This morning Facebook sent me a helpful “anniversary reminder”. No, it wasn’t to tell me that I’d been friends with my best friend from school for all of 6 years (we wish), nor to remind me about that wedding where they broke up (awkward), but  - much more importantly - that today is International Women’s Day.

On International Women’s Day last year, I set out on Facebook the three milestones that I personally wanted to see happen, to make me believe that men and women really do have a chance to be equal in business.

I argued we needed:

1. Quotas – on boards, in management, at the grass roots of education and in recruitment. Yes, quotas are controversial, but my view was that we need to positively discriminate until we don’t discriminate any more

2. Salary transparency – if we publish figures, there is nowhere to hide, and we can plainly see an objective measure of worth for men and women

3. Appreciation and acceptance of differences - stop trying to “fix” women in business and putting them into the mould of men, and value people as individuals for their individual contributions

My friends, after much debate, added one more:

4. Role models – because you have to be able to look up and think “I can do that” (and maybe even: “I can do that better”).

Today, Grant Thornton has published an international paper to coincide with International Women’s Day: “Women in business – beyond policy to progress”. https://www.grantthornton.global/globalassets/1.-member-firms/global/insights/women-in-business/grant-thornton-women-in-business-2018-report.pdf

I’ve scrambled through it to see what our international firms think about gender equality policies, and how they match up to my own “wish list”.

  • Equal pay polices are at the top of the list. However, our report highlights that businesses are sceptical about the impact of equal pay policies, being easy to implement and difficult to measure. My own view is that while the Gender Pay Gap Regulations have highlighted some big picture differences, they have also raised some difficult questions about how we measure men and women and their roles. For example, debates in supermarkets as to whether the arguably “predominantly male” job of working in a depot vs the “predominantly female” job of working as a cashier should bear equal pay. These questions are at the root of our perception of male and female roles in society, and their worth, which sadly I don’t think salary transparency alone can answer.
  •  Quotas are right at the bottom of the list. They remain controversial, and while there seems to be a sense that they would be useful in speeding up change, the concern is that just giving women a place at the table will not create equality - their perspective at that table must be valued. Our UK CEO, Sacha Romanovitch, makes the point that “instead it’s important to have quotas on recruitment pipelines so there’s a possibility of selecting a female leader in future.” I hope that works – although in my university intake, in my training contract and up to Manager level in my working life I had at least an equal number of women to men as my peers, and the numbers of women in senior levels remain well below 50%. Combining quotas with other gender equality policies to keep women empowered and engaged in their roles is essential.
  • As for appreciating differences, I think we do still have a long way to go. Gender stereotypes are still embedded in society, and the key to changing that must be education. I see many of my friends refusing to read their children books which have princesses being rescued, or where Daddy’s out to work while the Tiger comes to tea with mum and the kids. These roles are deep-rooted and change is too slow. Globally, our report finds we are seeing an increase in women in senior management, from 66% to 75% – but a marginal decline in women in senior roles. Our report suggests that one of the reasons for this might be that: “businesses may be focused on ticking the ‘diversity’ box to avoid an all-male leadership team, rather than creating an inclusive culture that leads to a genuinely diverse senior management team”.
  • And role models? To namecheck the business that prompted me to write this, I chatted to a speaker at conference yesterday from Facebook about balance and diversity in business, and our respective female leaders. We agreed with one of the conclusions of the report - change has to be led from the top, and to have the female leaders we have at the top of both our organisations was no bad thing at all for the cause.

So what's next? Well I'm replacing my wish list with our 10 recommendations for business leaders to increase gender diversity. The first being Champion the Cause! (ticked)

You'll have to read our report for the other nine.... !