Have a medal…

It seems a little odd that in 2011 I am taking part in an “Advancing Women in the Workplace” programme. Well, you only had to be a fly on the wall at our launch event on Mon 17th Jan to see why. The first part of the launch was for our leadership team, the 18 delegates and their line managers. Considering this is a programme for women, there was a surprisingly high number of men attending the event, which if you do the maths, you can figure out there is a rather low % of women in more senior management.

Now, this kind of programme is going to sit uncomfortably with some people (including me to some extent), as it will be seen as a form of positive discrimination. So I want to ponder some thoughts as to why it is much harder for women to advance in the workplace, and does it actually have anything to do with gender? These are my initial thoughts, and I would love to hear any comments people have. I’m sure they will change over the next 12 months while I do this programme, but I’d like to see how what I think now compares with what I think when the programme is over.

  1. Self-promotion – men seem to be a lot better than women at promoting themselves. “Look, I’ve done the washing up”, “I emptied the dishwasher”, “I did the ironing”. My standard response: “Have a f**king medal”. I don’t spend my time pointing out the things I have achieved, I just do them. Does that carry over into the workplace? Do successful people, regardless of gender, make more of a fuss about when they have done things well?
  2. Jobs for the boys – is the old school mentality still there? I think until we can break the cycle of having the overwhelming majority of male senior managers, this may always be the case. I don’t know enough about this yet, so if anyone can enlighten me on this, please do.
  3. Part-timers – this is where I have my strongest feelings on why women aren’t advancing as well as men. There is still a wide-spread belief that in order to do a senior management job, you have to work an excessive number of hours, not even 37 will do.  This doesn’t fit well with that elusive “work-life” balance, and as the job of childcare, or care of relatives, is usually the responsibility of the woman, we are inherently disadvantaged. I am extremely passionate about the fact that the most important indicator of a good manager/director/exec is not how many hours they put in, but what they achieve in that time. Until we can change the culture of working long hours, we’re screwed. Our examples of women in senior management show that – our assistant chief exec is a woman, but it is her husband that took responsibility for the childcare. It’s great that she has got to the position she’s in, but she didn’t do it with the work-life balance I want in my life. One of our service heads went part time to look after his children when they were growing up. He openly admits that he believes this stunted his career. The inability to work part-time is the biggest killer for advancing a career, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. As a higher percentage of women need to work part-time, the impact is greater for women, but the problem is not caused by gender.
  4. Big Society & NHS Reform – following on from point 3, the changes to the NHS, the Big Society idea, all of these are going to put added pressure for people to use some of their time to look after their relatives or people in their local community. I might get my kids into school and achieve a nice senior position, but then (please don’t let this happen) one of my parents might get dementia. The NHS aren’t going to be in a position to provide the support I need in order to carry on in my job and care for my parents. So the pressure to work part-time will increase, and again, this will fall to woman.

So, those are my first thoughts. No doubt they will change, and I hope they do otherwise I will have learned nothing.