Why corporate “women’s initiatives” need to be banished

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Not long ago, I attended the UEFA Champion’s League Final with my wife and daughter. I’d bought a ticket for each of us, and only paid a total of sixteen pounds.

When I mentioned the cost of these tickets with people, they were often surprised at the bargain I’d had for myself. At least, until they found out I was going to be watching the women’s UEFA Final.

What I had not realised is that I would end up being equally shocked by the match itself.

Once I arrived in Cardiff with my family, we were seated opposite one of the more important areas of the arena: the VIP stand for media, official sponsors, UEFA officials and their guests. To my horror, all that stood before us were rows of empty seats. The assorted bodies who were supposed to fill the area couldn’t even muster the energy or concern to turn up to a competition they had organised and sponsored. In fact, they could not even be bothered to make sure that some of the seats were occupied to make the stand look respectable.

In an attempt to keep up appearances, UEFA had at least developed and plastered the hashtag “Together #weplaystrong” all over the stadium – presumably to mark their presence and support. I found the whole thing to be incredibly patronising. There were 22 world class athletes on that pitch who were being undermined by the absence of officials and the stereotypical and poorly formulated hashtag. To make matters worse, the ticket prices were also significantly lower than any “normal” match played by men – even those in the lower leagues. It was cheaper to attend the woman’s final than it was to watch “Fast and Furious 8″.

Sadly, it’s not just UEFA who take this kind of attitude towards female orientated events. What happened at the Champion’s league final was indicative of what goes on in most organisations. The whole scenario makes an excellent metaphor for the way people treat gender in the professional sphere. Many leaders enjoy positioning themselves in the same way UEFA has with women’s football. They like to have their name appear alongside women’s initiatives and groups. Increasingly, they are seeking out opportunities to be seen as progressive, modern and open-minded. Why wouldn’t they? For many, it supports their narcissistic tendencies to be seen as making a difference in the realm of gender equality.

The issue amongst many different organisations, regardless of industry, is the same. In most cases, men will set up appropriate initiatives but then abandon them without really monitoring for success or applying anything other than a superficial level of commitment.

Most initiatives and steps taken towards progression and equality never move beyond a cosmetic level, and is an unfortunate disease which plagues many industries and organisations.

This is an unfortunate reality that we must begin to acknowledge. Women’s networks, conferences on gender, or action groups: they’re all treated in the same way. The senior representatives always do the same thing: they turn up to deliver a speech they didn’t write and leave promptly afterwards. There is no socialising, no interaction or discussion about the issues at hand. It demonstrates nothing, and it changes even less. It simply creates the façade of progress from a seemingly enlightened leader: one who wants all the benefits of being seen as a pioneer for equality, without putting in the effort of changing the status quo or listening to his (and I do mean his) employees. Regardless, the organisation involved pats itself on the back and the business moves along as it always has without changing anything at all.

Continuously allowing and endorsing “women’s” initiatives that are only really designed to benefit powerful men holds us back and prevents discussion about more important things, such as women getting into the talent pipeline and advancing organically to fill senior positions.

Why aren’t women able to move up the regular talent pipeline? Why do they always end up falling behind their male counterparts? If business leaders and employees alike continue to ignore these questions, and fail to listen and engage with the important discussions we need to be having, we will not be able to foster change or pose solutions which tackle the real causes of this inequality.

About the author

This article was provided by Prof. Binna Kandola (OBE), leading psychologist at Pearn Kandola.

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