Anne McElvoy wrote an intelligent and insightful piece yesterday about the ongoing challenges of women's progress in the workplace. The danger is that this issue receives a good deal of coverage on International Women's Day or similar anniversaries, and then ingrained behaviour continues as before for the rest of the year.
I was speaking with a city-based senior woman yesterday who revealed that her company, like many others, ensure that the optics are in place to demonstrate an acknowledgement of the issues. So they belong to women's networking groups, pledge allegiance to government initiatives and outwardly support the conversation about more women on boards and similar, but are in fact slow to initiate the required change in behaviour internally.
In my experience it's not only women who want to see an end to the default macho alpha male behaviour that often exists in corporate life. Many men relish the chance to normalise workplace behaviour - it's less demanding of them too, and more like real life. Younger male employees in particular don't expect women to be treated or to behave differently at work.
So what happens the large numbers of girls - competent school leavers and graduates - who join organisations large and small full of enthusiasm only to leave a few years later? They opt for different careers or companies where the culture is more sympathetic and in keeping with their values - at great cost to the initial employer. This is not about working hard or commitment, it's about supporting women by building confidence and the development of key skills as well as organisational culture change.
Anita Hamilton is founder of the Women in Leadership Programme providing seminars and skills training for women in the workplace, see http://www.ctn.co.uk/our-services/women-in-leadership/
Culture matters too — who gets to say what about what with what authority? Who is treated as worth heeding and who is turned away with a curt nod or a discouraging frown? Like all diversity topics a lot comes down, quite simply, to how people are treated — and whether organisations change the way they operate to accommodate that. An able young business analyst said something that caught my eye. The problem, she reckoned, was not these days that people said a direct “no” to women’s advancement. It’s just that small patterns of small discouragements, being passed over or getting the “she’s on again about that job“ treatment build like snowflakes to form a snowball. First it produces nervousness, then resentment, then resignation.