No more male-only panels or boards
Gender inequality is returning in new forms, and of course in most places it never went away.
A recent debate in the UK has been about whether a football player, who is a convicted rapist, should be allowed to return to his former football club after serving his prison term. For some, this has reaffirmed a view that once the letter of the law has been followed, there is no further ethical issue. Curious. Many commentators, mostly male but not exclusively, cannot accept that such a football player has lost his social licence for a high-profile job which provides a role model to many young men (and women). He could not conceivably run in politics and therefore nor should he run for any other position in public life where his behaviour influences others. This should not have to be an issue of legislation, but one of good governance and sound decision-making by the Boards of sporting bodies and football clubs.
You think I am over-reacting? Then ask yourself why so few British footballers are openly gay, when there must be hundreds who are. Its a different issue but the answer is the same. Culture plays a very significant role in hiding human rights abuse, whether it be in society, business or sport (don’t get me started on this week’s FIFA report).
The revelations about how so many British celebrities secretly behaved in the 1970s and 1980s have not yet served as enough of a wake up call. Now there are even allegations of murders in political cover-ups perhaps the biggest revelations are yet to come.
Even more pernicious are the hateful tweets that female BBC journalists received this week after robustly questioning a British comedian who tells rape jokes. Even some of the liberal left make light of sexual violence, defending the right of Julian Assange not to face justice in Sweden for charges of alleged sexual assault. Incredible. This is not to mention the everyday sexual violence that women face all around the world and the bravery of women who stand up to this.
If you are a man, like me (or unlike me it doesn’t matter), and wonder what you can do about the current state of affairs, here is one small example – inspired by our Scandinavian and Australian brothers. The next time you are invited to speak at an event and you the notice that the panel contains not a single representative of a non-male gender (and gender is more than a binary), then do not accept to speak. Don’t say “no” in a horrible way, but instead suggest the very many well-qualified non-male alternatives to yourself and try to persuade the organizers to invite them instead. I know this is tough advice for any young male trying to get into public life, but believe me a male-dominated public life is not worth the effort (have you ever been to a golf club AGM?).
It might not surprise you that Norway and Sweden have led the way with the “Equalisters” campaigners and the “Men Say No thanks” campaign #tackanej (in Sweden) and #takknei (in Norway). You might be more surprised that Australian men are also getting active. What about the rest of us?
Much less seems to be happening in my own country, the UK, but am pleased to see that the NGO Article 36 raised the issue of gender discrimination in policy making. In May 2014 at the meeting of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations, 17 experts were invited to speak and all 17 were men. Nothing more macho than lethal weapons it would seem.
And we all know that only a handful of FTSE-100 or Fortune-500 companies have female CEOs, or Board Chairs. But how many of us have really tried to do anything about it? The change starts with each of us in the day to day decisions we each make.
Of course it is more than gender – it is fundamentally about power. When sitting at the annual stakeholder meeting of a large European multinational I couldn’t help noticing that of the 300 people in the room, 95% were men. But equally as noticeable was that 99% were white, and no one removed their suit jackets (all uniformly black, the jackets that is) until the “chairman” of the Board had done so – oh yes, the chairman was a man. As power gradients steepen, diversity decreases.
You will meet many women working in CSR roles in business, but far fewer in risk management or strategic roles. You might think that you have gender and ethnic diversity sitting on a panel in London, Bogota or Delhi, only to find out at closer inspection that you are sitting exclusively with the elite 1%. Class or Caste discrimination is amongst the most invisible and pernicious but anyone with a working class background will know what I mean here.
So why this diatribe you might ask? Is this just Morrison being all politically correct all of a sudden. Well I guess we all have the power to say “No thanks”. We might not sit in positions of power, on the boards of multinationals or in the inner sanctums of FIFA, but we can all say “no thanks” to many things and lets start with gender inequality.