Keith Skeoch comment: It's time to listen and learn when it comes to equality

2018 has seen several meaningful peaks and troughs in the move towards gender equality in the UK.

Judy Murray is one of the famous faces attending the Summit. Picture: John Devlin

We celebrated the centenary of when the first women won the right to vote; the number of spectators at elite women’s sport is expected to break the half million barrier for the first time; and of course new gender pay gap data was published for the first time, providing evidence which I hope will begin to drive real change in workplaces.

Conversely we saw the reality of the Presidents Club Dinner exposed, leading to a series of revelations about the culture at some of the UK’s most high profile businesses, sporting organisations and political institutions.

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These events have shown that no section of society is perfect. The calls for gender parity within politics, sport and business are getting louder; we all need to listen and take action. This Tuesday marks the fourth annual Aberdeen Standard Investments Gender Summit. It’s an opportunity to hear from senior inspirational figures in their chosen fields, and importantly, learn from them about how we can make our company a place where talented women can thrive. 

How can we do this? An important intervention is making sure we support talented women by enabling them to find great coaches. For a sportsperson, one of the most important people in their life, for the success of their game, is their coach. We have the indomitable Judy Murray with us at the Summit who has coached multiple players at regional and national level, not least her two sons Andy and Jamie both of whom have reached the global top tier of tennis.

In business, you rarely get to choose your boss but you can find a mentor or a coach, someone to push you out of your comfort zone, help you better appreciate your strengths and navigate a way through challenges. For women, and men, this person might be the one who tips the balance and helps you reach your goals. We need more of these type of leaders if we want to help more women navigate their way to the top.

We also know it’s broader than gender diversity; we need to find ways to develop a fully inclusive workplace. That means challenging our biases and welcoming people from a wide variety of backgrounds, recognising that the challenges of today and tomorrow will only be solved by thinking differently and innovatively.

At the Summit young people from a variety of backgrounds will interview Ruth Davidson about her careers in the armed forces and journalism before moving into politics. In business we need to get better at bringing in people from non-traditional backgrounds whether that’s young people choosing to join us right from school, experienced armed forces professionals or simply those returning from work after a career break.

Role models can have a powerful impact in helping women in business thrive too. We are also lucky to be joined by Nicola Sturgeon at the event who is expected to talk about her experiences as a politician and the challenges she has overcome in becoming the first female First Minister of Scotland.

The First Minister has pledged to put equality at the heart of the Government she leads and last week following a reshuffle, she announced a new ministerial team with a 50/50 gender balance. Leadership is about getting people to come with you, not telling them what to do and Ms Sturgeon’s move to promote a number of female MSPs and ministers has set the tone for gender parity in Scottish politics for years to come.

However, people often search for a role model in their own likeness. Considering there are more men called Dave heading up FTSE 100 companies than the total number of women, this is a problem for women in business. So it is up to men to champion women too. The current Commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Mike Whan, is heralded with breathing life into the LPGA tour, doubling its televised hours and modernising the look and feel of women’s golf. With Mike’s help, together with the Scottish Government, Aberdeen Standard Investments has elevated the Ladies Scottish Open to the next level, co-sanctioning the tournament between the Ladies European Tour and LPGA, tripling the prize fund and staging it at the same venue as the men’s tournament.

Never have passionate campaigns and voices calling for gender equality been so visible and so loud across society. For leaders, the challenge is to listen and learn from people from all walks of life and help make change happen.

- Keith Skeoch, co-Chief executive of Aberdeen Standard Investments