Recently, I went to see the UEFA Champion's League final with my wife and daughter. I'd paid sixteen quid for three tickets, and people I told about this were often taken aback when I mentioned the bargain I'd had for myself. At least, until they found out I was going to watch the women's UEFA final. I had not realised that I'd end up equally as shocked when I attended the match itself.
Arriving in Cardiff with my family, we were sat opposite VIP stand for the media, the official sponsors, UEFA officials and their guests. I was horrified to see before me a wall of empty seats. As far as I could tell these assorted bodies couldn't even bothered to turn up to their own competition, nor were they concerned enough to make sure that some of the seats were occupied so that the stand at least looked full.
UEFA had, at the very least, developed and plastered the hashtag "Together#weplaystrong" all over the stadium in an attempt to mark their presence and support. To me, it seemed unbelievably patronising. There were 22 amazing athletes on that pitch - world class athletes, in fact - who were being undermined by both the hashtag and the absence of UEFA officials and the tournament sponsors at the match. To add insult to injury, the ticket prices were also significantly lower than any "normal" match played by men, cheaper even than ticket for the lower leagues. In fact, it was cheaper to go the game than to go and see "Fast and Furious 8" in the cinema.
Unfortunately, UEFA are not alone in their attitude towards female oriented events. I feel this is indicative about what goes on in most organisations. In fact, the whole scenario makes excellent metaphor for the way people treat gender in the professional sphere. A lot of leaders love positioning themselves in the same way UEFA has with women's football, and seeing their name alongside women's initiatives and groups. They increasingly want to be seen as progressive, modern, open-minded. Why wouldn't they? For some of them, it supports their narcissistic tendencies to be seen as making a difference in the realm of gender equality.
The problem in many organisations is that the men who are in charge set things up, but then abandon them without really monitoring for success and without anything other than a superficial personal commitment. Most initiatives and steps towards progression and equality never go beyond the cosmetic - and this is a problem we see across many sectors, industries and organisations.
It's an unfortunate but harsh reality. Women's networks, conferences on gender, or action groups: they're all treated in the same way. The senior representatives do the same thing - they turn up for a pre-written speech, read it and then leave. They never hang around or make their presence known. They never interact with or discuss the issues at hand properly. It doesn't really demonstrate anything, and changes even less. We have the appearance of progress from a seemingly enlightened leader who is prepared to accept the kudos but who can't even be bothered to stay and listen to the concerns of his (and I do mean his) employees. In the meantime the organisation pats itself on the back and then business goes on exactly as it always has without really mobilising change.
Continuing to allow and endorse these 'women's' initiatives, when in reality they are superficial, stops the discussion around - for example - women getting into the talent pipeline and getting executive positions by being moved up through the ranks organically.
Why aren't women moving up the regular talent pipeline, and instead falling behind their male counterparts? Unless business leaders and employees alike begin to ask these questions, and really listen and engage with the discussions, we will not be able to foster change or pose solutions which tackle the real causes of this inequality.