If Gender Equality is a Priority..... Why is Change so Slow?

More than 75% of CEOs include gender equality in their top 10 business priorities, but gender outcomes across the largest companies are not changing.

Are these statements of priorities we hear and read from these CEOs, that claim to be pushing towards gender equality, being translated down the company and creating an inclusive and gender equality culture? The answer is, probably not.

The perceived commitment from the top-levels in business can appear in the form of public statements or ‘programmes’ put in place which target issues such as parental-leave and flexibility. The reason I use the word perceived is because merely putting programmes in place, or making public statements that claim something is being done to improve gender equality and diversity, does not mean these things are successful or happening in the way they should – it does not show commitment.

Furthermore, within these companies, the prioritisation of gender equality seems more a surface claim that does not hold any clout. I fear that many CEOs claim to prioritise gender equality but are using a form of ‘greenwashing’ in gender terms, i.e. they put more energy into claiming they are prioritising gender equality than making this happen. Too many words, not enough action. The gap between what companies think they do and what people experience day-to-day only reiterates my point further. For example, more than 70% of companies say they are committed to diversity, but less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes.

Whilst the CEO may hold the reigns on the decision making of the company, if they do not back up what they say externally, with actions internally, change will not happen. Stating that you are doing ‘everything in your power’ to improve gender equality starts to fall flat as people catch on to the fact that progress isn’t happening at the pace it should be, or simply not happening at all.

The overarching point of this piece is that companies are not truly prioritising gender equality in a way that could make change happen. Prioritising something by essentially putting it on your to-do list or implementing a ‘programme’ that doesn’t create any real difference, is a very dangerous procrastination. Corporate intent is all well and good, but if the individual feels no difference is being made, then it hasn’t succeeded. Companies need to target this issue at the source. Adaptions of behaviours and attitudes needs to be made in all directions of a company, not just top-down. There is no point making a statement at CEO level and hoping this trickles down, equality needs to be focused in at every level of a company to create an inclusive and open environment.

Front-line managers are somewhat key to conveying that message that comes from the top and harnessing it to create change. However, today, only 9% of employees see managers recognised for making progress on gender-diversity goals. This shocking statistic clearly demonstrates that managers either aren’t understanding the issue, or don’t know how to manage properly to counteract it. Using a ‘programme’ to tackle something as sensitive as gender equality feels so impersonal and corporate, and probably why managers can’t seem to connect with their employees to transform gender inequality in the workplace.

There is a need to ‘change the rules’ and use more personal, every-day methods to truly create a culture where equality can thrive. Leaders need to be courageous; speak up and not shy away from calling out gender bias and acting to stamp out that behaviour. Organisations need to be vigilant, consistent and ultimately persistent in pushing for this. Improving gender outcomes and inequality is a huge challenge, but if we can begin looking at the people in organisations and the day-to-day life with bold creative ideas and a determination; progress could happen.

If these ideas could be woven into the fabric of the companies, the claims of gender equality being a top priority from CEOs may finally have some truth in it.

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Charlotte Anderson is a marketing enthusiast with a First Class Degree in Business from the University of Sussex. Currently she is working as a digital marketer for an engineering company involved heavily with social media marketing and content creation, and hoping to gain further knowledge in coding and website development. Having written many essays around the subject of gender equality and representation in the media, she hopes to convey the passion for the subject through her blog posts with SheCanCode.