Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality: Report on Policy Seminar

Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Creating a fairer society where men and women alike can achieve their full potential is an important goal. This equality of opportunity will only be achieved if both men and women actively engage in making it a reality.

That’s why, in June 2014, the Government hosted a seminar on “Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality”. This brought together a number of UK experts with Professor Michael Kimmel, a world leader on studies of men and masculinity, to discuss how we might unlock the full potential of men as positive agents of change to achieve gender equality.

Equality is everybody’s business, and most men are supportive of it – it is not just women’s responsibility. Both men and women have much to gain from gender equality.

On the surface, this issue seems straightforward: equality is good for everyone; we should all want to achieve it. And an increasing number of men are realising that they will benefit from a more equal society. We have seen significant progress in recent years as a generation of men are seeking more “hands-on” fathering roles than those of their fathers or grandfathers before them.

But while men may support gender equality, their participation in achieving it remains low. Why, then, are men not more actively involved in bringing it about? That was the focus for this discussion, along with ways in which we might gain the level of men’s engagement that will be necessary to secure real and lasting social change.

This debate is happening here in the UK, but also around the world. Shortly after the seminar, Emma Watson made her powerful and compelling speech to the United Nations launching the global HeForShe campaign. Of course men can be feminists – to create an equal society we need them to be – yet even in 2015 this statement can still seem controversial to some.

Government has a significant role to play in promoting gender equality. For example we have changed the law to introduce shared parental leave and extend flexible working. Through education we encourage both girls and boys to fulfil their aspirations, unconstrained by narrow stereotypes. We are also working tirelessly to support those girls and boys, men and women who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. For instance, we know that men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. Admitting to yourself and those close to you that you are having trouble coping is a difficult thing to do. It can be particularly hard for men, due to gender stereotypes that mean they often see owning up to being depressed as a sign of weakness, or may feel unable to discuss their feelings. We are addressing this problem and tackling stigma around mental health through the Time to Change programme where we have committed funding of £15.3million over four years to 2015.

But Government alone cannot deliver the lasting change we need; we must all work together to create a culture and society where individuals are not pressured to conform to gender stereotypes. I am hugely encouraged by the number of people and groups working and campaigning on these issues and the insight and dedication that they bring to the debate – with special thanks to the participants who generously shared their expertise with us at the event in June. Men and boys can become true agents of change by challenging discrimination, sexism and gendered violence, and by speaking out about the ways gender inequality hurts men and boys as well as women and girls.



Jo Swinson MP, Minister for Women and Equalities



Here’s the full report:


Cable: Still Not Enough Women On UK Boards

The Business Secretary says “alarm bells” should be ringing for FTSE chairs not doing their bit for gender diversity

By Anushka Asthana, Political Correspondent

Vince Cable has warned the “threat of EU mandatory targets” forcing big companies to appoint many more women onto their boards is still a real possibility because the UK has yet to meet its 25% goal.

It comes as the Business Secretary publishes a list of the 10 “most improved” FTSE 100 companies, including household names like HSBC, in a bid to persuade other companies to follow suit.

Topping the list is Old Mutual, which has seen a 38.5% increase since 2010 – although it began with the very low base of no women at all.  Aggeko is second and then Glaxosmithkline, which has risen by 28 percentage points to 35.7%.  Capita is in sixth place, and HSBC is in 10th, although both began from a stronger position than many of their competitors.  Capital had 22.2% of its board as women in 2010, and that had risen to 44% by October 2014. HSBC rose from 16.7% to 37.5%.

Mr Cable says the 25% target for women on boards is ‘in sight’

Mr Cable said: “Seeing the enormous progress made by these 10 top FTSE 100 companies demonstrates that the UK’s voluntary, business-led approach is working. Our target of 25% women on boards by 2015 is in sight.  “However, the threat of EU mandatory targets remains a reality if we do not meet it.

