Reimagining gender equality in the workplace
The FT's Women in Business Forum hears Gill Whitty-Collins tell the FT's Brooke Masters why gender equality is key to building stronger businesses and societies
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Welcome everybody to the Women in Business Forum. I'm Brooke Masters, the FT's chief business commentator. And we have a great session for you today on Reimagining Gender Equality.
One housekeeping note. We love audience questions, so do start sending them in as soon as you think of them. Don't wait for the end. Today's speaker is Gill Whitty-Collins. She spent 26 years with Procter & Gamble, ending up as senior vice-president.
She ran global brands such as Olay, Always, and Pentene. Now she's an author, consultant, and coach. She sees the process of driving gender equality as a key lever to building stronger businesses and stronger societies. Gill, you've been studying gender equity in the office, and recently published a bluntly-titled book about it, How Men Win at Work. Set the scene for us and tell us what you think are the key issues and challenges in this area.
Hi, Brooke. Thank you. Yeah. I mean, for me, the key issue is very simple. Wherever we look in business and society we see that fewer than 10 per cent of the leadership positions are held by women.
Seven per cent of CEOs. Nine per cent of heads of states. And we know that women are 50 per cent of the population. Right? And we know we're equally intelligent, equally capable. We're equally competent.
So that is a huge issue for me. Fifty per cent of the population should be 50 per cent of the representation. And it really holds us back. It holds back our businesses, and more importantly, it holds back our society, our relationships, our happiness. So I think it's truly one of the biggest issues that we face and we continue to face, and we make nowhere near enough progress.
And the problem is it's driven by so many invisible, and unconscious, and unintended forces. And there are so many of them. And we need to understand all of them and tackle all of them.
How did this become an issue for you personally? Just to give people a sense of where you're coming from.
Yeah. So I thought I was immune to the gender inequality issue. I really did think I was immune for a very long time. I was the third of three daughters, brought up near Liverpool in the UK.
I was at a mixed comprehensive school. And I was really brought up by my parents and by my teachers to believe that I was the equal of any boy or any man. And, you know, I continued to believe that for a very, very long time. Over 20 years into my career.
And so for me it was really when I got to that senior vice-president level and I entered, for the first time in my career, and actually for the first time in my life, a male-dominant culture. I found myself, for the first, time in rooms, board meetings full of men. 80 per cent-plus men. And it had never happened to me before.
And I felt very, very keenly the impact of that. I felt an impact on me. I felt... I saw the impact that it had on the other women around me. And it was very, very clear. It was impossible to ignore.
So I became absolutely fascinated by it, because I genuinely didn't understand it. I couldn't understand how, hey, I'm doing and saying the same things I've always done and said. I'm being the same me I always was. And it served me really, really, really well for a very long time. But it is not working the same way here.
And then, obviously, as I became interested and read a lot, I realised then the extent, and that obviously, it's happening everywhere. Women everywhere are experiencing this. It really wasn't me, and it wasn't my company.
And I realised, OK, I'm not immune. I get it. I am not immune. And I've just been really lucky so far. I've just been really lucky that I didn't hit this until so late.
And I know a lot of women are not so lucky. I know many, many women hit this much, much earlier in their life and in their career. And what I would say to any woman is, don't be like me. If you haven't seen it yet I promise you that if you continue to progress in your career, you will see it. You will see it.
It's funny. I was a math geek, and so I was in male-dominated classrooms from 10th, 11th grade, which is basically A-levels. And, in fact, when I got into journalism and it was more like 30 per cent - 40 per cent female, I thought, this is fantastic. There's somebody other than me in the room.
And I used to get told off for being too talkative. And I think there are these great stats that say if women talk more than 30 per cent of the time men think they're dominating the conversation. And so I do think... and how much of this do you think was your coming through a consumer products company where there were a lot of women, until...
Yeah, I think it was absolutely a massive driver. Firstly, the company, P&G, is fundamentally pretty good on this stuff. They're very committed to it. They do a lot of work on diversity and inclusion.
But yeah, as you say, I was recruited into the marketing function. I was recruited into brand management. And it is classically more female than, for example, somebody who'd come through engineering, or product supply, or even sales.
So in marketing, up to the director level, it was pretty 50-50. We were recruited at 50-50. And in marketing, we stayed 50-50 to the director level. So I was... up to director it was a very balanced culture.
And honestly, if anyone was dominating the meetings and the culture and the conversation it was me and the other women. So I absolutely think that was a factor. And I'm very, very aware that other women who come through different specialties and functions had a very different experience.
Well, let's talk a little bit about how a company like P&G, which obviously was doing really well lower down, suddenly has this problem, and how much of that has to do with the time of life that people become directors. Is it about motherhood penalties and other time-management issues?
I mean, obviously it's a factor. Right? It's very real, the maternity and the return from maternity. Those are all important factors. But I think it's much deeper than that, and I think there are lots of other things happening.
And I think what's... for me the simple thing that hit me as I explored all of this was, hey, the reason that men have got over 90 per cent of the big jobs is that the people who are choosing who to give those jobs to, or who to give those promotions to, or who to hire, they want the best person, of course. Right? They don't choose him because he's a man. They choose them because they think he's better.
