Serena Williams, picture credit: Edwin Martinez https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Serena_Williams_%289633985684%29.jpg Serena Williams, picture credit: Edwin Martinez

News that Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, has quit her post over ‘a crisis of trust,’ after discovering male colleagues were earning 50 per cent more than women performing the same role highlights that tackling gender bias is a major challenge for UK companies, says Freddie Alves, from Talking Talent.

Alves says, “In 2017, the issue of gender bias in the workplace reared its head often and with 2018 starting with fresh rows over pay inequality, surely it’s time for companies to take action?

“It is not just the BBC embroiled in this row, organisations from Clarks Shoes, The TATE, the NHS and Wimbledon were all touched by this issue last year – the challenge is widespread.”

Alves says that with the European Institute for Gender Equality highlighting that gender equality at work had barely improved over the past 10 years and one in 10 employers confessing to paying women less than men, UK companies must tackle gender bias.

But what can be done? Is the only option to follow the lead of Iceland and make it illegal to pay men more than women?

Alves believes that biases, among individuals and in organisations won’t disappear overnight, but he says more companies are willing to expose and talk about the impact of bias than in previous times. He says bias will never go away, but it can be minimised.

To tackle gender bias, organisations should be able to say the following four things:

  1. We understand where gender bias had the greatest impact on our decisions in the past
  2. We have redesigned our practices to minimise that impact
  3. We are monitoring data about our decisions and can demonstrate that they are fair and objective
  4. There are no significant differences between the perceptions of women and men when it comes to the fairness of our decisions about people
What is currently hindering the progress of companies?

Alves says, “There is a lack of insight and accountability in many companies which has limited the analysis of key outcomes like compensation for evidence of gender bias. In the absence of hard data, some cling to the belief that good intentions will translate into fair outcomes. Often, they don’t. Just as we don’t expect drivers to know they are following the right speed limits without a speedometer, we can’t operate complex people management processes fairly without access to relevant data.”

“The failure to analyse and understand the potential impact of bias reflects a lack of accountability for delivering fair outcomes. It will also result in the loss of talent, lower levels of engagement and an inability to attract diverse talent in the future. These are costs which organisations should not be paying.”

What role do you see for men in the gender bias debate?

Alves claims that men will need to be more open-minded and active in challenging gender bias. This means not assuming their organisation is treating everyone fairly as it might not be the case. They need to look for data which creates an objective picture.

He says that male leaders especially should invest more time in talking to women about their everyday experiences at work.

He highlights that gender bias plays out in many everyday ways - for instance who gets selected for a highly visible project. Creating a safe space for women to voice their experiences is key to inclusive leadership.

Alves adds, “None of the data or the insights have value unless leaders are willing to change their own behaviours and challenge the status quo within their organisation.”

What can businesses do to tackle gender bias?

Alves concludes, “We work with many organisations and coach thousands of women and their managers. The combination of hard data and personal stories we hear convinces us that biases continue to hamper women at work.”

His top five tips for employers to overcome gender bias are:

  1. Ignore assumptions that gender bias doesn’t exist or at least acknowledge that they may be incorrect
  2. Gather and analyse hard data about key decisions like salary and bonuses
  3. Take time to listen to what women have to say about their everyday experiences or perceptions of bias
  4. Take a view on where (which decisions) bias seems to be having the greatest impact
  5. Advocate changes to practices and assumptions which will interrupt the way bias is playing out and deliver fair outcomes for both women and men.
Freddie Alves, is the Managing Director of Talking Talent