30 January 2018

Senior executive gender diversity: Last week's issue?


Christina Morton
Professional support lawyer | UK

I think not. Last week was for me anyway, marked by two events, that for very different reasons, were a reminder that the equal participation of women at executive level at work and their receipt of equal reward for their efforts, are still stubbornly difficult to achieve.

On Monday night I attended the launch of Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020, a report into executive women in a sector in which women are less well represented at senior levels than you might expect. Sponsored by Korn Ferry and PWC (on behalf of Withers I contributed chapter 8 on the regulatory framework), the report concluded:

1. There are very few female role models, CEOs and Chairmen in the sector;

2. More female Executive Committee members reside in HR rather than Commercial or Finance, giving a false view on the sector’s progress on gender diversity and the talent pipeline for CEO and top leadership roles;

3. A significant number of small- to medium- size businesses do not think there is an issue regarding gender imbalance, nor see it as a priority;

4. Progress on diversity in the sector is seen as ‘simplistic’, and slow in comparison to other sectors;

5. A legacy perception of a ‘blokey/laddish’ culture hinders the sector’s attempt to attract the best talent generally;

6. The sector attracts a high number of female graduates, but it is not doing enough to retain them;

7. A lack of flexibility in working conditions and/or support for women balancing careers with family is systemic;

8. Larger businesses do tend to be more progressive in gender balance. Shareholders demand it, and most recognise that their board and executive management need to reflect their customer base; Appointments from outside of the HTL sector have helped to increase the pipeline of talented women;

9. The regulatory landscape is now forcing businesses to take diversity more seriously to change the status quo;

10. There is a general lack of appetite to engage in the debate.

If all this looks dismally familiar there could hardly have been a more depressing example of point 5 than the second big event of the week, the Financial Times report into the Presidents Club charity dinner, which puts an entirely different spin on the term 'women in hospitality'. As James Hockin comments in his blog on the event, there is a real question for employers as to whether they should condone any of their staff, let alone their most senior representatives, going to events at which women are likely to be harassed, demeaned and objectified in the name of corporate hospitality or charity fundraising. And yet still they do it, depressingly often.

But enter point 8 on the list. The most successful businesses already know that respect and diversity make good business sense. By Friday I was busy composing an email for the attention of Ocado plc's Chief Executive Tim Steiner, to the effect that this particular customer of over 10 years would not be placing any more orders with the company until I had had an explanation as to why (according to the article), Mr Steiner's name had appeared in a list of invitees to the dinner. A small gesture you may say – but all businesses, regardless of sector, need to remember that in the 21st century women are not just potential employees but also purchasers of goods and services. They will be increasingly reluctant to spend their money where there is evidence that anywhere in an organisation, least of all its highest echelons, they are not treated with respect.

I await Mr Steiner's response with interest.

Christina Morton Professional support lawyer | London

Category: Blog