“Businesses must not take their foot off the pedal during the final stretch – if we are to avoid action from Brussels we must continue to demonstrate that our voluntary approach is the right one and is working.”

He said “alarm bells” should be ringing for FTSE chairs not doing their bit for gender diversity.  He announced the figures at an event at Barclays headquarters in London alongside Lord Davies at Abersoch, who has assessed progress in this area for the Government.  He said: “I have never doubted that the UK has plenty of talented senior women, capable and willing to serve on FTSE boards.

“In 2011, British business said they could fix this problem on their own and I am delighted we are now seeing evidence of this, with more women being picked to serve on the boards of Britain’s biggest companies.

“However, the job is not yet done.”

Women on boards and how the humble procurement department can help

By Alan Day, Chairman and Founder of State of Flux, a global procurement consultancy headquartered in London, UK

Recently I attended a dinner where Dina Medland was talking about the insights she had gained around diversity in the boardroom. Whilst the points Dina was making were more around boards being more representative of their customer base, the conversation quickly turned to women in the boardroom and the recent efforts that the UK has made to increase female representation across FTSE100 organisations.

Today we see the results of those efforts being published and the number of women in board positions has risen from 12.5% in 2011 when Lord Davies set the 2015 25% target to today at 20.7%. If the current rate of growth in female appointments to the board remained, this would leave the UK short of achieving the target. I know there is an interesting debate around setting targets or not and I can see both sides. Those against targets have argued it should be about the best person for the job regardless of gender. There is also a question on what happens if a business fails; would the targets be cited as a reason for failure of the business?

Conversely, there is always the argument of ‘what gets measured gets done’ and today’s results are a good example of this. Equally it is well recognised that by getting a more diverse board leads to better decision making, less ‘group think’ within the boardroom and ultimately better run businesses (1 and 2).

All this got me thinking about what role an organisation’s procurement department plays in this discussion. The procurement profession already has a strong female influence with Paula Gildert being president of Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) in 2012 and many others also doing great job in the role before her in 2010, 2005 and 2001. We also have some of our most successful UK businesses represented by a strong group of female Chief Procurement Officers (CPOs); think about just the financial services sector where you have HSBC, Barclays and RBS all with female CPOs. But I believe there is more business that could be done with their procurement influence….

Ask yourself, how often does your organisation look at the make-up of a supplier’s board? Knowing your suppliers well is critical to building a trust and strong working relationship and we know that a business follows the lead of their board. Given research has shown that diverse board is more likely to yield better results (1 and 2), then checking and understanding the supplier board make-up is simply good business practice.

Equally, what are we doing to ensure that we encourage suppliers to operate with diverse boards? Is your organisation’s procurement department building this into their thinking when choosing suppliers or even their decision making processes (should scoring criteria be assigned to it during a buying process?)? I believe if we all started to do this, it would encourage a rapid change in not just how FTSE 100 organisations but organisations in general select their board members.

If government were serious about encouraging more women in the boardroom for the better of UK business (as opposed to avoiding having EU sanctions imposed) then a good starting point would be building scoring organisations for their board diversity into their own procurement processes. Shouldn’t Francis Maud be encouraging all government agencies to now include this into their decision making criteria when selecting new suppliers?

The humble procurement department has an opportunity to change the future landscape of how business operates in the UK (and beyond) and I think we should embrace it.

N. Van der Walt, C. Ingley, G.S. Shergill, A. Townsend, (2006) “Board configuration: are diverse boards better boards?”, Corporate Governance: The international journal of business in society, Vol. 6 Iss: 2, pp.129 – 147
Mijntje Lückerath-Rovers Women on boards and firm performance

Achieving gender equality in the workplace

It’s time to tackle the gender imbalance in Britain’s boardrooms says Helen Croft of The Results Centre. She discusses what we can learn from other countries and how we can redress the balance.