Right? Of course they do. They choose him because they think he's better. Otherwise, they wouldn't choose him. And they don't believe they think he's better because he's a man.
So yeah, what is fascinating about that, of course, is it can't be right. Can it? It can't be right that 90 per cent of the time the best candidate's a men. Let's say, for the sake of argument, it can be true 50 per cent of the time.
So yeah, I think that is the massive question, really, is why does that happen? Why do we believe that? What are the things that drive us to perceive that the man is the stronger candidate or the stronger performer, even when he actually isn't? Which, in some cases, of course, he's not.
What did you find when you started looking into that? Now, is it partly that the women don't put themselves forward, so there are fewer women competing for the jobs? Or is it genuinely, faced with a slate of five people to choose from they just pick the guy because he seems better? And why does that happen?
Again, it's a combination. It's absolutely true that women don't put themselves generally forward. Obviously, generalising. I have to generalise when I talk about this.
But they absolutely don't put themselves forward as much and as willingly. There's all that fantastic data about how many of the criteria a man has to tick to put himself forward, which is about 60 per cent. And women, pretty much 100 per cent or they won't even push themselves forward. And it's true in politics as well.
And women take a lot longer to make a decision to put themselves forward. So that's absolutely a factor. But then what we see is that even when the women are in the pool and when they absolutely are an option there is still too often a perception that the man is stronger, and therefore, that he's the candidate that should be chosen. And there are so many things that are driving that perception.
And obviously, sometimes it's true. Right? Half the time, it's true. But there are things like the invisible power of culture is absolutely impacting on performance and how you're perceived. The 'competence versus confidence equation,' as I call it. And then the important...
Give us little detail. I think people want to know. When you say the 'impact of culture,' what is culture doing that is...
Yeah, so... I mean, culture is the foundational issue, really, in this. If any of us think about when we find ourselves in a culture where, of any kind, where we feel that we belong, we feel included, we feel like we fit, that leads us to relax and be confident, and that leads to performance. That liberates us to focus on our performance.
And obviously, the reverse is true. If we find ourselves somewhere we think, oh, do you know what? I don't really belong here. Everyone's different from me. We don't feel included, and that immediately impacts how relaxed we are, how confident we are. And that actually does paralyse our performance, to an extent.
So culture's playing on that. It is, actually, impacting performance. And obviously, in a male-dominant culture, who feels belonging, inclusion, relaxed, and confident, and perform-ey? It's men. And who doesn't? It's women.
And then there's obviously the other thing that happens, which is that totally human... it's the most human thing in the world to want to fit in. Right? And you have to be so strong not to do that. You have to be so strong to say, I'm not going to fit in. I'm going to be me.
Most of us try to fit in, which means that what we're actually doing is copying the strengths and the behaviours of somebody else, rather than using our own. And if there's one of the things that we absolutely know it's that we succeed in life by using our own strengths. We do not succeed by trying to be something that we are not.
So again, that is actually... if we're trying to fit in, we're limiting our performance. And then the other thing that's happening is if we're trying to fit in, we're not being authentic. And people can smell that.
They can smell something, but don't know what it is. But something's a bit off about her. Don't quite trust her. And so all of those things kind of combine.
So it gets to the end of the year and review time, and there is a very, very real perception of performance based on all of that that has absolutely nothing to do with the talent and the capability of the individuals, and everything about the culture. You know? What we believe is often the strongest performer is actually just the person who's most comfortable in the culture, which is very, very dangerous for diversity, obviously
So what does one do about that? I mean, obviously, if you're coming into the culture and I think many of our audience members are middle managers. So they are... they're rising, but they're definitely not in charge of the culture. Should they fight the power and just be themselves and be authentic, even though it might make people uncomfortable? Or how do they come across not being authentic, but also not cause unnecessary trouble for themselves?
So I would absolutely say, learning from many, many years of experience when I did not always get this right, I would absolutely say be yourself. Know your strengths as early as you can. Know what makes you special.
And I'm a massive fan of the strengths-finder tool for finding that out, if you don't know that already. What are your 10 superpowers? And go into any organisation, any culture and bring those. And make those a non-negotiable for you, that you will not be swayed from those, and you won't try and be something that you're not.
And that's hard. You've got to be strong. But it's really saying to yourself, if these strengths... if I, as I am, am valued and leveraged here, then brilliant. I will stay.
And if I'm not what, do you know what? Really, in the long-term, the best thing for me to do is take those strengths, and that talent and brilliance elsewhere. I interviewed some amazing women for Why Men Win At Work, and I called them my "Super 7 per cent," the ones who have made it. Because obviously, some women really do.
And it's the Women Who Win at Work chapter. And they had many, many things in common. But one of the massive things was this. They all knew themselves.
From really young, they had incredible self-awareness. And they basically said I played to my strengths. I stayed away from the rest. And when I found myself in a culture where that worked I hung onto that culture for dear life. And if I ever found myself in one that didn't I was off.
