Why We Need a Joined Up National Approach to Achieve Gender & Equality in the Workplace
The recently published Sawers Review identified a diverse and active gender support eco system in Scotland and across the UK. This eco system is aimed primarily at supporting women in the workplace and within companies and sectors who have specific talent, skills or business needs.
In Scotland alone the Review identified over 90 organisations with a gender related focus. Many of these organisations are self funding, offering support and services delivered by volunteers (Change the Chemistry, LeanIn etc), others are subsets of national organisations (30% Club, Inspirational Journey, Women on Boards etc), business or trade organisations (Association of Scottish Businesswomen, IOD, BITC, CBI, Chambers of Commerce etc) or organisations with a specific sector or industry focus (such as those in law, construction, engineering, education, ITC etc). Others are aimed at supporting female start-ups and entrepreneurship (such as Woman’s Enterprise Scotland, ESpark etc) or driving engagement on policy or political change (such as 50:50, Engender, Close the Gap, SCDI etc). Some provide services free whilst others charge for access to services and support programmes. Within the workplace itself there are also woman specific support services offered by Trade Unions and a large and growing number of company focused women’s networks that offer specific, tailored services, including career development, workplace representation, mentoring, training and skills development.
Furthermore, the number of gender focused groups and representative bodies continues to grow on an almost daily basis – underpinned by new legislation, a growing awareness and desire for change by women themselves and also as more companies recognise the bottom line benefits and business value of having a fully engaged workforce and a diverse talent pool on which to draw upon within their business.
This is mirrored by the increasing focus of many existing business support organisations on the opportunities to provide gender related services to their members, to women directly or through third party organisations. Likewise new networks, services and support groups have emerged to fill perceived business or gender support gaps in the market and workplace. Equalities and women support related services is fast becoming an industry in itself.
The scale, extent and pace with which this is happening highlights the very fragmented and diverse nature of the business, public, third sector and government approach to gender as a national economic opportunity.
Whilst acknowledging the valuable support and contribution that many of these organisations make to the promotion and support of women’s issues and representation, there is surely a need for a single unifying “National Gender Action Plan” that sets out clear objectives, goals and guidelines that businesses and the support networks can invest in and work towards. A “National Gender Action Plan” could also provide a focus and framework within which many support organisations could operate, ensuring coordination of activities with others and an alignment of contributions, resources and support towards national shared goals and objectives.
In the absence of this framework, how do we know what “good” looks like and when will we know when we get there? In times of austerity and financial constraint, surely a joined up approach to an agreed set of objectives and measures across the public, private and third sectors makes sense.
As businesses seek to respond to growing equalities legislation, increasing workforce, shareholder and customer expectations, and to manage the impact of disruptive technologies and wider economic factors, surely we can agree that there is now a need or commercial imperative for better connection, collaboration and partnership working across many of these organisations. This will ensure, as a nation, we deliver the most effective gender related return on the time, resource and effort invested in resolving many of the issues and in maximising the potential and opportunities that equality in the workplace will provide.
The Sawers Review specifically identified the need for a “National Gender Action Plan” – evidencing the value of having shared national economic objectives and goals linked to gender. This coordinated approach would enable measurement of the return on investment on programmes and activities and allow an effective assessment of progress and impact over time for businesses, support organisations, for Government and importantly for the economy.
Work has already started to bring participants and stakeholders together from across Scotland to scope this framework and identify measures, if you would like to contribute and join us in this work, please get in touch.
Professor Lesley Sawers, is Executive Chair at GenAnalytics, a people science social business, using data and analytics to unlock business and economic performance linked to equalities.