The time for talking about diversity is over, says Mivy James. While progress has been made, we need to go faster and further, including those in leadership roles
International Women’s Day is the perfect time of the year to reflect on the progress made for gender equality. Sometimes it can feel like it’s a case of two-steps forward and one-step back. We’re finally moving towards the topic of gender balance becoming mainstream, akin to innovation moving into the "early majority" phase on Rogers’ Bell Curve.
Personally this is both great and frustrating. On the one hand, it’s about time we got here, yet it’s been four years since BAE Systems Applied Intelligence launched the All In Club, and during that time I’ve had to accelerate my own understanding and knowledge on the root causes of gender inequality and what can be practically done about it.
I’ve read some wonderful works as part of my own journey and have met some truly inspiring people. So it can be frustrating when I feel like the conversation is going back to the beginning: I’m done with the talking, it’s time for action!
Of course, I am aware that I need to be patient and not discourage anyone else from their own enlightenment journey, despite worrying that one more discussion on the challenges facing women in tech or leadership may well result in me running from the room screaming. It’s easy to take my own accumulated, tacit knowledge for granted.
The gender pay gap reporting in the UK has really shone a spotlight on gender inequality in leadership. More women than ever before are active in every kind of employment and the media is becoming more conscious of the choices it makes. The Women’s Football World Cup is now ground-breaking in terms of the global coverage it gets. Investors are no longer tolerating male-only boards and start-ups, and making investment decisions accordingly. All this is now mainstream whereas a few years ago it was confined to specialist investors such as those involved in The AllBright.
So what next? For me this has to be women in leadership. The Hampton-Alexander report makes for some startling reading. Whilst good progress has been made in non-executive director roles, some organisations believe they have done their job at gender balance if they have a sole woman on their boards with no clear plans for more diverse succession planning.
Time to lead
At BAE Systems we see succession planning as being future focused and key to creating the next generation of leaders and technical specialists. This means that these plans are now under greater scrutiny to ensure the leaders and experts of tomorrow have been molded by any number and variety of experiences, backgrounds and aspirations. Increasingly "one size fits all" will no longer resonate within BAE Systems.
The tech and engineering industries are disrupting the perception of themselves to encourage more girls to pursue these subjects into higher education and apprenticeships. I want to see a change in leadership diversity before I hit retirement, and as a middle aged women "in her prime" that’s worryingly close and rushing towards me, I’ve waited long enough already.
My challenge to the tech industry is this: I don’t see many people who are coders or computer scientists in leadership roles – company leadership teams are far more cross-functional than that. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Christine Maxwell who is now the MoD’s Director of Cyber Security and Risk – she started her career in finance, moving into risk and compliance, and from there it’s an obvious step into cyber.
So there’s a separate set of action needs to bring more gender balance into leadership than there is to bring more gender balance into the pipeline. The pipeline alone cannot be held responsible for the shape of senior leadership – we can go faster than that.
As a self-confessed petrol head I’m requesting to use all the turbos and superchargers available to challenge the status-quo.
About the author
Mivy James is Head of Consulting for National Security, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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- Women in Tech: action stations. Bridging the gender gap in the tech industry remains unfinished business, says Mivy James. She explains how employers can talk into action.
- Inspiring the next generation of Women in Tech. How can we persuade more women into the technology workforce? Jadesola Ghadebo and Shanaz Hannan chart out some potential next steps.
Women in Cyber Security
Working to support, develop and network with talented women in the cyber security industry. Here at Applied Intelligence, we are committed to helping our staff grow, develop and excel within the cyber security industry. We are also committed to improving the proportion of females within the wider industry.Find out more