And just having that confidence to know I believe in my strengths and I believe that there's a place for them. And if it's not here, fine. I'll go somewhere else.
I know that sounds a lot easier than it is to do. But ultimately, I just don't believe it works if you're not being you, and you're not... you're just going to be a diluted version of yourself. And who's going to win that way?
We have an audience question, which is someone asking what can they do to make practical changes in their workplace? And taking for granted that the manager is at least reasonably comfortable and feels that they fit in and can do it, what can they do to make the workplace more inclusive for the people below them?
Yeah. I mean, I think it's absolutely important to acknowledge that it has to come from the top, and it has to come from the dominant culture. So one of the things, I hate to say it, but I deeply believe, is if you're in the minority group in any dominant culture, it's going to be incredibly difficult, possibly impossible, for you to change it.
So the first thing I would say is wherever you are in that culture you need to either be or get to the person or the people who control that dominant group. So if it is a male-dominant group you need to get the male dominance on-board. And you need to get them to understand that this is limiting.
That it's limiting diversity. It's limiting inclusion. That it's limiting results. Performance and results. And you need to get them onside to make the change, with you supporting them.
But if you go out and you try and do this alone as a minority, again, I've tried this, in a dominant culture, that's just... the dominant culture has to change itself. Now, if you're the leader though, if you are the leader, that obviously puts you in a fantastic position. You have that enormous opportunity to change that culture.
But the biggest thing you've got to do is, as a first point, I think, is you've got to look around you. Look around the room. Every meeting you go into, whether it's on Zoom or in the real world, look around.
Look at the faces. Look at the people. Do you see a dominant culture? Because even if you're the leader, and so if you're a woman in a male-dominant culture, you have a problem if you have a male-dominant culture. Because the culture will just be too strong, and it will be stifling and paralysing people in it.
So the first thing you've got to do, I'm afraid, is look around your team. And if you've got a dominant culture, you've got to commit to change it. You've got to commit, I am going to make this a more diverse and representative group of people. Because otherwise it's just a case of a dominant culture having to try to remember to include.
Inclusion isn't something that's on the to-do list that you try to remember. Inclusion is something that naturally happens because the group is diverse enough that everybody... it's... one of the things I always say is you need a team or a room while nobody belongs, and therefore everybody can belong. I think that's very, very hard to get to. But that's what you need. You need to look around and say, there's nobody running this show, so I can be part of that.
That's interesting. I remember working really hard to try and get the FT to care about the fact that the companies we covered were all-male, and wasn't that a problem. And it was only when our subscription team realised that we were... there were only 20 per cent of the readers were female, and we were missing a whole potential subscriber base. And so when it became a business necessity to be more interesting to women. Suddenly, they were interested in what I had to say.
I think that's... it's massive. And I always start... with men, I always start with, look, this isn't... it's not charity. I'm not having this conversation with you because I want you to be charitable to women. It's not, it's not about women, actually.
Equality is for everyone. You will win for it, and your business will win from it. You know the data is unequivocal on this. The business wins from this.
And that's what makes it stick. That's what means that it becomes... ultimately, I want to see this as a business strategy for businesses, not as an organisational strategy. Because the problem is if you see it as an org thing it becomes a nice to-do.
And then you have a business crisis, and it falls off the priority list. Look what happened during Covid. Whereas actually, if the leaders, men or women, are in the right state of mind, which is this drives my business, therefore, it's the last thing I'm going to stop doing, then it completely changes how quickly you can make progress.
I think that plays into a question from one of our audience members, which is, how, as a woman, do you raise questions about the fact that the decision-making groups are very mono-cultural without coming off as playing the 'equality card' and getting minimised? And I think it sounds like what you would recommend is make it a business case.
Yeah. Absolutely making it a business case, I think, is key. Because it's - I absolutely hate this, but it is - it's so easy to be seen as whiny. I was told when I was a senior vice-president, by a very senior person in the company, that I should lay off the women's stuff and the gender equality stuff because it looked bad for me, and it made me look as part... like I was part of the problem.
And I know so many women have received that message through their careers. And they've either received it overtly, or they've received it discreetly. But they very much received the message that if they're being successful they should kind of shut up, and just crack on and be one of the lads.
I've literally heard one woman say I'm one of the lads. And it's like, no, you're not one of the lads. That's misrepresenting your gender. So absolutely start with the business case.
This is not about... it's not about me as a woman. It's not about, woe is us as women. It's not a charity. The business case will get through to people. If they're business people it will absolutely get through to them.
But again, this... playing the equality card is very real. Isn't it? We know incredibly senior politicians who've been accused of playing the equality card. And I think it's just so important to make it a discussion, but get those leaders on-board.
So rather than making it an emotional outburst in a meeting, which we're all tempted to do sometimes, because this can get really, really frustrating, how can you, off-line, get those male leaders on-board for that business case? So that when they're showing up in the meeting they're actually bringing that, and they're actually championing it, rather than being on the end of an attack or an onslaught. I hate the fact that we have to navigate it this way, but I think we absolutely do because otherwise we just end up, as the question says, being accused of playing an equality card and put back in our box. And that gets us nowhere.
