The Blog

Dear John, Andrew and Andy - It's Time to Lead From the Front on Gender Equality

The archetypal profile of a CEO in Britain's top 100 firms is male, white British and almost 55 years old. In addition, he is likely to be called Andrew, Andy or John. In fact there are more CEO's called Andrew or Andy (7%) then there are female CEOs in total (6%).[1]

When it comes to Gender Equal workplaces, the importance of strategic involvement from the CEO cannot be underestimated. The late CEO of Time Warner Cable commented during his work on gender diversity 'It has to start at the top, and we must set expectations for our leaders and the rest of the company," [2] If it starts at the top in the UK then it will overwhelmingly have to be these archetypal male CEOs who lead the way in creating gender equal workplaces.

What kind of workplaces do our CEOs preside over in 2016?

Well if my own research and experience is anything to go by, the modern British workplace remains (with a few notable exceptions) a workplace created by men and for men - or perhaps more accurately a workplace created by men for men who put their work at the centre of their lives and have partners at home taking care of children. Women (and men) who don't fit that mould find themselves going nowhere - FAST.

This is backed up by interviews that I have undertaken with talented women in the corporate world who all say (bar none) that the expectation of them being at the office for 12 hour stretches and even available on email after office hours makes it impossible for them to have a family life and they are pushed to breaking point and quit. In fact during a recent meeting a client said to me 'I believe employers buy the employee's time but not his or her skill, the fate of an employee is that advancement is time driven NOT results driven'

In her book 'Unfinished Business' Anne Marie Slaughter ex policy chief for Hilary Clinton, believes that 'the majority of Americans are mired in a 1950's mindset when it comes to assumptions about when and how we work and what an ideal worker looks like. Men who came up through the old system and succeeded in it simply find it very hard to believe that their businesses could flourish in any other way'. [3] This hits employees who have caregiving responsibilities hard and whilst social change is encouraging more men to take on a caring role at home, the majority of family care is still done by women. Valuing presenteeism over productivity hits women particularly hard when it comes to career advancement.

Letting go of 1950's ideas of family

The modern office-based workplace emerged in the 1950s and 1960's when a woman's role was still firmly that of a housewife. If you are the archetypal British CEO, you were born in 1960 or 1961 and it is more than likely that you were raised by a stay at home mother whilst your father went out to work -free to climb the corporate ladder. It may well be that this is the model you know and understand, but this type of family arrangement is no longer the norm as the Office of National statistics report on the UK Labour market in 2013 showed: In April to June 2013 around 67% of women aged 16 to 64 were in work, an increase from 53% in 1971. In contrast, the employment rate for men has gone down from 92% in 1971 to 76% in 2013[4].

Clearly more and more British households rely on both partners to work, not only to support their lifestyles but to lead fulfilling professional lives. No longer is raising children and running a household 'a woman's job' anymore than going out to work is a 'man's job'. Work and home life have become 'family jobs' and our modern CEOs must understand that and create workplaces that reflect this social shift.

Letting go of 1950's Paternalistic leadership styles

Another hallmark of the 1950's factory or office was paternalistic leadership- 'a type of fatherly managerial style typically employed by dominant males where organizational power is used to control and protect staff in turn for loyalty and obedience'. More often than not it is seen in businesses with strict hierarchical structures.[5]

But hierarchical structures at work are falling away and are increasingly rejected by the Gen Y workers whose ideal boss is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Zuckerberg in contrast to the fatherly leaders of the past doesn't even have his own office and wears T-shirts and hoodies to work. Women could be huge beneficiaries of this type of leadership as they can escape the gendered role of concerned father-like management which, however well-meaning, can be stifling.

What next for our Andrews, Andys and Johns?

Well as they represent a large portion of our CEO population, it's their responsibility to plan for the future of their companies and talented women will play a huge part in that. I expect to see CEOs increasingly treating gender equality as a serious and strategic business issue in the same way they treat digitalisation or expansion into new markets. Gone is the time when it was the responsibility of the women in their organisations to advocate for their own equality, change must come from the top.

Role Models for CEOs

So who could be the role model for CEOs who are committed to a gender equal workplace? Well I would suggest looking no further than the current CEO of Canada - Prime Minster Justin Trudeau. When asked why his recently appointed cabinet was 50% women and 50% men he simply replied 'Because it's 2015'. That's right, it's 2016 and quite frankly that is reason enough for gender equal workplaces.

Natasha Stromberg, CEO



[3] Unfinished Business, Anne Marie Slaughter One World Publications 2015 Page 208

[4] Office of National Statistics 25th September 2013 (UK Labour Market)