International Women's Day - role, visibility and representation

Paul Deemer

10 / 3 / 2016 9.25am

In fourth blog in the diversity and inclusion team's series to celebrate International Women's Day, Paul Deemer explains his thoughts on positive action programmes and quotas. 

Role, visibility and representation

Author: Paul Deemer, head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers

Over the last 12 months or so I have been involved in a series of debates and discussions - both online and face to face - about the role, visibility and representation of women in the workplace. I have quoted and cited report after report showing that women are underrepresented in the higher echelons of most organisations. I have quoted and cited research that has demonstrated the importance and the contribution that the female psyche can make to the culture and performance of organisations, and I have argued strongly for more positive action in this area - including quotas in certain circumstances.

It's that last one that has got me into more trouble than most - and which causes the most volatile responses - from both men and women. Most people don’t argue with the facts which show that women are under-represented – and most people accept that it is good to have different perspectives at senior levels within organisations. But mention positive action or quotas – and the shutters come up! "Why should we treat women differently?" they say. "Quotas create an uneven playing field" people argue. "We don't want to be treated differently" women tell me. "Why do women need their own training programmes and networks?" people ask me. 

My response has focussed around the three areas I quoted above - role, visibility and representation. For whatever reason, women are just not being given access to the senior roles within organisations. Positive action programmes and quotas would ensure (subject to them meeting the basic criteria and competencies for the role) that they had access to those roles. This would then give them the visibility - which is so important to others aspiring to those positions in the future. Visibility then brings influence - and people start to hear a different rhetoric. Then the rhetoric changes - and people start to say, "Why haven't we got more women in senior positions?" Or "Why haven't we got more black and minority ethnic people on the Board?" "Where is the voice of disabled staff and who is speaking for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans community?"

I hope I have given you some food for thought - and that you might look at this subject in a different light. 

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