That makes sense. Do you think... how much of this is work, and how much of it is the broader culture? Like, women are supposed to be doing children.
Women are supposed to be the soft and squishy ones. They shouldn't be the ones who are pushy. And I always play the 'I'm a pushy American' card so they focus on the accent instead of the gender.
BROOKE MASTERS: Literally, when I do things that I think will upset people, I start with, speaking as an American... because it does get people to focus on that. And that's less...
...less fraught. But how much of this is really about gender roles coming into work, as opposed to a work problem itself?
Yeah. And I hate that. Don't you? Don't you just hate that you have to apologise upfront for just expressing an opinion? But I know so many women do feel that.
I think the broader cultural roles and roles in society is a massive factor as well. I mean, we know there is just that very real expectation that we still have that the woman will do most of the unpaid work at home. She is doing it.
She's doing even more over the last year. And that's the childcare, the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking. Everything. And it... we know that's real.
I think we teach our daughters and sons that. Women expect that, that at some level, they feel, somehow, like they're a failure if they don't deliver on that. But I think also that has the flip-side of the issue, which is it puts the opposite expectation on men.
So we know... I've talked to a lot of men over the last year. And so many have come to me because I bang on about 50-50 at home. And I say, we will not get to 50-50 at work until we get to 50-50 at home. So come on, men. Step up.
And so many men have said to me, Gill, do you know what? I want to. I really want to be 50-50 at home, and I absolutely want to go beyond this traditional, these traditional gender roles.
But my employer absolutely doesn't support that. So my employer may have a gender-neutral policy for flexible work and parenting on paper. But in practise when a man requests some flexibility or to take up some of those policies there are serious eyebrows raised about his commitment to his job and his career. Whereas for a woman, it's generally more expected.
So I think it's our expectations of ourselves, but also, as employers. I think employers really need to get beyond this, and stop seeing it as, yeah, it's OK for a woman to do that, but not a man. And I think if we can honestly get to gender-neutral policies in practise, not just on paper, and role-model that, that would make a massive difference.
And yeah, your point about the... our expectations of women. We know that a woman can say exactly the same thing in exactly the same way but get completely different feedback about how aggressive, or negative, or bossy, or whatever it is. And there was that fantastic research on the CV which completely even took away the voice, and where the CVs were basically exactly the same. The only thing that was changed was the name, to a classic male and a classic female name.
And that abs... there was a massive difference between the percentage of those CVs that were called to interview for men versus women. Obviously, significantly more men called to interview, and significantly more negative comments about the female CV. That's just a piece of paper. That's just our expectations of women on a piece of paper.
So we've got... we've really got to get over this. But I think the only way we're going to get over it, ultimately, is we've just... we've got to get used to seeing women this way. And that, obviously, we're in a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we're seeing so few women, ultimately, in those roles. I think the media's got a massive role to play here, because they form our expectations of the genders from almost as soon as we're born. Right?
So they can play a huge role in getting us used to seeing women as leaders, women as strong, women as assertive. Women as having an opinion. Women not just in the kitchen. And I think the more we get used to it, the more that... I really hope there will come a day when we just don't... we just... leadership is gender-neutral. That's the dream.
One thing that I think women struggle with is how to get credit for what they've accomplished and how much to sort of toot their own horn. And I'm interested... you've talked to me about umbrella theory, and how you have to step inside the umbrella. Can you talk about that a bit for our folks?
Yeah. So we know that, in general, women absolutely, they absolutely hate this stuff. Right? And it's a generalisation. There are women who are exceptions.
But I've mentored and coached so many women over the years, and they've all said to me, Gill, my... I do brilliant work. My work should speak for itself. I shouldn't have to sell it and sell myself.
And I've always said... I've actually been talking about the umbrella theory for as long as I can remember. I think as long as I was a manager. And I've always said to them, look, as far as your bosses are concerned, all their employees are working under umbrellas. They just see the tops of the umbrellas.
They've got too much other stuff to do to go peeping under there. So if you're doing your work brilliantly under there, but you're never opening up the umbrella and inviting your boss in, and saying, here's my work, here's my project, let me get your input, let me get your thoughts, we can just stay completely invisible under that umbrella. And I think women generally believe in the myth of meritocracy in a way that men generally don't.
I think men are much more savvy. They laugh, actually, at the myth of meritocracy. And they're much more savvy that it's not just about doing the work. Your work needs to be visible, and you need to be visible, and you also need to be known.
Because we make human decisions about who to give jobs to and promotions to. They're not spreadsheet decisions, usually. So I think a lot of women have a reluctance to do it. They don't like doing it.
But also, they've got, frankly, a very real excuse, which is the time issue. Right? All this unpaid work they've got to do.
So many women say to me, Gill, for goodness sake, I've got to do all of this stuff, and I've got to do my job. Where the hell am I supposed to find the time to toot my horn and sell myself as well? But we absolutely have to do it, because otherwise we're just going to get frustrated. We've all been frustrated, and we all will be frustrated to see somebody getting our job or our promotion that we deserve because they just did a better job of that.
