Dame Morrissey: Gender equality at work in a "halfway house"

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Organisations must move beyond issues surrounding mothers to address their cultures, according to Helena Morrissey

In her keynote speech at the Working Families Conference, attended exclusively by HR magazine, Morrissey recounted her own experiences as a working mother addressing the stigma facing working fathers, and the wider cultural problems for working families.

“We are in a halfway house when it comes to gender equality; we know it’s desirable and we know that it’s beneficial to businesses, and there has been a lot in the way of initiatives legislation. But this is as much to do with culture as it is policy,” said Morissey, who is head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management, founder of the 30% Club, and who was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2017 for services to diversity in financial services.

“It’s something I have experienced personally. When my husband became the primary carer for our children he hated being asked what he did. He felt that his worth in society had been questioned.

"Many families feel they are burning the candle at both ends, and they are at breaking point. We are far from having all the answers, but we can start by talking about and listening to each other’s experiences.”

Speaking on a panel discussion at the conference, global head of diversity and inclusion at UBS Carolanne Minashi added that organisations need leaders willing to be honest about life beyond work.

“We need 'real models' not role models. The problem with being a role model is that it puts people on a pedestal. It needs to come from the top; we need CEOs who are willing to tell employees when they have to leave early to pick the kids up from school.

"We also need leaders who are willing to say when they’ve tried something new in their organisation and it hasn’t worked.”

Empowering all employees – rather than just focusing on women – to take decisions over their working patterns is key to breaking down the gender bias of flexible work, said global head of diversity and inclusion at Barclays Mark McLane.

“There’s no silver bullet. You have to diagnose the problem, set targets, and think about how you would achieve them in the same way as you would in business. There’s a bias to flexible working, to agile working, and to many of our policies today. This is about actually addressing the culture in which we are working.”

McLane went on to explain how Barclays introduced its Dynamic Working Programme, which offers a range of working options for employees to improve their work/life balance.

Andrew Clewer, UK and Ireland assurance talent leader at EY, said that businesses must be held to account on decisions over gender representation.

“We need to do something different about our acceptance of the non-proportional decisions that we make every day," he said. "Recently I haven’t had a single request for a pay rise from women; they have all been from men in senior positions.

"Not only have I said no to the requests, but I’ve asked leadership to look at our policy on this, because if we keep doing this we’re making things worse. Making proportional decisions in the workplace isn’t about targets it’s about values.”

HR magazine is exclusive media partner of the Working Families Best Practice Awards, the results of which will be announced 20 June.

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