We have heard much about the gender pay gap in recent months. We’ve heard some things about the phenomena that sit behind it: career choices made by young girls; unconscious bias in selection and promotion; the practical challenges and sacrifices made to care for another, and the propensity of women to assume that responsibility; and good old-fashioned discrimination and more.
And we’ve heard a little bit about how to tackle those challenges.
But we’ve heard practically nothing about why it matters.
Why should we be worried about a lack of diversity in our institutions and organisations? What harm is done if we fail to include different perspectives and ideas? This is an issue that has real practical implications beyond the very evident issues of fairness and justice.
When companies include more women they are more likely to enjoy profits above their rivals. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to enjoy profits above their industry averages. Work by McKinsey estimates that bridging gender gaps in employment could add £150bn to the UK economy by 2025.
Every human endeavour depends upon inclusion.
The fortunes of mankind depend on the talents of womankind.
So it matters to us all that nearly eight out of 10 big UK employers pay men more than they pay women, and only a quarter of FTSE 350 board positions are occupied by women.
Given the challenges facing us in 2018, I don’t think we can wait for gender equality in business leadership until 2043. Or even later.
The World Economic Forum predicts it could take more than two centuries to close the global gender pay gap.
We need women’s ideas, voices, perspectives, empathy, communication skills, talents and leadership applied to those challenges now.
Britain has led the world by being the first country to require all businesses with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gaps. And people from all sectors are showing leadership to close that gap, many of them men.
Last night I spoke to business leaders from across the country, at an event at St James’s Palace kindly hosted by The Duke of York, and organised by the government-backed Women’s Business Council.
As part of their Men As Change Agents initiative, men at the very top of business promised to personally champion this agenda, ensuring at least a third of their executive-level leaders are women, to sponsor at least one woman within their organisation, and be a change agent encouraging other businesses to achieve better gender balance in UK business leadership.
These men get it. They understand why this agenda is about an environment in which their partner, daughter, sister, mother can reach their full potential. And they understand that it is also about every sector, community and our nation being fit for purpose, and the best it can be. They understand that it is both right and smart.
Some of our biggest UK companies like Barclays, BT, Deloitte and Sky have already taken action, showing that gender equality is not just a moral imperative, it is good business.
I hope others will join them. We need to change workplace culture and promote shared parental leave - encouraging fathers to take their share, and work so our businesses and services reflect our nation.
It is in all our interests that this is so.