And I think... one thought I have, because I know women do find it a bit uncomfortable, is really think about it as talking about... when you do this, talk about the work, not yourself. Think about it as, I'm talking about my work not myself. And it kind of makes it a little bit more comfortable.
I think when we see men at the coffee machine and at the bar with the boss, honestly, they're not usually standing there talking about how fantastic they are as a person or as a manager. They're actually talking about the work. They're actually talking about the project, and the work, and getting inputs.
And in doing that, as a byproduct, they're making themselves look really good, and they're making their work visible. So I think almost framing it as you're doing a favour to your work by doing this, because your boss is going to be more engaged. They're going to be more, frankly, involved in it. They're going to champion it more. And frankly, they're going to remember it more as well.
We have a question. You talked about if you don't think the culture is inclusive you should just leave. But what if you're already in a culture that's sort of a boy's club, male-dominated culture, and for whatever reason you can't just up and leave right now? What's the best way to navigate it?
I think... as I know, realistically, we don't always feel that it's the right moment to walk away. I would definitely say, as soon as you can, do. Two big things for me.
One is, what can you do? Can you do anything to influence the leader of that culture? Can you... and again, not in... usually, not in the meeting itself. But you can learn a lot from men that's outside the meeting, informally.
How can you, in a really non-threatening way, influence that leader to understand what the benefits would be of having, not having that dominant culture and that part of the education? I know so many people who've bought Why Men Win at Work for their bosses, and then used that to open the conversation. So I would definitely try that. Because that, ultimately, is the only way that that organisation will change.
But as you're doing that, I would still say stick to your strengths. You know? Just have your comp... you have superpowers. They will be totally different from mine, and that's the beauty of them. Really know them and use them. And make... it's like...
Be a brand. Like a brand. A brand, always. It's all about, what's my point of difference? What is the thing that I offer that no other brand does, or no other brand does as well?
Think the same way in that group. What are the strengths? What are the skills that you bring? What are the things that you know, deep down? Even If you're having a confidence-waver sometimes, deep down, you know that, I'm really good at this. I am really good at this.
I'm better than anyone else in this room at this. Really own that is your POD and bring that at every opportunity. And try and stay away from the rest, you know? This is not for me about share of voice. It's not about asking you to dominate the meeting.
But when it's your stuff, when it's your thing, own it. And show them, my goodness, nobody knows this better. And actually, keep quiet on the rest. Keep quiet about the stuff that Fred's brilliant at. Let Fred do that.
And just really stay true to that. I'm going to leverage my strengths, and I'm going to do everything that I can to have them seen, and valued, and leveraged. Because they should, in theory, of course they should.
Unless you're a complete misfit with the role, of course they should they should value you your strengths. But I think so often, actually, we hide them a bit, or we don't leverage them enough. And part of the issue is they don't actually get noticed or seen as much as they should.
We have another sort of practical question, which is... this audience member is in a position where there are women who are more senior than her. It's a woman. But the more senior woman is just like, you just have to work harder. There's... I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. You've got to do it too.
What do you do with that?
Yeah. Feminist phobia, right?
Feminist phobia. Yeah. We've all, I hope, experienced so many women in our lives who've helped us and supported us. And it's incredible.
And then I think we all have, or we will experience the senior woman who just... she's made it, and she has no interest in holding the ladder down for other women. Lots of reasons for that. Lots of reasons why that happens.
It's very sad, actually. But it does, and I wish it would stop. But it's very, very difficult.
And I've been in that situation. I've been in that situation at least twice in my career, where-- and it's rough. And I have many, many friends who have as well. It's almost the least-supportive person in the room is actually the woman, when it really shouldn't be that way.
You know what? In my experience, I've not really succeeded in changing the woman. Because these things are very deeply entrenched. If you think, that actually comes from quite a big confidence issue, in many instances, and from that person who's not comfortable making space for other women.
So the big thing I'd say on this is, actually, don't assume that your ally or your supporter is going to be a woman. If she is, fantastic. They can be an amazing, amazing sisters to us.
But look, there are some fantastic men out there. There are some men who really get this. They're really committed to it. They're really committed to diversity. Not because it's a charity, but because they know it's good for their business and their organisation.
I call them my 'femenists' and I love them. They are out there. So find who, if it's not the woman in the room or on the team who's going to support you, which men could? And the other thing to be aware of, by the way. Men see this. And it's embarrassing, actually.
When senior women are not supportive of each other or of the younger women they absolutely see it. One of the things they comment on is they really, really don't like it. And they don't understand it, because they support the younger men. So they don't get it.
It's actually... it's quite humiliating, actually, as women, I think, that men see this and they criticise us for it. So yeah, if you've got a woman that you can't convert to a supporter, say, OK. Which men could be? Which men believe in this, and which men could I make myself more visible to and make my work more visible to?
In the years right before the pandemic, I would say there was a big amount of talk about sponsorship and finding someone to sponsor you. I think in the pandemic we've all been at home and it's very hard to get anybody to do anything other than to just sort of stare at their video camera. Do you think sponsorship is still the right solution for women who want help, or want backing? Or do you think that's evolving?
