Working hard to eliminate bias in the workplace - comment

Gender equality and womens rights are fundamental to global progress, says Rosati. Picture: Getty Images.Gender equality and womens rights are fundamental to global progress, says Rosati. Picture: Getty Images.
Gender equality and womens rights are fundamental to global progress, says Rosati. Picture: Getty Images.
International Women’s Day, which took place yesterday, is as much a celebration of women’s achievements as it is a platform to demand change and I am delighted that the voices of women and girls have got both louder and stronger over the years.

But before people in power start to believe that with this momentum, gender parity no longer needs their attention, let’s be clear, workplace culture still has a long way to go. Only 4 per cent of the CEOs of Scotland’s top 50 companies are women.

Rightly, the conversation has moved towards inclusion, of which gender is just one component. Equality, too, is now increasingly seen as a business, rather than a gender issue. Ensuring a business reflects and identifies with its customer base by creating a more balanced workforce is acknowledged as good commercial sense. Diverse teams bring different ideas and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and performance.

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In more than 25 years in this arena, I’ve seen the unique value women bring to the workplace increasingly understood, and I believe gender equality and women’s rights are fundamental to global progress. These gains, however, are far from consistent or complete. Power is never given up willingly and privileged bias, or the fear of privilege being questioned, still hinder universal advance.

Consider the very real issues ethnic minority women face – only 33 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women; only three are women of colour – or how gender issues intersect with disability and sexual orientation, and a clearer picture emerges of the discrimination and challenges many women deal with.

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More role models will lower attrition levels and build a sustainable, diverse pipeline. Mentoring and sponsor programmes help talented individuals become more visible. While becoming more open about salaries, attaching value to a role rather than what an individual was last paid and seeking more balanced shortlists when hiring are practical solutions to instigating real cultural change.

That said, there is no silver bullet. But many firms are making things work. Speaking at the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business conference this Thursday are both the big firms who have made powerful commitments alongside people whose smaller, and often very personal steps to promote gender parity have taken huge courage and determination to succeed.

On the platform will be Michelle Hawkins of Accenture, which has committed to gender parity by 2025. As will Silka Patel of Scotland Women in Technology, which champions and invests in women.

At UN Women, we also celebrate the commitment of men with power to make change happen and work with our male allies and companies to unlock the means to scale up inclusivity and accelerate change. Every step forward keeps the momentum building.

Carol Rosati is vice chair of UN Women UK

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