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Trustee Focus: Jo Gumb – on International Women’s Day

Jo Gumb is Co-Founder/Director of local brand and marketing agency, White Label Creative, and she is also the most recent addition to our Board of Trustees

International Women’s Day: After 10 years of equality drives in the boardroom, the glass ceiling has suffered significant impact, so why does it still feel intact?

The number of female directors in FTSE 100 companies has increased by 50% in the last five years, achieving its target of 33%, according to the final report of the Hampton-Alexander review.

So why are women leaders so hard to find?

We are a majority female-owned company with a strong, diverse senior team who, in the words of this year’s International Women’s Day slogan, have ‘chosen to challenge’ the status quo of our sector. Each year we deliver more than 100 conferences, round table debates and major events – giving ourselves the challenge of increasing gender diversity by actively targeting a 50:50 male/female split in our speakers. We actively seek out women who are thought-leaders in their field to join our panels and chair our debates. And it’s a tough gig.

For one recent event we approached 12 women to take a lead in a high-profile online debate. Not one stepped forward, either declining or delegating to a male representative. Almost all the men we approached accepted straight away. And while achieving gender parity at our events has always been a difficult challenge, we have previously always been able to rise to it. So why is it different now? The answer may lie in the evidence of the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on women – more likely to be the ones who bear the brunt of home-schooling, there is also the expectation they will take a larger share of the ‘home duties’ which means less time to progress their careers.

A Deloitte survey found nearly seven out of 10 women who experienced negative shifts in their routine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic believe their career progression will slow down. Almost simultaneously a recent study by McKinsey calculated women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s jobs. And while women make up 39% of global employment, they have accounted for 54% of overall job losses during the pandemic. We know what is good for gender equality is good for the economy and society as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has put that truth into stark relief – just as we need the innovation, creativity and diversity which boost economic endeavour, we risk losing almost half our talent.

There are, of course, things employers can do to help ease the impact of the pandemic recession on women. We have always offered flexible working options for our employees, recognising our flexibility in providing support with out-of-core hours working or working patterns that vary by school term and holiday dates, helps us recruit and retain key staff. During the latest lockdown, we encouraged working parents with younger children to block out key home-schooling lesson times in their work diaries when they needed to provide supervision and support.

At White Label we will continue to ‘choose to challenge’. Today we are proud to be running campaigns for a number of our clients, on social media, in the press, and at conferences, promoting their commitment to improving gender diversity. At Innovate South, we are supporting a panel from the Catalyst South group of Local Enterprise Partnerships launch a pilot Artificial Intelligence programme to identify female business leads, so progress in diversity can be charted and support provided. We know that while it may take a while for our economy to recover, it may take longer for gender diversity to recover the ground it has lost. Michèle Tertilt, a family economist at the University of Mannheim in Germany, used a range of modelling simulations to suggest it will take decades for women to catch up to pre-pandemic levels.

On a positive note, she also said the measure that would help more than any other in curbing the negative impact on our female working population is the reopening of schools – and maybe it is appropriate that as we celebrate International Women’s Day today, we also celebrate the re-opening of our schools.


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