While it’s an important first step, getting women on candidate shortlists isn’t enough to improve gender diversity at the most senior levels of business.
Earlier this year, the government’s mandatory gender pay gap reporting deadline prompted a flurry of analysis and debate about why women are consistently paid less than men in all industries across the UK. One common explanation, put forward by companies including Barclays, Ryanair, HSBC and Burberry, was that the pay gap was caused by a relative lack of women in senior positions.
As a defence, it’s not the strongest: it’s a bit like apologising for being late by saying you couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. Consequently, many critics called on companies to do more to encourage women into executive jobs – and to shape their roles around the reality of women’s lives.
“At the heart of the problem is an assumption that senior jobs ‘naturally’ require long hours and constant availability, and so cannot be done flexibly or part-time,” wrote Dr Charlotte Gascoigne, director of research and consultancy at flexible working organisation Timewise. “In the 21st century, this pattern of working is no longer fit for purpose.”
Now, one of the UK’s biggest financial firms has announced that it is taking steps to address its lack of women at executive level. Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), one of the City’s “Big Four”, has implemented a UK-wide ban on candidate lists for senior positions that don’t include any women.
The company recently set out to employ 50% women and 50% men as part of a new recruitment drive.
“Diversity in our recruitment processes is something we’ve been focused on for some time and as part of this we are ensuring we have no all-male shortlists and more diverse interviewing panels,” Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC, told the Daily Mail.
PwC isn’t the first major financial company to insist on women being shortlisted for jobs. Bill Michael, the UK chairman of accountancy firm KPMG, held a meeting with recruiters last month in which he warned they had adopted a “no tolerance” approach to candidate lists without any women – and emphasised that he’d no longer accept the excuse that there were no suitable women for a job.
Professor Sue Vinnicombe CBE lectures in the subject of women and leadership at Cranfield School of Management, and is the founder of the Women in the City Awards. “I think banning all male candidate shortlists does not ensure that women will get into senior positions, but it is a good start,” she tells stylist.co.uk.
“It means the selectors have to make the effort to look at the female talent pool; in turn this may mean that they review the competences, skills and experiences for the job and realise that women often make different contributions, thereby enhancing the quality of management’s decisions.”
However, it’s clear that more steps will have to be taken to ensure gender diversity in the upper echelons of the City. Just last week, a row erupted when the Bank of England announced that Professor Jonathan Haskel had been appointed to its Monetary Policy Committee.
Four women had been shortlisted for the position on the highly influential committee, which decides the UK’s official interest rate and shapes the government’s monetary policies. But in the end, the role went to Professor Haskel, the only man on the list – a move described as “truly staggering” by the chair of the House of Commons’ Business Committee.
“The fact that four women were shortlisted shows that there are plenty of capable and well-qualified women, but yet again the top jobs seem to be reserved for men,” said Rachel Reeves MP.
Nicky Morgan, who heads up the Commons Treasury Committee, said she was “disappointed” at the Bank of England’s decision. “While I welcome the fact that four women were shortlisted for this role, it is notable that the only shortlisted male candidate has been chosen,” she said.
In summary, it will take more than banning all-men shortlists to get women into the most senior positions and reduce the gender pay gap. Stylist asked several senior women how they thought companies should tackle their pay gap; read what they had to say here.
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