Was the only man in the room at the City Mothers lunchtime session today on the work of the 30% Club run by Baroness Mary Goudie and Katushka Giltsoff.   It provoked seven thoughts.

1. Female representation is a male issue

With men making up 49% of the workforce, nothing is going to happen unless men are involved. Women and men have to work together on this agenda.  “All the [D&I] programmes run by banks [and by implication other employers] are only as good as the men in the room.

2. It’s about headhunters too

And they need to look outside London and outside the small pool of people they are comfortable putting forward. Spookily this backed up a very clear message from my earlier meeting with a senior leader looking to increase gender diversity in technology.  When he challenged the recruiters he was told that they had a very clear idea of what his company wanted (and it was male).  Don’t be trapped by previous successes!   And if you’re working with recruiters be absolutely clear with them what you want and whether you are a proponent of the Rooney Rule or whatever.

3. But, most of all it’s about women holding themselves back

When pressed on what was the biggest blocker on women’s progression, both speakers were unequivocal: “it’s ourselves!” “We have to decide if we want a career and then what we want to achieve.”  And then we [women] have to tell people that’s what we want and act accordingly – for example by living abroad when asked.

I heard a simple, refreshing message from two senior and high achieving women. If you decide you want a career, you need to set yourself targets and achieve them.  You have to read things like the 30% Club’s excellent ‘Cracking the Code’ and you have to adopt the correct language, speak in shorter sentences, understand that silence is OK.  As ever, I had that nagging doubt that if women start acting as apparently many men do, will we lose the diversity dividend that the women are offering.  And then I stopped worrying – because however they chose to speak, they will still be women!

4. And it’s about challenging their partners to learn to juggle?  

It was suggested that workplaces do not support men who want to juggle work and family in the way that women are supported. This argument was given short shrift by both presenters.  This was about changing the dialogue (at home), about challenging partners to play a fuller role in the home, whatever they believe may happen to them as a result at work. There was a finality to Baroness Goudie saying, “my  husband has one of the most senior jobs in the law and when we had children, there was simply no question.”

I chose not to share this thought, but for what it’s worth, I’ve always been of the opinion that many men, when challenged, should be able to do more stuff at home or for children without their working world collapsing. That they might use work demands as a bit of an excuse? And in late 2014, with so many workplaces pushing flexible agendas, surely it is for men to test that out. And perhaps for their partners to challenge their reluctance to do so?

5. It’s apparently Daddies who make Princesses

There was a fascinating discussion about how we get girls to take more risks. And at the base level how in this media obsessed, pink lego age we stop girls aspiring to be WAGs and no more?  I learnt that the 30% Club is doing work with schools and about other campaigns of that type. And just how important it is for real people (I understood professional women) to go into real schools and show children what women do.  In this discussion it was thrown out that ‘Daddies make Princesses’.  I had no idea.  But I throw it out there.

6. “Don’t ever allow people to put you in a box.”

In response to a question about the problems facing women of colour and the lack of role models, there was a simple exhortation from Ms Giltsoff: “I won’t ever let people put me down”. And don’t allow people to put you in a box.  Given that my limited understanding of brain function is that everyone constantly seeks to categorise and simplify the world they see, not allowing people to box you is going to be a challenge, but probably one that will pay dividends. And being more aware that people are doing it is probably half the thing?

Andif you feel you are boxed, the message I got from an earlier answer was ‘leave’.  In general there was a sense that women probably stay too long in one place?

7. Finally what about “Respect for women” training?

As someone who spends much of his life talking about, thinking about, designing and or facilitating behavioural training, much of it aiming at culture change and relating to gender, Baroness Goudie threw out a phrase that has stuck in my mind. I have never actually seen what we do as being about “Respect for women”.  But the more I think about it, it is.  We can’t package it as such for fear of the ‘What about respect for men?’ backlash.  But it’s certainly started me thinking and next time I design something, I’ll be thinking about that.

Thank you to all involved. I’m off to my 13 year old’s parent’s evening!!!