How can we ensure the world of work works for all women?
16 May 2017 - Adam Garfunkel

Written by Adam Garfunkel, founder of Junxion

“Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 by ensuring that the world of work works for all women”.

This was the call of the UN earlier this year as the important discussion about women’s rights, and the theme of gender equality in the workplace continues to be pushed. As good as it sounds, however, did this commanding message actually achieve anything?

Giving credit where credit is due, one of the most eye-catching events this year has been the installation of a statue of a fearless girl looking straight at the famous bull on Wall Street.


The statue, standing at 4-feet in height, was admirably funded by the third largest asset manager in the world, State Street Global Advisors. They’ve started to up the game on how active they’re being on corporate governance issues.

As if this massively attention-grabbing stunt wasn’t enough, they also wrote to the companies that are a part of the Russell 3000 index, urging them to better the level of diversity on their boards. With a quarter of the more than 3,500 companies that State Street Global would have written to currently having no women on their boards, this is a highly necessary call for change.

They wrote that they expect to see concrete actions taken to ensure that there is at least one woman on these boards, or they are threatening to vote against the list of directors at Annual General Meetings.

CEO Ron O’Hanley is aware this could be seen as ‘just talk’. However, he is adamant that State Street is not being soft or backing down, and wants to see a significant change over the next two years. Carrying out these actions and voting against boards hasn’t happened yet so it’s still early days when it comes to deciding if the words will really be followed up … but here’s hoping. What’s interesting as well, is the fact that varying amounts of data exist that show diversity improves business performance so resistance to this message would certainly be surprising.

Not as smart as you make out…

In the entertainment industry, the same challenge was raised. On the 8th of March we saw the highly popular ‘University Challenge’, a BBC quiz show that sees teams of higher education students go head-to-head, get a lot of back-lash when the show that aired sported two all-male teams representing the universities of Birmingham and Balliol College, Oxford. Queue the Twitter feed. One viewer commented by saying:

“Seems like there are more women in Trump’s cabinet than in this series of University Challenge.”

Following this, the BBC made a statement that basically explained, “it’s-out-of-their-hands”. The process is such that the universities decide on their team’s makeup, though the BBC does encourage them to “reflect the diversity of the student population”. (Yeah …OK)

Off the back of this situation, respect must be shown to King’s College London who now demand that half of the four-person team be made up of ‘self-defining women, trans or non-binary students’. This shows the requisite courage and leadership. In the words of the late great Maya Angelou:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

The brand really is everything…

Authenticity is displayed by consistently living up to your values. Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 11.37.10People believe in brands when they can see this happening. The greatest example of this is (yep, you guessed it) Nike. The global sports and lifestyle brand have been a true champion of women’s issues for some time. Their investment in the Girl Effect, a social movement that seeks to empower young women to end poverty for themselves and others was one of the most prominent examples of this. We also saw Nike release a hijab for Muslim women athletes.

Admirable as it is, the move has met a mixed reception. However, the fact that a huge brand like Nike is committed to diversifying its product range and ensuring it has options available for Muslim athletes, is a step forward. For a major American brand to be saying “Muslim women athletes ought to be able to find products for them in our stores” they’ve proved themselves to be a company taking action to stand by its values.

This is vital to each and every one of us if anything is going to improve: Each of us must look to ourselves and make the changes we need to make. Individuals that are able to be authentic and show the courage of leadership is what will make the world a better, safer and ultimately fairer place.

Adam Garfunkel is Managing Director at Junxion. He has advised companies on corporate social responsibility, business strategy and how to communicate for impact.