Can Sadiq Khan’s ‘Our Time’ Initiative Tackle Institutionalised Gender Bias?

Published on: Mon 25 June 2018 by Admin

Last month, The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan launched a bold new plan to tackle the lack of women leaders in the UK.

The initiative, called ‘Our Time: Supporting Future Leaders’, is part of #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign and is the first and largest-scale programme of its kind to be adopted in the public sector. It aims to take crucial action to address the gender imbalance in leadership roles, and bridge the gender pay gap.

‘Our Time’ really couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment; it is about time an initiative such as this one was implemented.

The lack of diversity and women in leadership positions has been discussed before and the efforts of Positive Action, mentoring and fast-track training for female leaders have gone some way to improve things. Efforts to address policies such as flexible working and return to work have also helped limitations. Yet here we are, 2018, and still battling issues such as gender pay gap!

Whilst on paper, a female leader might see that she can work flexibly or job share, there are still ‘unofficial’ attitudes and organisational cultures that need to be addressed. We see all too often a culture of ‘the option for flexible working is there, but if you want to be taken seriously or see your career progress here then it’s wise not to go down that route.’

The Mayor’s initiative to address these kinds of institutional norms goes above and beyond what’s been tried before, and looks set to make a positive impact.

The scheme proposes that ‘senior staff champions’ are a mix of both men and women, and it is this that is likely to be the key to this initiative’s success. The focus is now on the power and knowledge each leader has to offer the other person, rather than previous efforts which have often been about ‘let’s find a women to link with another woman.’ This is particularly important because so many senior leadership positions in organisations are filled by white men over the age of forty. Working with that reality rather than trying to fight it is going to challenge the affinity bias of people recruiting and engaging in their own image, which is what will add that extra impetus that’s been missing before.

Now it is compulsory for organisations with over 250 employees to publish their gender pay gaps, we are seeing more and more organisations sitting up and taking inequality seriously. The status quo has never been challenged as much as it is today.

People will get behind ‘Our Time’ not least because anyone who doesn’t will be working against the benefits that diversity brings to organisations and top teams. A recent study found that “While homogeneous groups felt more confident about their decisions than diverse groups, the former groups’ decisions were more often wrong compared to those of diverse groups” – a powerful fact indeed.

The new initiative supports the fact that having a more diverse team means different mind-sets, different approaches and different inputs. As a result, we would expect organisations to benefit from:

  • An increase in creativity across products, services and processes
  • Diversification to new and different markets.
  • A broader customer base
  • A better talent pool to recruit from
  • An increase in market share

We are looking forward to seeing how ‘Our Time’ gets off the ground. Many of the ‘senior staff champions’ will be members of the very same teams that have been part of the problem.

All the same, it will be interesting to see if these people can make shifts in their attitudes and whether this scheme can impact where previous schemes have failed before.