Because for a while, it was mentors. Then it was sponsors. Where are we headed now?
I think sponsorship is absolutely critical. And mentoring as well. Mentoring is really important. But there's a brilliant quote, I don't know if you've seen it, from one of my ex-bosses, Anne Franco, who's the CEO of CNI. And she has an amazing quote, which is, mentors talk with you, sponsors talk about you.
And I think that just sums it up brilliantly. Mentors are fantastic. Sometimes you just-... you need that advice. You need that coaching. You need that wisdom. And there's a role for that in men and women.
But what a sponsor does, what a true sponsor does, is mentions your name in a room full of opportunities. Right? When the job is being discussed, the potential opening is being discussed, a sponsor puts your name in. And they basically use their own influence with whoever it is making that decision to basically endorse you.
And it's such a powerful thing to do, because people give jobs, ultimately, people give jobs to people they know and trust, or people that people they know and trust know and trust. So you don't always have to be a personal contact of the person who's giving the job. But if your sponsor shouts out for you and they like your sponsor, that is what... it is one of the biggest gifts that we can give to another person.
And so often... I'm sure sometimes people don't mention names for bad reasons. But I think mostly people don't think of it. I think, I'm always on my toes now. And I think back in my career, was I always?
Probably not enough. But always thinking now, whenever I'm in a situation where somebody is talking about any opportunity, my brain is always going, who do I know? Who do I know?
Who do I know who could do that? Whose name I should mention? And it's so important. I honestly don't think... it's the whole performance currency and relationship currency concept, isn't it? Which is not my concept.
But we're so focused on performance currency. But it only gets you so far, and it does not get you to those senior levels. Those senior levels, you need that relationship currency. And your sponsors can help you massively with that.
But by the way, sponsors... you can't ask someone to be a sponsor. Right? They have to do that spontaneously. We get sponsors by networking and by making our work visible, and by that sponsor deciding, oh, she's bloomin' good. So yeah, I think sponsorship, I think it's just a human truth that sponsorship is always going to be a thing.
Is there any way to build a culture of sponsorship in your organisation? I think this is less, how do I find a sponsor, which is about networking, but more, how do I make sure that my organisation... that people who are in positions of power feel that they should be sponsoring people, and should be sponsoring a diverse group of people.
Yeah. I think as a leader, absolutely, it's the overt question, isn't it? Rather than waiting for it to happen naturally when you're having the discussion, which some people will be better at than others, and men sometimes may be better at thinking of it than others, is asking that overt question whenever you're talking about a potential role. Ask the room, does anybody have any person in their mind that they believe could do this? Maybe with a bit of work, but that they absolutely could do this?
And actually forcing the room to reflect on that. And even saying to them, if somebody comes to mind an hour later, or three hours later, or three days later, please ping me an email. And it's just prompting it to happen. Because it won't necessarily happen naturally.
There could be a woman in that room who knows a brilliant woman who just doesn't think of it. Or do you know what? Maybe she's doing her email for a bit because she's bored with whatever discussion is happening, and she missed the moment. And so yeah, I would say as a leader, you absolutely can just make it a standard question that you ask of your organisation.
Covid obviously upended lots of things and changed our work patterns. And it clearly has had, at least initially, quite a negative effect on women. Do you think coming out of it, with the truth that it turns out hybrid working is doable, whether the long-term impact is going to be negative or positive? And how do we make sure it's positive?
You know what? I think it absolutely can be so positive. But I've got a massive fear that it's going to be negative unless we do something. Because presenteeism is a thing. It is another human truth.
It shouldn't be, and I wish it wasn't. But there's, again, tonnes of data that says that managers value more highly the people and the contribution of people who are more visible to them, and are literally more present in the office for more days and for more hours. And it's the umbrella theory again, isn't it?
And I think the reality is, I fear that the reality is that, in general, we will see more men coming back into the office and being present than women. Obviously, it's general again. And I think that's two reasons.
Firstly, because women with... if she's carrying that unpaid work, frankly, flexible working, hybrid working, working from home is an enormous help. And it really helps to deliver all of those things. So absolutely, I... it shouldn't be the case that the woman is carrying 80 per cent of it. And I want us to get to 50-50.
But in the short-term that ain't happening. So I think the woman is more likely to just think, hey, practically, this working from home is just better for me. And then also, the thing we talked about, that even for the men who actually want to take up hybrid working, working from home, the policy is, in most places, not gender-neutral in practise, even if it's there in paper.
And the men are getting those raised eyebrows when they try to take them up on it. So I hate that all of this is true, but I fear I don't see anything on the horizon that's going to radically change it. So I think we will see more men in the office, more women working from home. And we will see presenteeism and perceptions from that kicking in.
And already we've got all these forces making us believe the man is better. So you add presenteeism on top of it, it's a major problem. So I hate that it's true, but and I want all of those things to change.
But I think in the meantime, as women, it's about being really, really aware the umbrella theory is real, presenteeism is real, wherever we're working from, and wherever our team are working from. Wherever the people that we're leading are working from.
