The solution to gender diversity shortfalls: men

26 January 2017 -


How do you rebalance “insanely male” organisations? At this week’s CMI Women event, a group of high-ranking male executives opened up…

Michelle Perry

This week, Nicola Thorpe’s astonishing experiences of being forced to wear high heels at work grabbed the headlines. CMI, too, released data showing that four out of five managers have witnessed gender discrimination in the past 12 months.

These events are symptoms of wider, ongoing lack of diversity in the workplace, a situation that, if addressed, could add £150bn a year to the UK economy by 2025.

Some male managers, however, are already making great strides in working towards a more balanced workforce. This week, a group of them spoke at the CMI Women event focused on how men must play a central role in delivering a gender-balanced workplace.

Mike Lewis, chief executive at E.ON Climate & Renewables, says that although his company hasn’t yet reached parity – 28% of its senior executives are women – the company is on the right track. The reason, Lewis says, is because he has put clear goals in place to stamp out discrimination and encourage women to rise up through the ranks.

“We have to confront people with the facts – that most men still hold senior positions in the workplace – and drive home the message until there is genuine balance,” says Lewis.

Ian Ellington, general manager of PepsiCo UK, recently found himself in the unusual position of being in the minority as a man on his team, thanks to implementing a gender agenda. A significant 40% of managers at the company are women and the company is one of the very few to have pay parity – a huge milestone for any business.

“It’s possible to do the job in a different way – to work flexibly, and that’s how we get to keep good talent,” says Ellington.

Mark Wild, managing director of London Underground, is making it his mission to rebalance an organisation in which, of 20,000 employees, 80% are men. There is no clear reason why this should be the case, he insists.

“TfL are a great organisation with every single policy in place but we are insanely male. It’s about unconscious bias. I’m very passionate about this. We have a very diverse board, a great mayor and we have to change,” he said.

Often, says Wild, it’s simply a case of changing how you test people to find out if that individual could do the job.

This group of senior executives agree that the first step to eliminating a lack of diversity among senior management is by openly acknowledging that discrimination exists, and “calling it out”. The next step is to get the right tone at the top. Get the CEO on board and make sure that he or she makes it clear that bias in recruitment or promotion will not be tolerated.

“There will be grumblings in the corridors,” says E.ON’s Lewis said. If there are men who do not like the culture change, then they should be educated or encouraged to leave.

This group of senior male managers, all active gender role models, say the next steps are arguably the most critical. Management has to make sure that work can function properly for women – who for the most part have the lion’s share of caring responsibilities, whether it be for children or elderly relatives. That will involve implementing clear policies on flexible and remote working, quotas, robust maternity and parental leave, as well as establishing strong mentoring and sponsorships schemes.

Once these are in place, there seems little reason why the British workplace should not enjoy gender parity and all the economic and societal benefits that stem from it.

Michelle Perry was reporting from “CMI Women – Men as agents of change” on 25 January 2017. The panel discussion, “Publicising Male Role Models”, was chaired by Eleanor Mills, editorial director at The Sunday Times.

In 2016, CMI released new data showing that the UK economy will need two million new managers by 2024 – and 1.5 million will need to be women if we are to achieve gender balance.

Next week, Michelle will be sharing case studies of gender diversity excellence that feature in CMI Women’s Blueprint for Balance.

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