Getting Yourself In the Room

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It feels as though gender equality has recently received a renewed focus from employers in the UK. This has possibly been driven by the UK government’s gender pay gap reporting, where organisations with 250 plus employees must report annually on their gender pay figures. This may be considered a cynical view, but no boardroom wants to be in the press for having inequality in the workplace – and as long as we are driving change, perhaps the stick is more effective than the carrot.

What I am seeing after a couple of years of reporting is the recognition that to create equality and resolve the pay gap, we need to look across all aspects of recruitment and retention.

I was fascinated to learn my organisation uses coding to ensure gender neutral job descriptions. This goes beyond removing the obvious he/she that can unintentionally slip in, ensuring the language attracts both women and men to apply for roles within in our organisation (for example, we avoid using the word “dynamic” which does not appeal to female applicants). This, along with expecting agencies to provide an equal balance of male and female applicants for consideration, goes a long way into improving our recruitment stats.

Of course, recruitment is only the tip of the iceberg. Once we have successfully recruited female applicants, we need to ensure we provide development opportunities to recognise and retain their talent. It’s well documented that women are much more risk-averse in applying for senior positions, so we offer bespoke mentoring programmes aimed at helping our female employees realise their full potential. We also take a positive view of flexible working, acknowledging that women are still the main contributors to family and home activities such as caring for young or ageing relatives. One thing that the pandemic has taught us is we can achieve the same results with a flexible workforce; it is important we don’t lose this lesson in a desire to return to ‘normal’. I know this is harder to fulfil in other industries and smaller businesses; however I feel strongly that if the work/home life balance is taken seriously, the commitment and longevity with an employer is increased exponentially.

We must also consider how much of the responsibility for promotion of female employees sits with an employer and how much sits with the individual. I hear repeatedly from my female colleagues that they want to get promoted based on their merit, not as a quota. Although I wholeheartedly agree with this, I do feel (perhaps controversially) that female employees’ behaviour needs to change as much as employers need to recognise the need for more females in their workforce.

I have worked in financial services for my whole career and have never felt that my gender has slowed or stopped me. But as I mentor those starting out in our sector, it has become more and more obvious I have stopped myself from progressing to the highest heights. The risk-averse quality I confidently state on my CV has a downside; I have prevented myself being promoted because I believed the risk of not knowing the subject well enough would lead to failure. I am part of the statistic that women do not apply for jobs if they do not meet at least 60% of the skills expected in a job description (compared to only 30% for men). I am also in the group of women who turn down headhunters on the first call, whereas my male colleagues will go for a chat and find out more. How can these female traits be overcome?

The obvious answer is to surround yourself with other successful women. The Women in Bids and Proposals (WIBAP) network is a good example of this – you get sound advice from people within a diverse range of industries but with a common agenda of being in the bid arena. On a more personal note, I have learnt to have trusted partners – male and female colleagues within my industry – who are different from me, who I trust 100%, who know how to be direct and who push me in the direction I am capable of reaching.

This is a much more personal and focused approach to looking after your own career and goes beyond an annual review with your direct manager. It allows for very open and honest conversations that take your current situation and your aspirations into consideration. My advice is to never be afraid to approach someone to ask for their guidance. It is a huge compliment when someone asks me for career advice as it means in their eyes, I am doing something right!

One final thought for those formidable females that don’t want to be part of a quota. Maybe look at being placed in a role “just because I am female” differently – you want the job and know you will be a success, so does it really matter if you are fulfilling a quota? Focus on how you’ll be breaking down barriers, promoting equality and making it much easier for the next generation – all in a day’s work. Surely this is a win/win?

This article was written by Alison Gurd.

Alison is Head of the Proposal Team at BNP Paribas (Securities Services) in London. The team is responsible for managing global RFPs, partnering with their sales teams in 34 locations. Alison also ensures global best practice for local offices that are completing bids in local language.
Alison has extensive experience in deal management, having undertaken sales, relationship management and proposal management roles during her career in the securities industry that spans 25 years.
Alison joined BNP Paribas in 2014; prior to this she worked for JP Morgan, covering a variety of client facing roles.

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