How do we make sure that everybody is visible, their work is visible? And how do we enable that and just accept it as a reality? We do value what we can see. How do we make sure that we equalise that, and that being in the office doesn't give somebody a natural advantage?
You know, one of the big things I always say to leaders is, don't let your calendar run you. Right? Don't just follow who puts the time in your calendar and just every day go, oh, I'm seeing Fred. I'm seeing Sam. Really be very conscious about your calendar.
Because the people who are more savvy about the umbrella theory and presenteeism will make sure they've got that time in your calendar for those updates. And sometimes, the women who are less-savvy about that and more under time pressure just won't. So be very conscious about, hold on a minute. Am I actually having as many updates with her as I am with him? I don't think I am.
As bosses, we don't just have to be passive to all this. If we're conscious as well, we can make interventions that force people to come forward. And people will. If they're invited to give an update, they will.
That actually fits with one of the audience questions, which was... somebody really liked the idea of talking about your work instead of yourself, which feels much more comfortable. How does one create those opportunities? Is it scheduling time with the boss? I mean, it seems a little weird to walk up to them at the Christmas party and say, let me tell you about my brilliant work.
Yeah, don't do that. Don't... let's not do that. Let's not do it at the Christmas party, no. We all...
This is one of your coaching moments. Give a couple of examples ways people could do this.
Yeah. I think, yeah, absolutely. It's what you said. It's booking that time in. It's not waiting for that awkward elevator moment. It's booked, that time in.
And it's standard. Men do this all the time. And I think so many women feel embarrassed for taking up too much time. No. Book that time in, and book it in as an update.
You're working on a project. I assume that project is important to your boss. Otherwise, they wouldn't have you spending your time working on it. Book in the time for an update on that project.
Maybe there are multiple projects that you can update on. And literally, it's a status update. And I think this is, again, where, don't let perfectionist syndrome, as I call it, kick in. This is not about waiting until everything's perfect, and it's ready, and it's cooked. By the way, it never will be perfect, because that doesn't exist.
And here's one of my massive learnings from I'm way too senior. Which is, bosses don't like that. Bosses don't want the cooked-up... they don't want it ready. They don't want you to serve it up.
They want to see it when it's work-in-progress. They want to see it when they can add value, when they can... they love that. They want to be part of it.
And when it's successful one day, they want to be able to say, hey, that bit, that idea was mine. I'm really glad we did that. So I think that's... book in the time to update. Don't wait until it's ready. That's the worst thing you can do.
And do it as you go. And, this is what we've done since last time. And what are your thoughts? I'm struggling with this. I'm struggling to know where to go with that, how to get that information.
Let the boss... they're senior to you. They're more experienced. They may just know something you don't know. It'll help your work, and they'll feel fantastic.
So yeah, schedule it in. Just schedule it in, and know that you have the right to do that. You have the right to request your boss's time to talk about your project. Because I can promise you, all of your male peers are doing it.
And I would actually say, as somebody who's been both a manager and someone who reported up, come in, when you do the update, don't just say, here's what I'm doing. Come in with at least two questions.
And you may have a preferred answer. You know? But if you go in and say, I am trying to decide whether to do A or B, and then your boss says, which do you think is better, you can say, A. But I'm wondering about B. Then they have input, and they feel like it matters, and it...
Absolutely. Totally agree.
So do give them choices. And also, do have... don't go in with a completely open-ended question like, I don't know what to do here. Unless ...
But if you want to look really confident, go in like, I think this is the right answer. But I know you know so much more than I do, and I wanted to talk out the ramifications.
Yeah, I totally agree. And genuine. You know? Really...
Don't give them the fake questions. Give them the, this is genuinely what I'm struggling with and I'm not sure of . Because they'll smell that authenticity as well.
And also, if you're fake question is something you ought to know the answer with, it's going to backfire. Yeah, go in with genuinely close-call questions like, I could do this or that. They're both pretty good.
And here's the irony, isn't it? They will think you are more intelligent for having brought the smart questions that you shouldn't be struggling with than if you brought them the answer. And they'll feel more enrolled. So it's... absolutely, it's key to...
I was once told, when I was much younger, when I was a young director, I was told by one of my presidents that... she said, you know, Gill, you're absolutely brilliant. Your work's brilliant. You always deliver brilliant stuff.
You build brands. You build businesses. But my god, I don't feel like I'm part of your team. I feel like you do it all yourself and you don't need me.
And that was incredible feedback, actually. Because the boss wants to be part of the team too. Right?
Another practical question. In your research, or just practically, have you come across good ways, good programmes that address the question of cultural bias? For a while, keep training everyone about unconscious bias was the hot thing.
And then we were told it actually doesn't work. It just makes people feel bad. What, at this point, is best practise for getting people to think about their culture being less inclusive, and how to make it more inclusive?
Yeah. So I'm not... I'm absolutely not against unconscious bias training. I actually run an unconscious bias workshop.
