openness where people feel a sense of psychological safety to be able to address those challenging questions. Pay attention to the answers.
  • Create a coaching, mentoring and supervision culture: Recognise obstacles that minority groups including women face, cultivate support, allow progress, develop skills and capabilities, self-confidence, overcome the dreaded imposter-phenomenon.
  • Create a culture of allyship: Men are not the enemy and must be engaged in this for it to be successful.
  • Be a role-model and a storyteller: Being a female leader should not be unusual or remarkable, it should be normal. Create a system/structure to allow for role-modelling and storytelling (saying what we actually believe and do.)
  • Get creative and enjoy the process.

In conclusion, like giant super tankers, I believe organisations are slowly trending in a direction towards positive change when considering the gender-agenda. If one takes the recent coronation of King Charles, this was demonstrated with the inclusion of a black gospel choir and our Hindu PM reading from the Bible, not to mention the stellar job done by Penny Mordaunt who became the first woman to carry the sword of state. This kind of inclusive action changes the mindsets of people, and this is what we need to see, authentically and genuinely achieved in our organisations. Looking forward to the day when this is not an issue at all.


CMI Analysis of Labour Force Survey, Jan-March 2021
McKinsey (2020) Diversity wins How inclusion matters.
McKinsey (2021) ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction?’ the choice is yours
PwC (2018) Diversity is the solution, not a problem to solve.
Sinek, S (2011) Start with why, Penguin Books
Stein, L (2020) The End of the Girlboss is Here, accessed at: https://gen.medium.com/the-end-of-the-girlboss-is-nigh
The Everyone Economy, CMI’s plan for sharing work, opportunity and success (2022) accessed at: https://www.managers.org.uk/knowledge-and-insights/research/everyone-economy/#everyone-economy-report


This information is correct as of 25 July 2023

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