29 January 2018

  |  CBI Press Team


Businesses must change to help end these power abuses

Carolyn has written in today's Financial Times about sexual harassment in the workplace and gender diversity.

Businesses must change to help end these power abuses

Anger is a powerful tool for change. The light shone by the Financial Times last week on the Presidents Club dinner has exposed behaviour that is wholly shocking. We have had Weinstein, allegations in Westminster and now this.

We have seen power structures exposed here and around the world that enable some men to get away with abusing those over whom they have power.

When fighting back can mean the loss of a job, of money or even a career, it is no wonder that those on the receiving end have remained silent.

Most of the business world is not like this and most men I know are appalled. But the fact is it happens.

This is now an earthquake. After 33 years unreported, the FT has written about this dinner. After years in silence, women are speaking up.

The question is what we now do about cracking down on abusive behaviour.

Part of the answer must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment. Legal penalties must be heavy. The use of non-disclosure agreements to buy silence in situations like this must end.

Employers have a vital role to play. They must properly exercise their duty of care to all women (and men) and ensure it is easy to make a harassment complaint, via processes that are totally fair. Firms are committed to getting this right, and we at the CBI are committed to helping them.

But there is also a broader issue. The fact is that business remains far too male — 96 per cent of FTSE 350 chief executives are men. This means that, in an average gathering of 100 business heads, only four will be women. At the level below chief executive, eight in 10 leaders are men.

The overwhelming presence of men at the top of corporate life — and in other fields — makes the Presidents Club and events like it all too possible. Our power structures need to change, not just in terms of the treatment of women but also in terms of who is included.

Progress has been made but it is been glacial. Thanks to the work of the 30% Club and others, there are now more women on boards. Some sectors like technology and the creative industries are ahead. But as a nation we tend to pat ourselves on the back for small strides when change is just too slow. The number of women running FTSE 350 firms has actually fallen in the last two years, from 18 to 15.

We should use the Weinstein scandal, this deplorable dinner and other cases of women speaking up to change the equation. We must have more women leading and in top roles in our companies. Not only is this essential for our society, it is essential for our productivity. The business case for gender diversity improving performance is rock solid.

So how do we achieve change? Some of it can be achieved through equality laws but businesses must change too.

Gender pay gap reporting done well is a good thing. Firms are now thinking harder about why women are being paid less on average than men.

But most of the change needs to come from companies and their leaders altering the daily decision making process, questioning previously accepted practices. All-male shortlists for jobs should always be challenged. Clubby events and late dinners that cut into family time should be scratched from the company calendar. Don’t assume that women returning from maternity leave won’t want a challenging job.

There is plenty of best practice to draw on. More chief executives are making an active commitment to making their teams more diverse, while the Hampton-Alexander review is usefully raising the bar. Others are writing gender mix into the objectives of their managers with consequences for missing this target as serious as for any other. More should and must follow.

This is a time for real change. Let us use the earthquake of sexual misconduct scandals to break down entrenched power structures that can lead to abuse. They have no place in modern Britain.

And let us use them to ensure every young woman can feel confident, safe and respected — in all walks of life and especially in business.