Statistics show that gender inequality at the workplace is pervasive, with lower pay and under-representation at top levels for women. How does this harm business, and should governments intervene?
In this episode, joining podcast series host Michael Kitson, University Senior Lecturer in International Macroeconomics at Cambridge Judge Business School, are Sucheta Nadkarni, Sinyi Professor and Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre at Cambridge Judge; Belinda Bell, Director of the Cambridge Social Ventures programme at CJBS’s Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation; and Dr Mia Gray, University Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geography and Fellow of Girton College, University of Cambridge, whose research focuses on the political economy and labour market geographies.
This is the fourth in a series of “Cambridge Judge Business Debate” podcasts featuring faculty and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School and the broader Cambridge community.
This podcast focuses on the topic of gender inequality in the workplace, in advance of the annual conference of the CJBS Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre on Saturday 9 June, which focuses on the topic of “Growing Talent: Fostering Collective Success”. The conference at Cambridge Judge Business School will address the tools, relationships and mindset behind building a successful career, looking at how both genders can work together.
Here are a few edited excerpts from the podcast discussion:
The numbers are sobering
Michael Kitson: “Women tend to be paid less than men, they often are concentrated in a narrower range of occupations than men, and women are often under-represented in senior positions in many organisations. In the UK, more than 10,000 large firms have recently provided details of their gender pay gap, and three-quarters of these firms pay men more than women. The figures show that women make up only 6% of FTSE 100 chief executives, only 18% of national newspaper editors, only 26% of cabinet ministers, and only 32% of MPs.”
Gender imbalance is irrational, and bad business
Sucheta Nadkarni: “The rational thing for organisations to do is to promote gender equality and gender inclusiveness at the top of the organisations. When you have complete gender imbalance at the top, what happens is that the organisations are disconnected with 50% of their consumer market, so they will not be able to really develop strategies that are catering, that are customising. So companies are doing something that is not rational. And there is a lot of research that shows that gender diversity at the top has a lot of implications for performance, as well as innovation, as well as corporate governance.”
Michael Kitson: “Certainly discrimination in the workplace, if you take an economic argument, it’s irrational. It’s certainly not good for women, not good for the economy overall, and it’s not good for business.”
Diversity of views is crucial
Mia Gray: “Diversity of all types is really helpful for companies and for the public sector as well. To give diverse views on problems, on new products, to bring in different experiences of the world, it’s enormously important – not just as executives on boards, but in tech, as programmers, as project managers, in public life. Just having different views represented, people to argue from another point of view, is enormously important for the innovative process as well as profitability and governance structures.”
Sucheta Nadkarni: “Having diversity at the top helps companies engage in a variety of areas, from reducing corporate fraud to increasing innovation. Our study in China showed that having gender-balanced teams in small and medium sized companies actually leads to greater capabilities of the company – capabilities in technology, in marketing, in operations, in human capital.”
The issue is systemic, so government intervention is needed
Belinda Bell: “The idea that it is supply and demand that is leading to the continuation of gender equality, it’s very hard to make that case. It seems very clear that we’re dealing with structural sexism that runs throughout systems of power in our societies. What should happen is not happening, and that’s why intervention needs to happen to make things change. If we leave it for market forces to make things balance out in a rational, fair and productive way for everyone involved, that clearly isn’t what’s happening.”
Unconscious bias reinforces the status quo
Mia Gray: “There are some very subtle things that go on in the workplace that reinforce the particular power structure that we have right now – a lot of it happens through implicit bias and through social networks. Often people go into the workplace with very good intentions – they want to mentor younger colleagues, to share their networks – but often they choose people who remind them a lot of themselves. Without a broad awareness of how things function, how promotional opportunities are presented, it’s very easy to reproduce the dynamics of the workforce that already exists.”
Belinda Bell: “We have to accept that unconscious bias exists in us all. We won’t get better unless we measure and actively take steps to support women in the workplace. What we need to change is culture, to change the conversation, and to make sure these things are talked about and acted upon.”