10 Steps to Breaking the Glass Ceiling

We spend $5million a year removing one of the barriers to women in leadership. Here's 10 things every business leader could, and should, do this year to help smash the glass ceiling once and for all.

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On Saturday we videoed Lord Laidlaw for a series of short videos that we'll be posting on the Network where he discusses why he funds the Laidlaw Scholars programmes, subsidises schools in the North East of England, his career failures and successes, and his advice to our Laidlaw Community. One of the questions that Nikol asked him was why so many business leaders still fail to promote women into leadership roles despite overwhelming evidence that businesses that do make more money. His response? "I think many men are just more comfortable working with men". We were filming at the Ritz so it didn't seem the appropriate time or place to scream, pull my hair out, swear or otherwise express my frustration. Instead, I resolved to make it easy for business leaders to get with the programme. So here they are, 10 steps that leaders can and should take to ensure gender equality (many of which also apply more broadly for all types of diversity) in their organisations:

  1. Ensure gender pay parity in your organisation by role. The same job, whether it is done by a man or a woman, should pay the same. If it isn’t, make it so. You may have to make some tough decisions around how to fund any increases (do you cut some salaries or find cost savings elsewhere) but if you are a leader, you are paid to make the tough decisions. JFDI.
  2. Ensure gender pay parity across your organisation. Don’t use as an excuse (as an appalling number of professional services firms do) that we would have pay parity if we had more women in senior roles. Look at why women are hitting a class ceiling by sub-group and put a plan in place to address it. In some cases, unlike point 1, you may not be able to fix this by the end of 2020 (if you are a university, and need a pipeline of women PhDs, for example), but you can put in place a five year plan, with clear targets and make sure that you are moving in the right direction.
  3. Make sure all voices are heard. Some people can dominate a meeting, talking over others, not really listening, barely waiting for a pause in the conversation, hogging the limelight. Your job as a leader is to ensure that everyone in the room contributes, and everyone has a chance to shine. You need to do this actively. 
  4. Avoid task stereotyping. Notice if for example women are disproportionately being asked to bring the coffee or organise the lunch or take the minutes. Call out and correct the stereotyping.
  5. Provide mentors. Identify your rising female stars and check that each has a mentor who will support and champion them. If they don’t, make introductions and be sure that they do.
  6. Give feedback. If you see that a senior man is disproportionately giving junior men development opportunities, speak to him about it. If you notice that a woman had been willing to allow a man to take credit for her work, speak to her about it. If you notice that senior women are pulling up the ladder behind them, or questioning whether a woman is “nice” rather than “good”, have a very direct and firm conversation. I am completely with Madeleine Albright on this one: “there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”. If you have never given anyone in your organisation any feedback about gender equality and do not have a fully diverse executive board and gender pay parity, look harder and start providing the necessary feedback.
  7. Review your promotion criteria. Check that your promotion criteria is not inadvertently biased. Make sure it is as empirically based as possible. If you ever find yourself saying, as I heard a group of well-meaning but spectacularly complacent partners at a leading global advisory firm explain, that the reason you have not promoted more women is because they are not assertive enough, recognise you are probably confusing good debating skills with good character and outcomes. 
  8. Recruit blind. Try as we might, we apply different standards when we compare men and women. So don’t. Take names and other identifying features off of CVs before determining who will come into interview or complete tests and projects. When orchestras began to audition behind screens, it made it 50% more likely that woman would advance to the finals. Think what else you can do in your organisation to avoid unconscious bias.
  9. Get rid of presenteeism. I know of a firm where the Chairman likes to come into the office at about 7 or 8pm, after a day of visiting clients, and wander around and talk to the young account directors. Many of them, knowing that they will need to be there late, chat and disrupt those who are trying to get their work done during normal hours. Parents who want to leave on time to pick up children from school or help with homework are doubly disadvantaged. They are disrupted during normal working hours and the Chairman discounts them for promotions because they aren’t in the office when he is, even if their clients love them and their billables are high. When the head of HR tried to explain the concept of presenteeism, he got quite angry.
  10. Have plenty of female role models. It sounds trite, the mantra that “if you can see it, you can be it”, but it has merit. Look at the surge in women’s football (soccer) with the success of the England Lionesses. Make your women leaders visible, in every department.

Simple. I've even created a checklist for leaders to use. Check it out. 

 

Susanna Kempe

CEO, Laidlaw Foundation

A graduate of Cambridge University, Susanna’s professional experience includes over 15 years in senior leadership roles in international B2B and learning businesses. Susanna began her career at the Institute for International Research (IIR) where she first worked with Lord Laidlaw, rising to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). When IIR, which was the world’s largest organiser of commercial conferences, was acquired by Informa plc in 2005 Susanna was appointed CMO of the enlarged group and also led the public company’s investor relations programmes. She subsequently joined Emap Ltd as Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer and CEO of Emap Networks, that group’s conferences business. Later she became CEO of the fashion industry forecaster WGSN and was latterly Group Content and Marketing Partner of the leading strategy consultancy Brunswick Group. A German-American raised and educated in the UK and a committed internationalist, Susanna has been involved in globally trading businesses throughout her career, directing activity in the Americas, across continental Europe, and the Asia Pacific. Susanna has been extensively involved with education and professional development over many years. She was Head of Group Training and led the commercial acquisition and integration of a portfolio of corporate training businesses whilst at IIR; and created learning academies at both Informa and Emap. She believes experiencing and appreciating different cultures promotes better global understanding, creativity and leadership. She is passionate about the power of education to transform lives; and believes that we need to develop a new generation of diverse leaders who are curious, bold and devoted to decency, truthfulness, and innovation. Susanna is committed to diversity not only as a societal imperative but as a critical component of commercial success. As an advisor to the trustees of the Foundation, Susanna first learnt about its purpose and programmes before becoming its Chief Executive responsible for the Laidlaw Schools Trust, the Laidlaw Scholars and its other education programmes. Susanna read English and Philosophy at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She has five half blues in swimming and water polo; and played netball and rowed for Newnham.

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