02 Jul Sarah Pinch on Gender Equality in Business
In 2015 I had the privilege of serving as President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. With the role came a number of invitations to speak at events, and I was a long- standing campaigner for the gender pay gap in Public Relations to be addressed, as well as a passionate campaigner for more women on boards.
One such event to which I was invited, was on International Women’s Day and organized by Women in Property South West (I live in Bristol). During a break, a young woman asked me when I had decided not to have children. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I had just given a keynote speech and taken part in a panel. I had not mentioned my five-month-old, as I was talking about work and women in the board room. When I explained I was mum to a five month old, the young woman cried; “I’ve been told I need to decide between being a partner in the firm and having a family”.
For the last five years I have grown in confidence to talk more about the challenges of running a business, having a child and being a woman. I must be clear, my husband takes on 50% if not more of the childcare, we have one child, and we have a fantastic child minder outside of school hours.
I founded a conference, Spring Forward, in 2018 for women who want to get on boards (sadly postponed for this year) and following on from our research, we published a White Paper. I am campaigning for Rosie’s Rule, where every organisation must interview a competent and qualified woman for every senior role in their organisation, and if they are not successful set out a mentoring and coaching programme, so next time they are.
What COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief is when there is no school, no childcare and you are still working full time; there is no support. You can’t ask a friend, or a grandparent. Many women have been abandoned by their employer, by the woeful lack of government action, and I am deeply worried about the impact on business, the economy and the mental health of women.
I have never ever wanted to be a stay at home mum. In my old life (that’s February 2020) I was away at least one night a week, travelling all over the country visiting clients and working on a hugely varied portfolio. I was energised by the company of strangers; by chance conversations and by not being asked every five minutes what is for supper and ‘is it 5:30pm yet?’
Now I am exhausted in every way, holding it together with really interesting client work, a simply brilliant team of colleagues, a hugely supportive husband, and a lot of exercise. But, oh my goodness, I know I am so very fortunate to have choice and I can negotiate. Many women have no choice and they cannot negotiate. A friend works for Asda. She has her shifts given to her. No choice, no negotiation. Another friend is a consultant doctor, she is given her shifts. No choice, no negotiation.
A client works with very vulnerable families. Living in inner city London, no outdoor space, no support, little money – and women are being asked to take major risks at work, to put food on the table. No choice, no negotiation. We desperately need more women and men, who understand the impact this is all having on the economy, on families and on the mental health of mums and their children.
With more women in leadership positions (and men who understand and support these issues) it would mean there is better chance of policies and procedures reflecting some of these issues and including better provision and support for those who need it. In her book Work Like A Woman, Mary Portas makes it clear that free childcare, or a partnership between business and government to find a tax efficient way for business to support childcare and indeed elderly care for their staff, would revolutionise the economy and opportunities for women.
In my research, women tell us the boardroom has no one like them in it. Many of the new appointments of women are into non-executive roles, I hold two of those and I am very proud to say I do. I know I make meaningful and helpful contributions. But I am not involved in the day to day policies and processes. I am not setting the rules, I am not an executive director. And that is where we have a massive problem.
Women need now, more than ever, to get into the boardroom; set policy, set the values and behaviours. And stand up for how the care of our children, of our elderly, of the sick, is not a private matter. It is not a female responsibility. It is for society, for business, to wake up and step up. Without it we will always have a deeply inequal society.
So how can we work together to change this. There are some beacons of hope. Vodafone made all their roles open to part time working, flexible working and job shares. But they are a beacon, not part of a pack. Post COVID-19 there is a real opportunity to take some of the benefits we have learnt for example we no longer need to travel miles and for hours a day to get to work. We do need to meet, but in different and more meaningful ways. Men and women would benefit enormously from more flexibility.
And we must accelerate the speed of change in our board rooms. Based on The Rooney Rule for the NFL in the USA, Rosie’s Rule is a solid starting point for organisations. I challenge any CEO not to look at the level below the C-suite and the one under that and not see a whole raft of competent and qualified women; women who with access to opportunities can and should be around the board table.
What are we waiting for?
Author: Sarah Pinch
Sarah was the winner of the inaugural Institute of Directors (IoD) and CIPR PR Director of the Year award in 2011 for her work at the NHS in Bristol, she also chairs a diversity charity – the Taylor Bennett Foundation. Additionally, Sarah has also founded a conference which is held in Bristol encouraging more women to take leadership roles.