THE BLOG

Equality in the Workplace

05/02/2014 11:53 GMT | Updated 06/04/2014 10:59 BST

"The recent appointment of Susan Kilsby to the helm of Shire has doubled the number of female FTSE chairs ... to just two. With the pharmaceutical industry well-known for its huge interest in innovation is this the first example of how the industry can show the way forward to the rest of UK plc? From Equality Legislation to Lord Davies we have also seen many attempts to tackle the issues of diversity and inclusion, but what is it about old school systemic approaches that seem to have slowed the march towards equality? What can be done to change the current situation - is it a case of amending business models or implementing disruptive innovation?"

Gender parity - which was the subject of discussion at Davos this year is a phrase which continues to evoke heated debate, especially as equality legislation has failed to make the desired impact and remove it as an issue.

Yes it is true that women slowly began to increase representation in professional and managerial roles more than 35 years ago. More women have attended university - often outperforming men - and achieved in the same roles as men, but promotions have lagged and the now famed 'glass ceiling' is yet to crack.

Although the numbers of women entering mid-ranking roles has risen significantly their progress at senior levels has advanced at a glacial pace. There are still two FTSE 100 companies with no women on their boards and the number of CEOs has not changed in years - remaining well down in single figures. Research has provided some clues - with some academics suggesting that it is difficult to prevent bias and discrimination, however unconscious, at senior levels because criteria are usually subjective - and male decision makers are likely to use gender-based models and criterion decision making.

No surprise then that the disruptive step of enforcing quotas on Boards as suggested by Lord Davies has been undertaken by the female CEO of one of the 4 main Australian banks - and in fear of their first mover advantage the other three followed suit within 18 months. But as Sheryl Sandberg would point out - you don't hear men being described as the 'male' CEO or COO. How sad that the majority of the population should be so under-represented that their gender has to be noted.

I had the good fortune to hear Jane Cunningham co-author of' The Daring Book for Boys in Business' speak about a tool-kit for marketing to women.

Building on research of Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge who specialises in empathy in human beings and how it impacts on decision making preference and behaviour it highlights ways in which companies can market to women more effectively.

It argues that masculine decision making is based around preferences for the system, control, self-belief, independence and hierarchy. Feminine preferences include empathy, connection, meaning, cooperation and shared interest - these play to a belief in people and an ability to read the audience. This should certainly resonate as what modern successful businesses have - and less successful ones often lack - is the ability to innovate in a way which diverse audiences can understand, and the capacity to communicate in a way which engages women and men.

When Helen Clark - the former New Zealand Prime Minister who runs the UN Development Programme - was asked about quotas recently she responded with characteristic clarity 'when nothing else works you should have quotas'. Many people find the concept of such 'positive' discrimination patronising and offensive - but in my view the evidence demonstrates that it is not positive; it is simply creating a more level playing field - or a disruption that might at least move us on the path to progress. That is why I believe the glacial pace of change is not working and without a more conscious effort we will not achieve the more balanced, high performing organisations which the 21st century demands.