The 2017 election was a special moment in history - and I'm not talking about the result. It was momentous because of the number of women who stood for election and actually won. On the 104th anniversary of the death of the Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, we had the largest percentage of women standing for election ever; 29% of candidates (compared to 26% in 2015). We now have 208 women MPs, which means 32% of MPs are women. Although this is only an increase of 2% from the last election, it equates to 12 more seats and that is impressive in one election.
Commentators will list you the reasons as to why the Conservatives lost many of the seats they previously held or were hoping to win but consider this: diversity has won and a more inclusive society is the key to a successful society. We have seen the proof of this in the business world. According to McKinsey, "for companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, returns on equity were 53% higher, on average, than they were for those in the bottom quartile". I would argue that the same is true in the political arena
The below, courtesy of The Telegraph, shows that Labour had the most number of women candidates going into the election. The Conservative Party sits 6th on this table. Added to this is the fact, despite losing 13 seats, the Conservatives did not see a significant reduction in women MPs.
Female candidates in #GE2017:
UKIP - 13.0%
Plaid Cymru - 27.5%
Conservative - 28.7%
Liberal Democrats - 29.1%
SNP - 33.9%
Green - 34.8%
Labour - 40.4%
WEP - 100%
Source: Democracy Club
I think these statistics are telling. If you want to be successful, I would strongly recommend looking at how you can increase the diversity of your team. That does not just mean gender diversity, but at all levels; gender, sexual orientation, race and age.
Once we acknowledge that face that greater diversity leads to greater success, we need to start addressing the unconscious bias in our society that makes it harder for us to obtain equality. Theresa May's comments on 'boy jobs and girl jobs' highlights the inherent, unconscious bias that our society is still fighting against.
Unconscious bias occurs in many forms and has many tentacles; comments and sentiments are just one aspect. Unconscious bias can be so deep rooted that it has become part of the DNA of our infrastructure and pillars within our society: the way our corporate structures have evolved and how our government bodies operate all stems from the unconscious bias.
I know many people who do not agree that our structures are inherently biased. To those, I ask this: are women not as capable or as driven as their male counterparts? If the answer is that they are equally as driven and as capable, then, why are there not more women in senior positions? Why, 99 years after the first woman MP was elected, are only a 1/3 of MPs women?
This unconscious bias and the way it has formed at the foundations of major organisations is a key reason why we continue to see such low figures when it comes to senior women in corporations and governing bodies. The following three prong attack could be just one way we could look to address this:
Many have stated that enforcing quotas is unnecessary, partly because "the market will do the right thing". The market has had plenty of time to do the right thing, and as we have seen, from maternity or paternity leave to equal pay, the market does not regulate itself. It needs a guiding hand.
I love that Emmanual Macron has established a cabinet that has a 50/50 gender split. Prime Minister Trudeau announced the 50/50 gender split in his cabinet back in 2015. Remarks from both men have been along the lines of: well, why wouldn't we have a 50/50 split? Yes, yes, yes! Why wouldn't we, especially within our government bodies? We should have representation that is broadly similar to our demographic make-up. This means implementing quotas within the governing system.
I would also take quotas one step further. If you are a listed company you should have a certain level of diversity at a senior level and definitely at board level. Without this, you should not be eligible to apply for funding or access to that market.
Forcing the issue at the top end of the market with both the government and global companies will force organisations with the most impact to reconsider how they recruit, manage and deal with performance when it comes to attracting, retaining and developing senior level female talent.
2. Change your DNA
If you genuinely are interested in increasing diversity within your organisation, I would strongly suggest that you look at your structure. Consider the Academy Award in 2016 when there were no actors of colour nominated, for the second year running. The campaign #OscarsSoWhite was launched with many boycotting the awards altogether. After that campaign, the Academy's board of governors implemented a plan to recruit new members. This meant, in general, retiring voting rights of members who had not been active in the industry for 10 years, which made space for new members who represented 59 countries; 46% were female and 41% were non-white. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times revealed that 94% of Academy voters were white and that 77% were male. The changes made a dramatic difference. In 2017, black nominees were represented in all four acting categories and the #OscarsSoWhite was put to rest.
Structures should be revisited at every level. In her book Own it, Sallie Krawcheck mentions that while she was at Merrill Lynch, her team had to be restructured due to the downturn in the market. The team initially used a standard, more traditional model to measure performance; the lowest performers would be terminated. After the initial review, when only men were selected, they implemented a new criteria, which was more metrics-based. This new criteria created results that were far more diverse.
Structure at every level matters and we need to look at how we refocus our structures to address the unconscious bias that has become the DNA of our organisations.
3. Create real diversity targets
If you are in a leadership position within a corporation I would urge you to not only play your part but to up the game. Platitudes and soft diversity targets are not enough. We need diversity targets with teeth. We need diversity targets that have financial or career repercussions. At an International Women's Day event I attended this year, one business leader mentioned that their diversity targets were a key performance indicator for managers and failure to meet these could impact on their bonuses and also their team budget. That is a diversity target with teeth.
Finally, legislation. I understand that there is currently a wave of sentiment saying that we have too much regulation and legislation, and I understand this. However, as I have already said, for many decades both corporations and society as a whole have had the opportunity to do the right thing. We cannot wait any longer and legislation has to continue to drive change.
We have come a long way, and this election has been a exciting, not least because for the first time we have the Women Equality Party, who are committed to pushing the gender agenda, making a real impact. However, we still need to address many inequalities within our society. Companies did not provide maternity or paternity leave, equal pay or basic rights because they wanted to; they were made to. We need to ensure that the legislation backs up what we want to be as a society, which is to be fair and equal. It also needs to ensure that women, a greater number of whom live in poverty, have a fair shot.
I don't agree that there are "boys jobs and girl jobs", but the unconscious bias that leads us to create these and the structures that ensure that the categorisation is perpetuated need to be addressed. This is not a small task and needs a multi-pronged attack. We should not waste this momentum. We all need to continue to play our part and at every level, but we also need bolder moves from the government and from global corporations.