THURSDAY 26 SEP 2019 2:52 PM


Ensuring women are recruited and supported by businesses is not just a responsibility obligation, it also makes practical sense. Brittany Golob reports on gender diversity and its impact on reputation

The age of girl power might’ve risen and fallen with the Spice Girls, but in the workplace, the power of women is on the rise. Companies worldwide are taking steps to improve their gender diversity. It might be through flexible working practices, diverse hiring initiatives, gender pay gap improvements or other programmes. But unless they’re focused on the reasons behind gender parity, not simply that they should be achieving it, their efforts might be moot.

It’s not about women. It’s about reputation. 

It’s no secret that having women in leadership roles, having parity or near parity on boards, having young women hired into the business help a company in terms of its bottom line. Any study will point to evidence documenting better business results as a result of better business practices. But for a company’s reputation, gender parity is not just a nice thing to work toward, it’s essential.

High ranking women in agency and in-house roles point to similar issues: confidence issues prohibiting women from advancing, poor support within businesses to develop women’s careers, negative portrayals of women in the media and on social media and the negative effects of not supporting women. 

“Businesses need to realise that if you aren’t having conversations with women about what they need to make their life better, they’ll move on,” says Emma Woollcott, partner at legal firm Mishcon de Reya. That’s an issue affecting agencies too. Public affairs and corporate comms agencies in particular skew more male than female, meaning women are not joining in the first place or leaving to take on lower paid, lower profile jobs in other areas of comms, due to unsupportive working environments. Farazana Baduel, founder and CEO of communications consultancy Curzon PR says this is particularly worrisome in the communications industry. 

For Asmita Kapadia, head of international communications for BNY Mellon Investment Management, building a team of the best was a key goal when she took on the job almost five years ago. But, providing an environment welcoming to women was one of the ways she has gone about achieving this. “For me, it’s about diversity,” she says, pointing to diversity not just of gender but of background, of thought. “We are not white, middle aged men in suits doing this everyday.” Building a team based on diversity has allowed Kapadia to send a team member to Australia to take over APAC comms, leading to a wider level of engagement across the global business. It has also made the team one the business trusts and relies on during crisis and for everyday communications. 

Without the support for women eager to work in financial and corporate PR, Kapadia’s success in developing a stronger PR team might not have been realised. This is true too, for Formula One. Director of marketing and communications Ellie Norman had to build a marketing team from scratch. She wanted colleagues who could think for themselves, who might not have been the biggest motorsport fans, but who could “think for themselves and challenge ideas.” One of her new initiatives is to increase interest in the sport among women, encouraging young girls to get into grassroots racing and encouraging female sports fans to turn their attention to F1. This new market could achieve a real impact on the business’ bottom line. 

The downside of providing supportive working environments for women is apparent too. BNY Mellon, the global firm under which BNY Mellon Investment Management sits, came under fire earlier this year about changes to its working from home policy. An examination into remote working practices led to employee outcry. That prompted CEO Charlie Scharf to send a company-wide email on 6 March declaring there would be no changes to remote working policy. The company has since seen a reduction in its Glassdoor ranking both overall and in the ‘work/life balance’ category.

One of the key issues women in leadership positions focus on when building diverse teams is the confidence gap. Baduel points to work she’d carried out with entrepreneurs at the Oxford Saïd Business School. “There wasn’t a skills gap. It wasn’t an expertise gap. It was a confidence gap,” she says. She noted that women with multiple high-level degrees were less confident in their entrepreneurship than their male counterparts.  

Comms consultancy DRPG’s newly minted global development director highlighted this as well. “The confidence gap is such a huge hurdle for a lot of women who don’t try to go for the roles that, to be honest, they could go for.” She argues that hiring based on skill and capability will lead to better gender parity, as has been the case in the 30-strong team she’s built in her time at DRPG. Confidence sells well in an interview, but might not be supported by the ability to do the job. “The most important thing is to get the best people with the best skills. If you don’t do that, you won’t do that. You may get the loudest, those who shout the most and those who are the most confident,” she says. “But confidence doesn’t necessarily equal skills.”

DRPG has worked on its confidence gap through a company-wide programme to recognise the different working attitudes of its people, based on the five voices methodolgy by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram. 

But ensuring women are confidence enough to apply for or secure the roles they are capable of starts far earlier than the job interview or recruitment process. It starts with culture. “The more that we shy away and think that social media is full of trolls and is vile, the less people will hear our voices and the less data that gets into the system” says Woollcott. She adds that people should report online abuse and counteract damaging content online because this type of content can damage women’s self-confidence. 

