A Q&A with Kate Holt and Robert Bolton about the collective effort to empower women in the workplace.
Q: We recently passed the 100-year anniversary of the first women being able to vote in Britain. All these years later, how much progress have we really made when it comes to gender equality?
Kate: The 100 year anniversary has created a time for reflection. Reflecting on how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. Gender equality has become a prominent conversation across the globe. Corporations are discussing new policies to address gender equality, while governments are discussing new legislations. But when you scrape below the veneer, it is clear the discussion has not translated into significant change. Women are still under represented in senior positions across the globe. There are still many conscious and unconscious biases that are limiting the potential and opportunity of women currently in or entering the workforce. I do believe that the open discussion is important progress, but we need to harness the passion for equality into sustainable change.
Robert: It’s an incredibly important issue. How do we go about shifting systems, processes, cultures and mindsets? It’s about nudging behaviors and confronting behaviors. I think that one of the ways organizations might be able to do this is through analytics. Analytics can help to reveal patterns of behavior. If a bias exists, the first imperative is that it has to be recognized by someone. It has to be called out, commented upon, and challenged. But sometimes, these biases happen at the subconscious level. With analytics, however, we might be able to see patterns of behavior that might point to biases that are occurring and then we can highlight the need to sensitize people to the bias.
Q: How can companies and other organizations go about creating meaningful change in this area?
Kate: Well, first of all, women and men need to have the confidence to call it out - it’s a collective effort. We also need men to actually take a step back and take action. It’s not about needing 100 men to stand up. We just need two or three to start to reflect on the impact of their actions and behaviors and challenge their colleagues. It’s important to create a transparent collaborative culture and support each other in opportunities of leadership, ownership and achievement.
Robert: It’s just the right thing to do to make sure there’s genuine equality of opportunity in our workplaces. And when our workplaces are more diverse, inclusive and engaging, that’s going to mean that our workplaces are going to be more innovative and enjoyable places to work at. A truly inclusive organization that expects women to achieve as much as men and make as much of a difference will actually be a stronger organization and better off for it. I think we will begin to see that boards that are made up of a more balanced composition will actually be boards of organizations that are more sustainable and thriving and enjoy a better competitive advantage. We are beginning to see the data on this.
Q: What advice do you have for young women entering the workforce today?
Kate: My message to young women is to challenge us. Challenge senior women to be more supportive of you in your career, to be those role models that you need. I’d also ask them to challenge their male colleagues and, perhaps most importantly, to challenge themselves. Strengthen your voice, ensure it is heard and work towards something you feel passionate about. I would hope that these steps will help us make meaningful progress in empowering women in the workplace.
Robert: My message is that if you see any sense that you’re not welcome or that there’s some barrier, then that has to be challenged and if you don’t feel like you can challenge it, there will hopefully be plenty of people to support you on your behalf. I know it’s easy to say. But the more we have these senior role models, both women and men, who are willing to challenge un-supportive and non-collaborative behavior, the more I think we will see these ‘dinosaur’ attitudes become something of the past.