We don't need another article on gender equality

Conversations are not enough. We need consistent action to deliver change.

I can’t get the Forbes article out of my head about the US's top 100 innovative leaders that included 99 men (including Amazon's Jeff Bezos, pictured, in first place) and one woman. Then on top of that, this month Harvard Business Review's most recent assessment of the top 100 CEOs boasted an increase from three women last year to four. 

We’ve seen Forbes' muted apology (of course penned by a woman) and HBR's squeal that there’s just not enough female CEOs out there. They just leave me grumpy and frustrated.

I’m actually not as angry as I thought I would be. I’m more baffled by their complete ignorance. Can you imagine that editorial meeting? Did nobody stop for one moment to look at the content and if not to question the list, then at least the wisdom of publishing it? (Forbes’ chief content officer and editor Randall Lane later wrote an article discussing the controversy.)

I’m lucky enough to work with lots of progressive organisations that choose to put diversity and inclusion (and, more often now, equity and belonging) on their agendas. Many are now working hard to close the gender pay gap and are starting to reap the rewards that come with having diversity in their senior leadership teams. 

With the vast majority of the 6,000 women we’ve worked with across the world coming from the advertising and media industries in the past couple of years, I honestly thought that we are truly beginning to have an impact.

Then the HBR article lands in my inbox and I realise our work is so not done. My damehood will have to wait.

It has been very exciting to see the amount of media attention being given to gender equality over the past couple of years and, for the most part, the impact has been incredibly positive. It has fired up debates in the boardroom and conference halls. It has brought a host of new research and business cases. It has delivered compelling stories and unearthed wrongdoings. 

But, for all the positive coverage, the fact remains that the gender pay gap has either not budged or has actually increased in favour of men for 52% of businesses across the UK this year. 

Furthermore, only 2% of twenty-something professionals said they’d noticed positive change 18 months after #MeToo, according to a BBC/HuffPost UK study. So while it would be easy to assume that we’re making great progress, the actual change is just not happening at the speed we should expect.

We get to work with hundreds of senior women every week, coaching and challenging them to get the clarity and confidence they need to thrive and progress within their organisations, and we continue to be struck by stories of blatant sexism and toxic behaviour. These are not whingers. These are women more determined than ever to make their mark and reach the top. 

They’re on it. They want it. And I have massive faith in the fact that these young, talented women will achieve it through sheer talent, guts and determination. Despite this, they still need the support and commitment from their organisations in order for equality to become a given. They cannot do it alone.

What’s also concerning is that we’re hearing the odd comment that "we did a women’s leadership programme last year, so we’ve done that and now we’re moving on". Let’s not kid ourselves that this is going to happen that easily. The brilliant clients we work with who are really dedicated to achieving their diversity goals know that this is not a quick fix. It’s absolutely doable, but it takes commitment, investment and action. 

To achieve genuine equality, conversations are not enough. I’m passionate about this work, but I’m now dodging the panels and the speaking engagements. I’m finding it hard to listen to another keynote speaker or read yet another article (and, yes, I get the irony of this). 

I want us instead to spend time actually making it happen. Let’s bring women together to connect, plan their futures and prepare them for what it takes to reach the top. Let’s work with male and female allies to ensure they create opportunities, support and pave the way for these women. Let’s get our recruitment strategies and processes in order. Let’s actually make this happen. 

And when we are done, I look forward to the day when we will never, ever again see another article that shamelessly omits the extraordinary women who bring the diverse thinking, creativity and energy that this industry needs to thrive in the future.

Caroline Whaley is co-founder of Shine for Women and managing director of Tiger for a Day

Picture: Getty Images

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