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This blog was originally posted on the College of Arts & Humanities, University of Brighton, blog. Read the original post. This comes in advance of next week's event run by RSA Brighton and Hove. Find out more or and book your place at the event.

What role should men play in supporting more women into leadership?

Following on from the success of RSA Brighton and Hove's recent How Women Lead event, this follow-up talk is chaired by CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council Penny Thompson CBE. A deliberately-chosen all-male panel will contribute their views and take audience questions in this lively debate.

Contributing their views and taking audience questions in this lively debate are:

  • Simon Fanshawe OBE, writer and broadcaster

  • Michael Edwards, CEO, Albion in the Community

  • Giles York, Chief Constable, Sussex Police

  • Richard Upton, CEO, Cathedral Group

  • James Rowlands, Brighton & Hove Violence against Women Commissioner.

This event is open to both Fellows and non-Fellows and the bar is open from 6.30pm to 9.30pm - book your place now. You can follow the event on Twitter using the hashtag #howwomenlead. This event is organised by Brighton and Hove RSA in partnership with the University of Brighton College of Arts and Humanities.

What role should men play in supporting more women into leadership? Pre-event Q&A

“Structures are in place to enable women to succeed, however, we sometimes struggle to hold the managers to account to ensure they abide by the structures with creating a flexible working place that accommodates different needs at different times.”

There are many examples of women in leadership roles in the workplace, taking control of their own economic fate and that of their work. However, the balance is still very one sided and set to stay that way according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. They estimate that it will take 70 years at the current rate of progress to see an equal number of female and male directors of FTSE 100 companies.

So can new structures be put in place to even out the leadership gender gap, or are the current structures already efficient but not being executed in the spirit they were intended?

Would the introduction of quotas in the workplace help women to get into leadership roles, and would women support such an approach? For example, Norway increased the representation of women on company boards from 6 percent in 2002 to 44 percent in 2010 by using boardroom quotas.

Finally, what role should men play, if at all, in supporting women into leadership?

We spoke with three men in leadership roles, Chief Constable Giles York of Sussex Police, Michael Edwards, Chief Executive Officer of Albion in the Community and James Rowlands, Brighton & Hove Violence against Women Commissioner, and asked them their thoughts on how to get more women into leadership roles.

Do you think there is still a glass ceiling for women in work?

Michael Edwards: No, there is no glass ceiling, and there are plenty of examples of women who have reached the very top in many industry and public sectors, and in many different sizes of business. But (and it is a very large ‘but’), the successful women are the exception, and there are still many senior management teams and Boards where there is only modest female representation.

Giles York: I'm not sure whether a glass ceiling has been replaced by glass walls. The ceiling seems to have been broken by some, but that doesn't mean it isn't still there; I am sometimes more conscious of specific areas of work where we struggle to make them more attractive to women, such as firearms policing.

James Rowlands: Evidently - just look at the numbers of women in senior leadership positions across all sorts of sectors; the statistics answer the question.

What are your thoughts on introducing quotas for women in high-level jobs?

ME: Organisations will always choose the most qualified and competent individuals for the most senior jobs, and that is the right decision. There is, however, a parallel accountability for companies to ensure that high potential women are identified, given preferential access to training/development, and given every support and opportunity to gain experience and demonstrate their skills; to my mind it is perfectly acceptable to promote a strategy of increasing female presence at every level of management.

GY: My experience of considering quotas for any under represented group is that often the people within the group are opposed as it removes the appearance of recognition and progress on merit. Quotas are clearly an absolute way of achieving progress.

JR: Instinctively I'm against quotas, but without proactive steps the reality is we won't achieve equal representation. Just look at Parliament.

Do you think women bring something different to the decision making process? If so what?

ME: Many women have to spend considerably greater time balancing conflicting priorities in their private and family lives, and this approach often permeates their thinking in strategic decision making, which is an advantage. Women have a marked tendency not to engage in macho decision making.

GY: I know that they do, having experienced different groups with and without women in them. I think they can bring greater consideration and listening to views from around the group. Less need to maintain a bullish exterior.

JR: I don't think that women necessarily bring something different, but having a more equal and diverse workforce opens up the potential for different styles of leadership. In particular, it challenges what is often found in traditional organisations, which are hierarchical and oppositional, and not good for anyone: staff, customers or the public.

Do you think the structures are in place to enable women to succeed and progress on an equal footing to men? For example in the case of childbirth, are women given the space and support to accommodate this or are women required to fit this experience into a male norm?

ME: This is a difficult question to answer, because it is so dependent on individual circumstances. On the specifics of childbirth, my experience is that there does tend to be flexibility leading to the birth of a child, but on the transition back to the workplace, and the balancing of changed priorities, there is far more of an issue. Individual needs are so different that women need to have the confidence to sit down with their managers and effectively negotiate an arrangement that makes sense for them – company policies are not always comprehensive enough to address every scenario.

GY: I think absolutely the structures are in place....I think we sometimes struggle to hold the managers to account to ensure they abide by the structures with creating a flexible working place that accommodates different needs at different times. There is always the balance to be struck between the needs of the organisation and the needs of the individual; they can vary at any given time, but I think for successful employment, the needs of the individual must fall just slightly below the needs of the organisation.

JR: There are some in place but these are not sufficient and an important point is that the limits on flexibility around work affect women and men and can limit potential, for them and their employer.

Is there a misconception by men, that we are all equal in the work place now, and this leads to a feeling that there is no need to make concessions to support women in the workplace?

ME: I do not think this is a question of equality, nor is it appropriate to talk about concessions. The better approach is to agree that there has to be a balance of men and women in the workplace at all levels, and to accept that the needs/requirements of men and women are different at various stages in their careers, and arrangements need to be put in place to ensure that the employee stays engaged with the organisation, productive and motivated, whilst retaining a work-life balance. The role of the manager is to ensure that there is transparency around working practices so that misconceptions and misunderstandings (possibly leading to resentment) do not occur. This is always going to be more difficult in smaller organisations.

GY: If there is, then I think it is probably held by some men and some women too. I think equality aside there are character traits that are different, such as confidence in applying for new roles where women may need more assurance before applying than men. I think the actual processes can be shown to be equal, but personal feelings about accessing them may not.

JR: Absolutely. A key part of this is about recognising privilege, which is most commonly organised around gender, but links to other things like ethnicity, disability, class etc. Men still have privilege be that perceptions around aspiration, roles in relationships or personal safety.


Chief Constable Giles York, Michael Edwards and James Rowlands will be on an all male panel chaired by CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council Penny Thompson CBE at the RSA Brighton and Hove What role should men play in supporting more women into leadership? event, on Tuesday 7 Oct 2014 at 7pm in the Sallis Benney Theatre, University of Brighton, Grand Parade, Brighton.

Find out more and to book your tickets. 

This event is organised by Brighton and Hove RSA in partnership with the University of Brighton College of Arts and Humanities.

This blog was originally posted on the College of Arts & Humanities, University of Brighton, blog. Read the original post

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