Joy Kent calls for gender balance among Wales’ decision makers.
The more I think about it, the stranger it seems that so many people still believe that gathering a homogenous group of middle-aged white men around a table is the best way to make important decisions.
Such gatherings may not be as one-dimensional today as they used to be, but anyone who reads the recent report ‘Who runs Wales?’ will see that, when it comes to the deliberations that matter, the pinstripe perspective still predominates.
Published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Wales, the document showed that only 2% of chief executives and managing directors of Wales’ top 100 companies are women.
Why is this dearth of female decision-makers such a problem? For starters, the majority of those they make decisions for and about are not forty or fifty-something, white, middle-class males. Women for example make more than 70% of household purchasing choices and minority ethnic communities are probably the fastest growing group of consumers and service users.
There’s ample research showing that the more perspectives there are in a decision-making team, the better the quality of its judgments. Edward de Bono, the father of lateral thinking, has outlined time and again the multi-dimensional nature of good decision making.
The make-up of a board will not only determine the issues brought to the table but will impact upon how those issues are analysed and discussed. The more diverse the board, the more insights will influence the outcome of the discussion.
Given that we all want our lives impacted by the best possible decisions – whether made by company boards, school governors, local councils, trustees, Assembly Members or others – then there’s a compelling logic to a campaign that pushes for real diversity.
The aim of the new 50:50 by 2020 campaign is to achieve a proper gender balance among Wales’ decision-makers within six years and, judging by the huge turnout for its launch in Cardiff Bay recently, there’s a genuine hunger to see this become a reality.
Is complete gender balance achievable? There are certainly enough capable women in the Welsh population to achieve it. At Chwarae Teg, we’ve been helping housing associations to find women for their boards and many excellent candidates are coming through. Moreover, when National Assembly Presiding Officer, Rosemary Butler AM asked us to mentor 12 women for roles in public life we had nearly 200 women express an interest in accessing this support.
So the existence of female talent isn’t the problem; rather the challenge must be to send a powerful and consistent message to women that they are wanted, needed and welcomed in all senior decision-making fora.
At the risk of generalising, it’s an unfortunate reality that women are far less likely than men to put themselves forward for senior roles. Among other things, it’s a product of gender stereotyping, both in the media and in the retail world; you know the sort of thing; toy kitchens for girls and science sets for boys.
However all of us need to challenge our thinking. How many of us would respond in the same way to our sons playing dress up or our daughters climbing trees? Are men equally welcome at the school gate? Have you ever said to a new father, “congratulations – are you going to work part-time? Give up work? How are you going to juggle being a father with having a career?”
This is a big ship to turn around but the large roomful of people at the recent 50:50 by 2020 launch clearly believe it can be done.
The thrust of the initiative is that everyone – women and especially men – should pledge to change something in their own patch of the world that will make gender balance at the top level more likely in future.
A quick win can be made by employers if they pledge to instruct recruitment agencies to send them gender-balanced shortlists for senior jobs. Recruitment agencies themselves can pledge to be more explicit in advertising the fact that applications from capable women would be especially welcome.
Longer term we need to change the culture which type-casts women in secondary roles. Journalists for instance can make pledges not to refer to women’s age, appearance, marital or parental status unless it is specifically relevant to the story. Retailers can do a lot more to remove stereotypically labelled toys from their shelves and teachers can create more gender neutral classrooms.
To be frank: the pace of change has been painfully slow. For all our sakes, we don’t need any more debate about whether we should do something, we just need to get on and do it.