Sir Martin Donnelly emphasises the importance of leadership and culture in supporting gender equality in the workplace
‘Gender and other diversity issues are really about culture, both workplace and societal’, said President of Boeing Europe and former top civil servant Sir Martin Donnelly, who spoke at Oxford Saïd on 12 February 2020 as part of the Driving Diversity and Inclusion series. He emphasised that a key question for leaders is how tolerant they should be of behaviours that are not inclusive and not consistent with the desired culture.
Donnelly’s presentation drew heavily on his experience as Permanent Secretary at the UK’s Department for International Trade and, before that, at the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills for seven years. Although he supports ensuring adequate representation of women and people of colour in senior roles and the need for role models, he stressed that this focus on the top jobs was not enough. ‘Unless you’ve got a system that produces people from a range of backgrounds who want to do those jobs you will find it doesn’t work over time...Unless you create a culture where women at every stage of their careers are given genuinely equal opportunities to move up, you don’t have effective gender diversity – you’ve just fiddled the figures’.
The idea that many women and men are uncomfortable with competitive, macho, and long-hours working cultures is not new. Nor are the traditional solutions: job-shares, flexible hours, part-time working. But, as Donnelly pointed out, they do not seem to be leading to enough progress. There is still a gender pay gap, still a minority representation of women in top jobs, and still an acceptance of the assumptions that female-friendly working practices are not suitable for senior roles, and that women do not always want to apply for those roles anyway.