The arrival of 2015 marks a milestone for women in business. Back in 2011, The Women on Boards Report, led by Lord Davies, recommended that FTSE 100 boards should comprise at least 25% women. So how close are we to achieving that goal; and what are the key issues affecting the gender debate?

The figures suggest that some progress has been made. The number of women directors on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2011 to just below 23% in September 2014, according to the Professional Boards Forum BoardWatch. Furthermore, Denise Wilson, CEO of the Women on Boards group believes that the UK has made significant strides since the publication of the original report, saying ‘Along with Australia, we are two countries in the world that have made really great progress – we just need to keep it up’.

However, the Department for Business recently reported that 61 of the FTSE 100 firms have not yet attained the magic 25%, whilst Wilson herself admits to being ‘slightly concerned’ at the slowing pace of appointment of female executives in the latter half of 2014. Furthermore, Britain achieved a dismal ranking in the 2014 Global Gender Gap survey carried out by the World Economic Forum. Failing to even make the top 20, Britain actually fell by eight places to 26th, behind countries such as Nicaragua, Burundi and Rwanda.

In the same survey, the Nordic countries performed particularly well with Iceland, Finland and Norway in the top three. Norway in particular is notable for being the first country to implement gender quotas of 40% female representation in 2008.

The quota debate

Quotas provoke diverse and often heated responses. A recent debate hosted by the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Norwegian Embassy and Innovation Norway discussed how the system was working in Norway. Attended by business leaders and speakers which included Denise Wilson, the consensus seemed to be that operational performance had not been compromised by the quota system, and had actually increased access to a wider pool of talent with greater cultural diversity.

However, whilst the system appears to have been successful so far in Norway it’s important to appreciate that these pioneers started from a radically different position from the UK, and so even if we were to adopt similar measures, we would be unlikely to experience similar levels of success.

For example, Norway is well known for advocating paid maternity and paternity leave (after the first 13 weeks, either parent can take the remainder of paid leave from work) and subsidised childcare. Unlike the UK, there is no preconception that the mother should bear the major responsibility for managing child-related issues requiring absence from the workplace. Success in Norway came on the back of decades of a fundamental difference in how the Nordic society thinks about gender and family.

Identifying the key issues

Unfortunately, the quota debate can sometimes obscure the key issues. Whatever decisions are made about quotas, targets or otherwise, companies need to evaluate their own contribution to the equality issue and how that can influence their future prosperity. After all, having a satisfied, balanced workforce which feels valued is an essential ingredient for any successful company.

As someone who works with women in senior positions, I come across certain recurring issues. It’s acknowledged that the sexes think and behave differently – yet the workplace is often predicated on a male behaviour model. This presents an enormous challenge for many women. Many businesses respond by creating less demanding roles for women with families to return to. However, this can create a sense of frustration, boredom and lack of engagement – as well as failing to prepare the individual for any future progression in line with their capability.

Meeting the needs of your people

Research shows that around 43% of women who have children will leave their job at some point. About 75% will later return, but only 40% of those will resume employment full time. In addition, increasing numbers of successful women at the peak of their careers are leaving because they no longer have the passion for their job. Being engaged by what they are doing is a vital factor for the female psyche – with current trends suggesting this is increasingly a factor for men too. It seems that people are replacing the question ‘what do I want to achieve in my career?’ with ‘what kind of life do I want to have?’

To begin meeting these sorts of needs, businesses may need to rethink the way they operate. This could include initiatives such as flexible working; job shares, home working and results-based contracts with no standard hours at all.

For some, the steady progress made appointing women to boardroom positions is too slow; for others, proactive moves such as introducing quotas violate the principle of merit. However, if we are to address issues of balance and bring the best out in women, the starting point is accepting that men and women behave and think differently. Embracing this diversity and giving people the opportunity to develop their individual potential, no matter what their sex, will ensure that organisations have fulfilled and effective people in post. It may not happen as fast as it should, but for change to really work, we have to be realistic in identifying our starting point and build on what is already in place.