Ann Francke on CMI’s blueprint for balance

30 August 2016 -


CMI women are relaunching to push for greater gender balance in British business and promote women in management. Here’s the plan…

Ann Francke

CMI’S heritage of advocating for gender balance goes way back to the formation of the Women in Management initiative by Eleanor Macdonald in 1969. This year, Women in Management is relaunching under a new banner, ‘CMI Women’, with a highly engaged committee chaired by our trustee Sue O’Brien, who was a founding member of the Women’s Business Council.

The committee is busy building a ‘blueprint for balance’, which will signpost organisations to best practice in diversity.

Some of you may wonder why CMI – and I – are so vocal on this issue. It’s simple: diversity enhances the delivery of CMI’s mission of better management and leadership.

Gender balance bolsters business results in three important ways, evidenced by research from the likes of KPMG and Harvard University:

  • Improved financials. Better returns on sales and equity; better growth at a micro and macro level;
  • Better culture. Inclusivity boosts employee and customer satisfaction and generates more innovative ideas; and
  • Less risky decision-making. Diversity helps eliminate groupthink (which is at the core of every major business meltdown of the past 20 years).

CMI’s MoralDNA research shows that women bring an ethic of care to the workplace (5% more than men). Adding the more feminine aspects of leadership helps to round out ‘testosterone traits’, producing more balanced business judgments.

So if the evidence is overwhelming, how’s progress?

Well, CMI has been measuring the gender pay gap with XpertHR for more than 40 years, and the results aren’t pretty.

Not only is the pay gap alive and well, in the past 10 years it’s even widened among some demographics, such as mature, more senior managers. Stalled progress in pay echoes stalled progress in tackling the female talent pipeline.

Sadly, the talent pipeline looks like a ‘glass pyramid’. There are many more women at the bottom – more than 50% in several sectors, reflecting more women at universities and getting better grades – followed by 40% in the middle ranks; around 20% at director level; and single-digit numbers right at the top.

Pay, not surprisingly, is an inverted glass pyramid, with more or less pay equality at the bottom; a gap of about 22% in the middle; and a staggering 35% at the top.

Progress has been painfully slow on closing the talent pipeline and the pay gap over the past decade. So what works to drive change on this issue?

Drawing on many initiatives around the world, I believe there are four main proven and successful practices.

First, transparency and targets.

What gets measured gets managed, and what gets measured and published gets managed even more. That’s why I applaud the government’s decision to require reporting of the gender pay gap in all organisations of 250-plus employees; and to require reporting by pay quartile, as that will expose the glass pyramid.

The league table will encourage businesses and other organisations to take action. We are very proud to have advised the government in its efforts to define and launch this policy.

Studies show that, when diversity targets get set, tracked and championed at the top, real progress is much more likely. This can also be led by the private sector.

My friend (and CMI Companion) Tamara Ingram, now global CEO of J Walter Thompson, is spearheading a diversity group of all key players in the advertising industry that will do just this.

I encourage other industries to follow suit.

Second, build coalitions – and include men!

To drive up gender diversity, you’ve got to co-opt men. In the UK, the campaign to double the percentage of women on FTSE boards has made tremendous progress by building a broad-based coalition.

The 30% Club, founded by Helena Morrissey, enrolled the FTSE chairman as change agent – something she sees as a key factor of success. And the chairmen agree.

Third, commit to changing culture.

Individual companies should recognise that they need to change their policies, processes and behaviours in order to truly enable diversity and inclusion.

There are several examples of programmes in practice that do this: flexible working; performance reviews that focus on informal ongoing conversations and outputs, not facetime; reverse mentoring – whereby millennial women coach middle and senior managers on how not to behave; mixed shortlists and recruiting panels; and sponsorship of key maternity returners and other talented women.

These practices increase not only diversity but employee engagement, productivity and the ability to attract talent. And they benefit all managers, not just women.

A common theme is that these initiatives seek to create cultures that broaden the definition of success to include more of the ‘why’, and not just the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

Fourth, women’s work, and women themselves can do more to help address the situation.

Sir Philip Hampton calls this ‘the three Cs’: competence, confidence, and connections.


Women need to get better at recognising and celebrating their competence.

Keep a catalogue of achievements handy – with quantified impacts wherever possible. Have it ready when negotiating a salary increase or promotion.

I recently helped a talented scientist prepare for a promotion. She was worried she wasn’t qualified enough. When she finally talked me through her accomplishments, even she had to admit they made a pretty stellar list.


Studies show how women have not been encouraged to be as confident as men. So break the mould.

Apply for every promotion, whether you’ve got all the skills or not – six out of 10 is fine.

Avoid ‘tiara syndrome’, where you expect that just by doing a good job you’ll get noticed.

Keep updating that list of accomplishments, and tell others about it. Also, learn how to fail.

I applaud girls’ schools that teach young women how to bounce back from failure rather than focusing on the need to be perfect.


Women need to get better at making casual but essential workplace connections. Men have mastered this, whether it’s participating in banter about sport, or time spent down the pub.

Men have more opportunities, and the outings on offer often reflect their interests.

Women need to get more comfortable with casual networking – and companies need to adjust their networking events to be more inclusive.

So there you have it. Easy to say, hard to do.

Please embrace this issue. Diversity is at the heart of great management and leadership, and is needed now more than ever in light of the EU referendum.

Please put it at the heart of your own agenda and practice.

It makes perfect sense to do so.

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