Diversity & inclusion5 min read

Why it’s the glass wall, not the glass ceiling, we need to crack

With just 6 female CEOs on the FTSE350, it’s clear that women are still under-represented in the executive suite – especially in tech. But recent data tells us that we suffer from unequal gender representation at every level, not just at the top.

In the latest episode of the Inclusion Works podcast – Fiona Young, Head of Diversity and Inclusion Practice at Hive Learning, spoke to the authors of The Glass Wall – success strategies for women at work and businesses who mean business, Sue Unerman, Chief Transformation Officer at MediaCom, and Kathryn Jacob, OBE, CEO of Pearl & Dean

We loved their practical advice on how to increase gender diversity at every level and shatter the Glass Wall once and for all.

Here’s a preview of what Sue and Kathryn had to say…

What does the title The Glass Wall mean? And what made you want to write this book?

Sue Unerman: We kind of went into [writing the book] wanting to change the world. A small thing! And what became very clear as we did the interviews for the book is that there are some aspects of how you get on at work that are gendered; you might go, “we treat everybody the same” but not everybody responds in the same way to that treatment.

So one of the examples would be the Hewlett Packard test as it’s become known, which is that, if a woman can fulfil 8 out of 10 criteria on a job into a advert, she will think that she’s not qualified to do that job. If a man can fulfill 5 out of 10 of those criteria, then he will apply for the job. So at the very first level of job applications, women are ruling themselves out. Then some of the wording in job applications can deter women in a way that it doesn’t deter men.

There’s a lot of these facts that I don’t like, but it comes up over and over and over again. So that if the job spec says something along the lines of we’re looking for people who are experts in their field, men are more likely to go, “oh yeah, I’m an expert”. Whereas women are more likely to go, “Well I know a lot about it, but would I really call myself an expert in it?” So there’s a whole level of deterring that’s going on there.

And then the other thing that we found came up at one of the presentations that we gave at an international bank – a man put his hand up and he said, “I haven’t got a question. But I work in the recruitment division for this bank and I am usually handing out six figure salary jobs.”

He said, “Whenever I offer the job to a woman, say, for a hundred grand, she will go, “That’s absolutely amazing. I’m so delighted. Thank you very much.” But whenever I have exactly the same conversation with a man, he will say, “Thank you very much. Actually I need £125,000 for that role, not £100,000. What are you going to do about it?””

And he said, “So before women even start, they’re at a 25% deficit. So look, you have to know what you’re worth. You have to be almost overconfident to compensate for the natural diffidence”.

Kathryn Jacob:

The Glass Wall comes from the fact that actually men and women are on the opposite side of this glass. They can see each other and they think they’re in the same environment, when they’re not.

The glass ceiling also implies that women are on this trajectory to smash the glass ceiling and we all want to be seen. Actually quite a lot of people – men and women – don’t want to be CEOs. What they want to do is have the best career that they can have with a fabulous work life balance and to be able to compete in triathlons or you know, knit a version of the statue of Liberty or something in their spare time. It isn’t this onward projection thing about more money, a bigger office, having 43 million people working for you.

Sue Unerman: The other reason we don’t think it’s about the glass ceiling either is that the glass ceiling implies that that happens to you when you reach the top levels of your career. So [you think] it’s going to be all right from level one to level two, to two to three, to four to five [and that challenges will happen] maybe when you get to six, seven, eight, nine.

Inclusion Works

So the big secret in this book is to unpick what everybody is actually thinking and what they’re meaning.

We know that our book’s made some women angry because we don’t go on about the fact that it’s not fair. I think there’s a lot of much more militant stuff out there that does talk about that.

I mean, we’ve coined the term pragmatic feminism.

So this is the situation whether you like it or not, don’t be blind to it if you want to win at it. Here’s a set of tactics that you can deploy.

We’re not telling anybody that they should be behaving more like a man. What we’re saying is that it’s kind of like if you think you’re playing football but you’re applying the rules from tennis, then you know there’s a mismatch and you won’t win.

Whereas if you understand what’s going on, if you want to take pick the ball up and go home with it cause it’s your ball, that’s fine. Or here’s how you get around the offside rule and score a goal.

To listen to the full interview, download the Inclusion Works podcast in your favourite podcast app or by visiting the Inclusion Works page on our website.

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