I think the key point that was being made with... a few years ago about this is it's just not the end, and it's not the solution in itself. Right? You can't... I think what people are saying is you can't just put everyone on that training, and then tick the box and think you've sorted diversity and inclusion fears. Because of course, you haven't.
And it's really just a start point. But I would still absolutely recommend doing it, because there are just, I mean, there are so many different types of unconscious bias. We're aware of the obvious ones. But there are so many things happening that are just such a big part of all these invisible and unconscious forces that I'm talking about.
So I think doing... making yourself and your organisation aware of those is absolutely worth doing. And importantly, making everybody aware of, this is why that's a real problem. This is why unconscious bias is a real problem, because it is fooling us and luring us into believing that we're making good decisions about people. That we're making the right decisions and the right evaluations about people, when we're actually not.
We're literally being tricked and fooled by unconscious bias. And that's a huge opportunity for us, because it means we're not hiring or selecting the best people, which is limiting our business or our organisation. So I absolutely think it's worth doing.
I think the point is then, it absolutely has to stay alive. And it needs be backed up with systems that catch it. So for example, what's your performance evaluation system? Do you have an incredible performance evaluation process that is as unconscious bias-proof as it can possibly be, where you really are looking at objective feedback without bias in it, without people saying things they think they should say? Where you're really trawling the organisation?
I love the trawling concept of, don't just ask senior people who they think's good. Because what you'll get is you'll get the people who are really good at managing up. And while I'm telling you that's important, it's not necessarily the most competent people. Are you really trawling the organisation?
Are you asking the organisation who are the really great people? Who are the fantastic leaders? Who are the people who really make the difference?
So it's moving on from that unconscious bias to what systems do you have in-place to evaluate performance, to hand out salary increases, to give promotions, to hire? And are they as smart as they can be to really catch that- unconscious bias, the thing is, we all have it. We all have it. It's accepting we all have it.
And there is that brilliant, brilliant quote. Again, not mine. I wish it was. We are not responsible for our first thought, but we are responsible for our second thought and for our first action.
And that's what it is. Unconscious bias training can teach you, OK, I can't help my first thought. That's something that's been imprinted on me since childhood. My job is to make sure that I've got everything in place so that my second thought is under control, and my actions do not blindly follow my first thought out of the window.
We are coming to the end, but we have one more question. And this one was picking up on your idea that women who try to fit in end up coming across as inauthentic. And the question from the audience is, is it genuinely that women come across as inauthentic, or that they then don't fit the stereotypes? And what's acceptable within an organisation is actually cracking down on women who don't actually... they don't fit in because they don't fit the stereotype of what a ladylike woman is supposed to do?
I mean, I think it's both. I think it can be both. I think when, for me, the massive thing that I know is that when somebody is trying to fit in, and not being themselves, and not focusing on their own strengths and their own natural way, even if they're only doing it a tiny bit, it's something that we as human beings just absolutely smell. We just know it.
And I think the whole Hillary Clinton phenomenon was really interesting on this, because one of the things that she talks about is that she was trying to be a fascimile copy of what she thought a president should look like. But obviously, the problem was there was no fascimile copy, certainly, of what a woman president should look like. And she and her advisers really believe it's one of the reasons that we often heard. There's something off with her. I don't trust her.
So I think that is absolutely happening. And I really would say to everybody out there, just don't fall into the trap. And you know, it's interesting. Because when I left P&G, I left three years ago. And I had so many people who said to me, what I absolutely loved about you, Gill, is you were always yourself. You always stayed yourself.
And, you know, it made me a bit sad because I didn't. Because I... they thought that, but what they were getting was still a diluted version of me. Because I did try. I did try to fit in with what I can never fit in with. I'm the least-like the fit there.
And it's one of my biggest regrets. And I have huge admiration for people of any gender who just refuse to do that. Who just say, this is me, and I'm going to show up as me.
And you know what? There are some phenomenally successful people who do that. And what we actually love about them is that we know, we can feel, that we're getting them. And it's different from what we're getting from everyone else.
So I couldn't be more passionate about this. And I wish I'd done that more. I wish I'd... I'd maybe done it to myself a tiny bit. But a tiny bit is still too much.
But yeah. Then I do think, to the other part of the question, there is sometimes being you is too much for people. And I would say if you're too much, then maybe they're too little. I think it's Sara Blakely who said that. Didn't she?
Maybe they're too little. And just if, to me, it comes back to that point. Make you non-negotiable. Make yourself a non-negotiable. Make your strengths a non-negotiable.
Not everyone's going to like you as you are. That's absolutely fine, because you don't like everyone as they are either. Just, I cannot say passionately enough, from experience, be you. Bring it. If it's too much for them and they don't like it, take it somewhere else.
I think, how do we go on from that? That's such a great concluding line, so, thank you for being you. I think you have definitely brought your authentic self.
And thank you to the audience for a whole bunch of really great questions,
Amazing questions. Thank you, Brooke, and the audience.
Yeah. And thanks, of course, for joining us at The Forum. And please do come to the next one as well. Have a wonderful rest of your day and a wonderful week. Take care, everybody. Bye.
Thank you. Bye, everyone.