True partners: Making gender equality everyone’s issue

True partners: Making gender equality everyone’s issue

This article is part of the Forum Network series on New Societal Contract and will feed into upcoming discussions at OECD Forum 2019.

The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company is now under 20 years. Companies that have remained at the top of their game are those that have embraced change and are led by visionary leaders who approach both opportunities and disruption with positive and flexible mind sets.

It’s clear to these same leaders that the most successful companies of the future will be those who are serious about creating environments where diverse talent can thrive, and so continue to innovate. In a world of constant and accelerating change it’s the creative spark that will make the difference – and that demands different perspectives and workplace cultures that enable many “types” of people to really flourish.

In a world of constant and accelerating change it’s the creative spark that will make the difference
Image: Warren Wong on Unsplash

How are these inclusive working environments really made? So many companies are trying hard when it comes to diversity and inclusion – and almost as many are fatigued by their efforts, with little to show for them.

When men really do get involved, I have seen first-hand that it makes all the difference – and they see that it is really in their own interests to do so.

I think the main problem is that too few of those who are really in positions of power – most often white, heterosexual middle aged men – are actively engaged in gender equality efforts. It’s not entirely surprising – the view has long prevailed that this is a ‘women’s issue’ not a ‘business issue’ and many of these same individuals either feel threatened or simply out of their depth. It’s hard – really hard – for anyone to learn new ways of working, new approaches that are not just alien but may completely contradict what they’ve been used to all their working life. If you’ve developed a career through spending long hours at the same desk and networking with similar peers, the idea of working in a flexible way and consciously allocating work based on aptitude rather than who you truly feel comfortable with may not ring true.

Yet when men really do get involved, I have seen first-hand that it makes all the difference – and they see that it is really in their own interests to do so. The 30% Club, which I founded in 2010 with the initial aim of reaching 30% women on FTSE100 boards in the UK, was really borne out of failure: my own failure to move the dial through women’s networks at my own company. I suddenly realised that women talking to women about women’s issues was never really going to get us very far! The financial crisis offered a rare moment to change things more radically, so I set out to deliberately, consciously involve men in power – the chairmen of the boards – not just standing on a podium, but actively leading the 30% Club’s campaign.

Not all were exactly receptive at the start, but the few enlightened chairs became a highly effective recruitment board, persuading others that this was the modern way, that boardrooms of the future needed to be more diverse. The 30% Club became a solution to a problem, not another problem to solve. The results speak for themselves: the proportion of women on FTSE100 boards has risen from 12.5% to 31% and – my favourite statistic – the number of all-male FTSE350 boards has fallen from 153 when we launched to just two today. There are now eleven 30% Clubs throughout the world.

But the boardroom is just one piece of the gender equality puzzle. More generally, I believe we need to address what gender equality means for men – the ‘other’ side of the equation. Young men are our ally in this. I speak at many schools and universities and I am struck by how young men expect more than just a career – they expect to work for companies whose values align with their own and play a full role in their future family’s upbringing as well.

Another corporate policy won’t suffice; people want to see that there’s an understanding that men and women want to be true partners today.

It’s not just anecdotal: last year the Business in the Community gender equality campaign, which I chair and is run by the Prince of Wales’ Responsible Business Network, conducted a survey of over 10,000 people, mainly men with both careers and caring responsibilities.

Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Map

While women are still eight times more like to be the ‘primary’ caregiver of children, they were only one and half times more likely than men to be caring for an elderly parent or another adult. But the men didn’t feel comfortable disclosing their caring responsibilities to their employer even if the employer had official policies in place to support them. They felt embarrassed or worried about disclosing their caring – worried about job security, not just career progression. Nearly two-thirds of men were hiding their caring responsibilities from their employers, causing them stress. Twice as many men as women carers believe their organisation expects them to put work above family, even though nearly nine out of ten feel they should be just as involved in childcare.

Another corporate policy won’t suffice; people want to see that there’s an understanding that men and women want to be true partners today. Removing the artificial constructs we’ve put up around our ‘traditional’ roles is essential to creating the happier, fulfilling workplaces where we can all be better versions of ourselves. It’s clear from the evidence too that this goes hand-in-hand with being a successful company of the future. It’s not a women’s issue, or a men’s issue, or just a business issue – it’s everyone’s issue.

  • What do you think the most successful companies of the future will look like?
  • How can we encourage more authenticity and honesty about the challenges we’re facing when trying to balance our work and home lives?
  • How do we engage those who don’t think our issue is their issue?

Continue the conversation and help us co-create the agenda

All of the discussions you have on the Forum Network inform our thinking for the OECD Forum event each year – respond to Helena's questions and give your opinions by commenting to help us co-create the agenda!

Related Topics

OECD Forum 2019 Gender Equality
CEO Activism

Banner image: Rémi Walle on Unsplash

Find out more about OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion


Go to the profile of Emile BOYOGUENO, Ph.D, MPA
about 3 years ago

Indeed, this paper point out the critical way of changing things about gender. We have observed that laws protecting women are adopted at various scales of the public space ( at the UN, in a region or in a country) but how many are really implemented? Why are they not implemented? It is because the micro-scale is always neglected. This micro-scale is at everyone's level. This is where could be a sustainable solution for gender equality.

Emile Boyogueno

for men and women to work with equality, the objective is first defined as an objective SDGs of the 17 that exist, is to raise ideas to achieve the objective and to have as a priority the planet earth, because for the planet we are all important, when one pollutes all we are affected and there does not say if you are male or female that is why we focus on mind and heart to get a solution and if we can achieve the human being has always achieved impossible things that we still exist.