The increase in awareness of International Women’s Day this week was welcome, as was the recognition and celebration of women’s achievements in every facet of our lives internationally, nationally and locally. Inspiring for us all but hopefully most of all for the next generation and those female students currently at school, college, university, in apprenticeships or starting their careers.
But it would be wrong to move on with a slightly less guilty glow having marked the day and return to ‘bias as usual’. Our industry cannot change society on an issue as massive as equality of opportunity, but it can change itself. And whilst the industry is ‘on the move’ with countless good examples of progress, the commitment is uneven and moving at different paces in different places. To achieve change we must embed the drivers of change into our management all year round.
For MPA ‘People’ is one of our seven Strategic Priorities. Two of our four main objectives hard wire into the opportunity agenda, improving the profile and perception of this great sector and encouraging career opportunities for all. This really is an industry where you can be anything you choose. From IT to R&D, from HR to PR, from production and manufacturing through to sales and finance and now into environment, planning, permitting, sustainability, carbon reduction, recycling and biodiversity. The skills we need are changing, growing and widening and the opportunities similarly so. Being part of an essential foundation industry is a wonderful thing and the challenges are genuinely fascinating.
A world of oysters but in a big sea of competing needs for similar skills and talents. Not just the ‘brightest and best’ but the ‘right person’ with the right attitude and competencies. Valuing all skills at every level in the organisation.
So how do we showcase all the opportunities we can offer, how do we replace our ageing workforce, how do we grow the leaders for tomorrow? Not by staying the same. There needs to be a cultural revolution underpinned by a more conscious and consistent push to reach out more inclusively and particularly to women for roles at all levels in all parts of the business and the sector. That process has begun, but it needs energising and accelerating as it is not only right for our people, it is good for the business.
The industry knows all this of course and great strides have been made particularly in recent years, but we are still mainly ‘male and pale’ although far from alone on the ’heavy side’ of the economy. There is a common challenge across all sectors about how to effect change sensibly, sensitively but purposefully.
So, let’s commit right now that by next year’s International Women’s Day we can show measurable progress compared to this year. More female Directors on Boards in commercial and operational roles, more CEOs, more representation on industry bodies, more speakers and hosts at industry events, more profiles in our media, more young voices being heard, more champions being recognised. More potential leaders being supported to lead at all levels in more roles. Seizing the obvious opportunities that are in front of us.
To make the cultural change we have to be honest and understand where we are today, celebrate the positive but also address the shortfalls positively and with vigour. I for one will feel a lot more comfortable and prouder in a year’s time if we can show significant progress.
MPA Chief Executive Nigel Jackson