CMI Women: the reactions, the data + your 25 (often surprising) gender bias fixes

02 December 2016 -


For the first time, the full, shocking economic effects of gender bias are being understood. This week, at the launch of CMI Women, guests made robust recommendations about what needs to be done. There’s still time to have your say...

Matthew Rock

CMI Women launched this week, to serious fanfare. A major report in the London Evening Standard, a BBC interview with CMI CEO Ann Francke. New data about how many women dip out of promising careers and never reappear.

At CMI’s offices in central London, guests came together from all corners of Britain for the launch: tireless regional CMI volunteers; senior business women such as Sky’s director Bella Vuillermoz and former Minister for Women Jo Swinson who helped devise the project and the new “Blueprint for Balance” portal where organisations can share templates and best practice about embedding diversity; and well-known figures such as Cranfield’s Professor Susan Vinnicombe who created the Female FTSE index of women on corporate boards.

Outside, on London’s Kingsway, Christmas lights were switching on for the first time. Something special was afoot, you could feel it in the bone-cold air.

In the build-up to CMI Women’s launch, the board, chaired by RBS director Heather Melville, gave deep thought to the main obstacles and problematic areas that continue to constrain women. These six areas – balanced recruitment, flexible working, mentoring and sponsorship, pay and rewards, promoting leadership equality, skills and career development – form the structure for the Blueprint for Balance portal. Already, the likes of BAE Systems and Sky have uploaded their own insights – what CMI’s strategy director Petra Wilton calls “interventions that work”.

Here’s what attendees at the launch of CMI Women reckon is the most important of the six areas. The poll is still open, so log your vote here.


Mission critical

The launch of CMI Women sits within an urgent national conversation. Post-Brexit vote, the UK is having to examine its own capabilities and capacity. Do we have the resources, the ambition, the productivity levels to succeed outside the EU?

Three actions to take now:

1. Submit your own best practice onto CMI’s Blueprint for Balance

2. Vote on your key issue for improving gender diversity

3. Sign up to CMI Women

According to CMI research, the UK will need two million new managers to meet predicted growth, and yet hundreds of thousands (possibly 500,000) of female managers are disappearing from the workforce.

So if gender bias drags back Britain, how can returning mothers be better reintegrated into the workplace; how can ambitious female managers find the same levels of confidence as their male peers; and what can organisations do to retain skilled women looking for flexible working options? And how can it be right, as Professor Dame Carol Black put it at CMI Women’s launch, that there are only 17 female professors at Cambridge University?

The panel discussion threw up some powerful solutions, particularly about the need for transparency and measurement. At Google, for example, when all employees were encouraged to nominate themselves for promotion, fewer women than men did so. So the company opened up the data to show the difference in behaviour between men and women. “The discrepancy soon went away,” said Chuck Stephens, Google’s EMEA head of diversity and inclusion. At a major supermarket chain, using data, it was discovered that many women were being promoted, but often into departments where they stood little chance of further advancement.

Only by using data do you see root causes, said Emily Lawson of the 30% Club: many women are lined up for promotion in their late-30s and early 40s, just when they’re bearing the responsibility for raising a family. “So why not fast-track them at the age of 29?” she asked.

To capture more views, CMI asked guests at the event for their one recommendation for improving gender diversity, and here’s what they said, verbatim*:

  1. Organisational role models and mentoring schemes. Role model the behaviour you want to see
  2. Involve men and women in in debate, thinking and initiatives
  3. Measure the status quo of organisations, and understand who this supports and who it discriminates against.
  4. Demonstrate the value of the different approaches and viewpoints women bring to leadership
  5. Normalise flexible working
  6. Build women's confidence and encourage them to apply for promotions. Don’t take no for an answer
  7. Recognise the impact of unconscious bias, and bring the topic into the open
  8. Encourage remote/home working and a move from being tied to the office. Encourage informal flexibility and a trust about working from home
  9. Men in leadership roles must demonstrate that they are also hands-on parents
  10. Look at the whole support network – not just one mentor
  11. Train senior managers about the realities of the differences and similarities between women and men
  12. Make a conscious effort to sponsor and support women in your organisation, don't just assume someone else is doing it
  13. Extend your network to include influential male and female colleagues
  14. Appoint a main board director to ask every hiring manager whether they have a balanced shortlist
  15. Male managers must demonstrate flexible working practices, not just talk about it
  16. Equal paternity and maternity pay packages to encourage genuinely shared childcare responsibilities and remove the 'risk' to employers of recruiting or promoting women
  17. Senior leadership sponsorship, especially for emerging talent
  18. Be transparent. If you've got a gender pay gap or a representation problem - admit it and talk to your stakeholders about what you're doing
  19. Identify good male sponsorship, and role models who genuinely support the gender diversity agenda
  20. Allow for flexible working when mothers have young children and then mentoring and support as they gear up once their children are older
  21. Challenge decisions that have a negative impact on negative gender diversity
  22. Quotas!
  23. Normalise job shares for men and women
  24. Take out the systematic bias in evaluation and promotion processes
  25. Ban formal mentoring and encourage informal relationships


*Some similar answers have been combined, and some comments edited. These attendee recommendations do not reflect official CMI policy

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