Thoughts from top women in Wales on increasing representation in leadership & decision-making

This week, I joined colleagues from across the Civil Service and Local Government in Wales to mark International Women’s Day at the Senedd (Welsh Parliament). An impressive line-up of leading ladies shared their own career journey and experiences to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Just a few days earlier, the Assembly Research Service published figures on gender equality. These figures show that slightly fewer women than men are economically active (72.4% compared with 83%) and a higher proportion work part-time (41.3% compared with 12.7%). Of those sectors prioritised for investment by the Welsh Government within their economic strategy, women account for just 32.7% of the workforce.

When we look at our public service leaders, we can see that despite accounting for 72% of Local Government staff,only 18% of Local Authority Chief Executives are female. Of our elected representatives, less than one-third of councillors are female and whilst women account for nearly half of our Assembly Members (41.7%), this has slipped from an admirable 52% during 2005 – 2007.

The Deputy Presiding Officer, Ann Jones AM, welcomed delegates and reminded us that the Welsh Assembly has a history of leading the way on gender equality. Despite this, she noted that everything that we have achieved as women has been achieved because we have been willing to stand together and fight for women’s causes.

The figures above show that there is still a great deal of work to do if we are to achieve gender equality in Wales.

A number of prominent women addressed the audience from the HR Director of DVLA to the Chief Executive of the National Assembly for Wales. Here are some of the things suggested throughout the event that would help to increase the number of women at the top:

1. Appoint a gender champion – change comes from the top and someone needs to take the lead to ensure gender is on the agenda in your organisation. Consider finding someone senior to take on the role of gender champion to push for fair representation of women.

2. Develop a positive intervention – sometimes the pace of change is too slow and we need positive interventions to accelerate progress. In particular, organisations in receipt of public money should be leading the way.

3. Create an inclusive environment – typically, women have a different style and the workplace should encourage everyone to contribute to the best of their ability and in their own way.

4. Pay attention to language – language shapes the world around you. If you are using ‘Chairman’, ‘guys’ (to mean everyone), or ‘he’ (to refer to a person male or female), then just stop. Right now.

5. Job advertisements and interview questions – evidently, boys associate more with verbs and girls with adjectives. Jargon and any language of power possibly put women off so consider getting a specialist to ‘gender lens’ your recruitment processes to make sure you aren’t unintentionally excluding women in this way.

6. Role models – you can’t be what you can’t see. Women need access to inspirational role models who are visible to encourage women to follow in their footsteps. And I don’t mean those women who conform to masculine norms and/or pull the ladder up behind them but those who have managed to succeed whilst staying true to their own identity and maintaining their integrity.

 7. Challenge – if we don’t challenge when we see actions or hear views that disadvantage women or reinforce stereotypes then change will be slow to happen. If you think something is wrong or unhelpful then say so. This will help to raise awareness and hopefully lead to better decisions.
Think I’ve missed something? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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