“The real reputational risk for businesses who are not diverse and don’t have senior women is that they’re blindsided by issues that are of interest to not just women but society more generally”

One of the businesses taking steps to counteract the gendered portrayal of women in advertising and media communications is Getty Images. The photography and content provider works with major advertisers the world over. At the Cannes Lions festival this year, it launched its ShowUs library, a campaign designed to create images of women, by women for use by businesses seeking to represent women in an unbiased way. The topic was of interest across the conference programme at Cannes this year as well, as major advertisers like P&G and Diageo documented the steps they are taking in improving diversity representations in their advertising. 

Getty Images’ ShowUs collection is carried out in partnership with Dove and Girl Gaze, but is a development on its longtime commitment to improve the way women are portrayed in the media. Five years ago, it launched its Lean In collection, which sought to showcase women at work in a more realistic, balanced way. For global head of creative insights at Getty Images, Rebecca Swift, the campaign’s objectives are two-fold. One is to portray women without retouching, without a gendered or sexualised gaze and by using real people, instead of models. The other is to support more women working in photography, to balance what is a predominantly male industry. 

Lean In gave Getty Images the courage to take a stand for women, Swift says. But, ShowUs is a big step toward campaigning for a truer portrayal of women. Swift is working with brands to persuade them toward imagery from the collection; to have the courage to do something differently. She says as success metrics will eventually show the efficacy of this diverse approach, the decision will be an easier one for brands. 

Getty Images had, Swift says “the moral reason for doing it. We should do it. We should be encouraging more women into this industry. We should be balancing out the gender. And I must say the collection is non-binary and transgender as well, it’s not just women. And it’s also opened our eyes and it’s definitely opened the management of our company’s eyes as to how we might do our business differently.” 

It’s these kinds of changes that will build confidence in women and girls and encourage them to apply for jobs or take on roles which they might not have before. 

And all of this relates back to corporate reputation. Woollcott summarises, “If a board don’t realise how male they are, they don’t realise what they’re missing, because if you have diversity around the table you have diversity of ideas around the table. It means that every decision that a business takes and every challenge is approached from the same vantage point. The real reputational risk for businesses who are not diverse and don’t have senior women is that they’re blindsided by issues that are of interest to not just women but society more generally.”

There are countless initiatives in place to ensure women are supported in the workplace, from mentoring schemes like the design industry’s Kerning the Gap, to ‘returnships’ designed for women returning to work from employment gaps to female networks like SheSays, which campaign for women in business.

These are all steps in the right direction. But it also relies on key individuals within businesses – like Kapadia and Norman, like Woollcott and Baduel, like Swift and Mackett – to recognise the link between diverse workforces and corporate reputation and take the steps to reduce the risk for their businesses. 

Woollcott adds, “I think you do increase the risk of reputational crisis if you haven’t thought about all issues, all angles. Part of successful crisis management in modern times is to be prepared for challenge. And if you haven’t looked at an issue or a decision or a policy, something that could be scrutinised – from different vantage points – you have not prepared yourself properly for that line of attack.”

Working toward gender parity

Pearl Doherty, board director, Lansons

Since we first opened our doors in 1989, Lansons has championed talented women and created a culture where they can excel. So, we were delighted, this year, to become a founding partner of the groundbreaking BBC 50:50 Project.

Diversity strengthens the advice a consultancy provides to its clients. It’s something
that has always been important to our business and our culture at Lansons. Our gender pay gap is 0.08% – against an industry average of 15%. And we are entering our third decade with a 68% female workforce; a gender balance that’s reflected in our management and ownership structure. 

The BBC 50:50 Project began with one news programme making a commitment to increasing the number of women it featured as contributors. It quickly gained momentum as a grassroots movement across the BBC, and more than 500 BBC programme teams, including Newsnight and Question Time, signed up to monitor and take steps towards 50:50 representation of male and female contributors.

The internal success of BBC 50:50 promoted the BBC to create a partner programme enabling other organisations, like Lansons, to roll out the initiative. The 22 founding partners also include the Financial Times, Fortune and HuffPost. As part of our commitment to BBC 50:50, Lansons will review female representation across the events we host every year, while continuing to seek to place female spokespeople with key media outlets on behalf of our national and international clients. Our partnership with the BBC felt like a natural continuation of our commitment to equal opportunities. We encourage other businesses and organisations to commit to being part of this change too.

Image credit: Getty Images