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.
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.
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?
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