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Article / 1 November 2018

Gender Diversity – A Fresh Approach

‘The numbers we see today tell a sad story. A story of stagnation, slow progress and prevailing gender inequality.  We cannot think of our societies as modern when we let so many people down, every year and every day……women are discriminated against when it comes to their career paths and access to jobs.’[1]

These are the thoughts of the EU Commissioner for Equality, Vera Jourova, directed at the companies and governmental institutions of Europe.

It is reported that the gender gap in the EU is “wide and persistent” with women still earning 20% less than men on average. In addition to this, a recent poll suggests “less than half of women globally believe women have equal opportunities to men” and that men are 30% more likely to be promoted.[2]

The UK is no exception to this – while the proportion of females in senior positions in the UK is above average for the EU, it still sits below France, Sweden, Latvia, Finland and Italy.

This is despite the fact that, according to McKinsey, companies across all sectors with the most women on their boards of directors significantly and consistently outperform those with no female representation – by 41% in terms of return on equity and by 56% in terms of operating results.[3]

Therefore, not only is this ethically wrong, but it doesn’t make sense economically!

Why are we here?

Many of the key issues and reasons behind the disparity in representation between men and women in the workplace are well known.

  • Women are still the major carers when children enter family life, taking longer career breaks due to maternity leave. The impact is significant: 48% of new mothers in the UK felt overlooked for promotion and special projects upon their return to work.[4]
  • Parental leave is often significantly shorter for men than women: in the UK, men are entitled to 2 weeks of paternity leave, so fatherhood is seen as having less of an immediate impact than motherhood.
  • Although the UK now offers shared parental leave, just 1% of all parents eligible to take shared parental leave in the UK did so for the 2017/2018 financial year, according to the law firm EMW.[5]
  • Work/life balance issues seem to fall more heavily on women’s shoulders, putting pressure on them to seek greater flexibility in the workplace. While attitudes are changing in regards as to how this is viewed, over a third of women say that taking advantage of flexibility programmes at work has had a negative impact on their career.[6]
  • The cost of nursery places (particularly in the UK) is becoming so expensive that in some cases, it doesn’t make economic sense for both parents to be at work: in these instances, it will disproportionately be the woman who stays at home.

One explanation beyond cultural bias for men not taking advantage of shared parental leave, and also for women to stay behind where only one parent can continue to work, is that men out-earn their partners. Therefore, it is both economic and cultural pressures which play a part in the disparate impact of parenthood on the careers of men and women.

In terms of why men often out-earn their female partners, there are several factors. The gender pay gap plays the most significant role. However, it should also be noted that men tend to be the older partner in a relationship, and so more likely to be further advanced in their careers. Therefore, where one salary must be sacrificed, many couples choose for it to be the woman’s salary.

What can be done?

 Positive action has certainly become more prevalent in recent times with greater awareness and visibility on the issue of gender diversity, and the ethical and economical advantages of improving female representation. Therefore, what is currently being done – and what can be done – is crucial to understanding how we can move forwards.

  • In recruitment, more and more multinational corporates are now insisting that each shortlist must have at least 1 female on it, with a preference for there being a 50 / 50 split.
  • 58% of women identified greater transparency from employers regarding career development and promotion as the critical step for employers to take.
  • Employers need to tackle the motherhood and flexibility challenge: as the situation stands, women are not always able to fulfil their potential, and employees miss out on fully utilising the talent and expertise of a significant proportion of their work force.
  • Women need sponsors and role models of both genders to develop and promote them in their careers. Just 60% of women say that their managers understand and support their career aspirations.

How can Chameleon be a positive force for change….

 Chameleon work in industries that have a particularly poor record of gender representation: in the automotive industry in the EU, only 24% of the workforce is female.[7] In the Life Sciences industry, female representation at senior leadership level is at just 16%.[8] However, we believe this gives us a greater chance to make an impact, hiring the managers and directors of today who will become the leaders of tomorrow.

Chameleon work hard to ensure that all our shortlists have female representation on them. We proactively work with and represent senior females to our existing client network to ensure that they constantly have visibility of the available talent.

We proactively seeking out senior level female candidates – we have an internal database of over 600 key women in senior leadership positions across our major industries and functions in Europe. These are women whom we are actively engaged with on a constant basis. When we work with clients, we are able to immediately highlight these women’s profiles against existing or potential mandates. This brings outstanding candidates to the attention of our clients and also helps to drive gender diversity where it is needed; at a senior level in typically male-dominated industries.

We believe that Gender Diversity is one of the major issues of our time – in our own small way, we would like to work towards providing a partial solution to this issue!  Please contact the team at Chameleon for further discussion.


[1] The Guardian Newspaper, October 2017

[2] Ipsos Mori, 2017


[4] European Pharmaceutical Review, 2017

[5] The Bottom Line:  Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards