Congratulations parents. Look at those beautiful twins, Charlie and Charlotte. Tell me, do you love your son more than your daughter?
It would be unimaginable for anyone to answer in the affirmative to this question – some may even baulk at the question even being asked. Don’t worry, it’s only fiction. What I want to do is challenge perceptions of favouritism – moreover the impact of our unconscious bias and that of many companies.
Let’s fast forward a few years in this imaginary scenario to when little Charlie and Charlotte are graduates grasping hard earned degrees and looking to join SuperBiz Inc. a forward thinking, hugely successful global business. Both are accepted onto the graduate programme and rise fast in the ranks as high potentials.
Let us move now to when they are 30 (the average age of motherhood according to ONS). Charlotte is on maternity leave as Charlie keeps pressing ahead at his career whilst his wife gives birth to their first child.
Charlotte returns to work after 6 months and requests flexible working to acknowledge this paradigm shift in her life. Charlie continues to work 5 days a week in the office, long lunches and late night client dinners included.
Charlotte maintains her productivity, at some cost to herself both socially and physically (something’s got to give) and so does Charlie, at some cost to his waistband.
Charlotte’s bosses are impressed by her continued success in spite of the little one at home – but isn’t it a shame she won’t return to the office full time, it would be nice for clients to see her around more. Still, let’s not mention that for fear of HR hearing …..
Move forward another year or so and Charlotte’s announcement of a second pregnancy is met with a rictus grin on the face of her boss Paul who quickly starts thinking of how to manage the impact of this on the client/s she currently runs. They have only recently been thinking of promoting Charlotte as a result of the brilliant client feedback she has been given.
At the same time, Charlie is promoted as a recognition of the hours he puts in and the client relationships he’s built for SuperBiz Inc over the past couple of years.
Charlotte works until a week before her due date, commuting 2 hours a day like her brother, and welcomes a healthy baby number 2 before returning again, 6 months after the birth.
Charlie also welcomes a second child at this time and is struggling a little with the sleepless nights. As a modern family man he is encouraging his wife to continue her career around their family and to set up her own small business. This will allow her to manage the childcare around his long hours but as this involves stopping her pension contributions it adds more pressure onto Charlie to provide a secure future with SuperBiz Inc. He often misses bathtime, storytime and thanks heavens for Skype when he needs to travel or he worries the kids might forget who he is.
Meanwhile, SuperBiz Inc. – who have just one female NED and no women on the operational board – have been having discussions about gender diversity quotas looming on the horizon. Whilst the Lord Davies’ report, the 30% Club and others have been successful in providing empirical data and intuitive reasoning behind appropriate representation, they still can’t quite see how the whole thing might work at a company like theirs.
They have a choice to make. Do they continue as they are and suffer the expense and effort of replacing the female talent lost post maternity? Or do they invest in process and culture changes to strategically encourage the retention of diverse talent across the company.
The thing is, at this point they can’t quite see past what already seems to be working. They can’t yet identify the barriers (both obvious and invisible) that reinforce the problems that will only exacerbate with time, leading to a less competitive workforce.
They love Charlotte and her clients love her, but surely if she left then someone else could just soak up her accounts and the business would go on. If that happens to be a bloke (because there don’t seem to be any women over the age of 35 in SuperBiz Inc now…..) then that’s just the way it goes.
On the other hand, they can clearly see how consistent Charlie is and how more employees like him means that the numbers keep rolling in.
The numbers don’t lie.
What’s that saying? ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’
Yet the folks down the road at BrilliantOrg Ltd have recently been making changes that were initially laughed at by the SuperBiz board. They stated publically that one of their core strategies was to actively improve their gender diversity and with it flexible working across the company for both men and women. They also stated on their website that their objective was to have an engaged, motivated and happy workforce and that they were investigating creative ways to improve their engagement scores and tracking those back to client satisfaction.
That’s just an expensive way to look modern and PC isn’t it?
BrilliantOrg now have 2 women on their operational board, 3 female NED’s and have won 3 of the past 4 new business pitches against SuperBiz Inc.
At a recent networking event a BrilliantOrg Director was overheard talking about the way new fathers are encouraged to work flexibly, how the company is giving returning mothers ‘re-boarding’ coaching to help them hit the ground running after maternity leave, how the graduate programme now addresses the new way Millennials are approaching the whole idea of work/life/parenting and are being actively encouraged to find mentors.
Apparently, even the leadership team at BrilliantOrg have a programme that allows them to change the way they think about influence, engagement and productivity and to help them address entrenched ‘unconscious bias’ around how things ‘ought’ to be done.
BrilliantOrg has recently been placed on the Sunday Times Top 100 Places to Work list.
The SuperBiz Inc Chairman didn’t like that one bit. He asked the head of HR why SuperBiz Inc wasn’t on that list.
Charlotte has just been approached by BrilliantOrg to lead their new sales team. She’s going to take the job….and 3 of her clients will follow her.
Charlie has been prescribed Statins and is looking forward to his annual 2 weeks in Bali next month. He will be checking his emails every day.
Written by Becky Tilney, Director