HAS THE GLASS CEILING AND THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT REALLY CHANGED FOR WOMEN?

The last few years have seen a huge ground swell in opinion as to the shape of the workforce we should expect in society and the traditional approach to employment has had to change. Companies have had to reappraise what they want from their employees and just as importantly what employees want from their employers. When I first came into the workforce and I was a Wellsite Geologist working on the rigs across the globe, it was somewhat entertaining to see the faces of the occasional female worker, namely a fellow geologist or specialist, coming onto the rigs only to discover there were no female shower rooms or toilets. The archaic infrastructure of the 1980’s hadn’t really changed since the first oil well was drilled in the oceans of the world in the 1930’s. Women were not expected to be seen on a factory floor never mind in the middle of the North Sea even back in the 1970’s when production really kicked off with the oil boom of the mid 70’s. So, to a certain extent it wasn’t a surprise to many women that the industry just didn’t cater for them. And this was reflected across many industries including Financial Services and certainly Asset Management. Although thankfully women did have their own toilets! Mind you, the trend in the 90’s for mixed toilets did leave me baffled and there were some awkward moments when I wandered into one and ran out immediately, thinking I had entered a Ladies room by mistake!!

Fast forward to today and we see a much more engaged industry with equal opportunities and work practices that enable both sexes to get most of the working environment. However, there is still a long way to go and challenges still exist, not just for the employee but also the employer. 

At Gemini, we embrace the “work-life” balance and actively encourage our colleagues to get that balance right, not just for their sake but ours. We have ditched the outmoded expectation that someone is only working at capacity if they are at their desk in the office during 9-5. We give flexible hours to all staff and this means we don’t dictate to them their hours but instead they dictate to us the hours they are doing the next week/month. With a few exceptions such as Management Meetings or Board Meetings that are scheduled, we allow them to have a flexible approach to the hours they keep. I can assure you that we get excellent value for money, but it does come at a cost; that cost is management time and changing management’s attitude to trust. You have to manage the business effectively and you have to trust your staff. We are a projects delivery business ultimately and staff work to tight schedules so the work can dictate certain hours with managed delivery but we manage it so that we know when a project is needed by and we ensure the right people are on that project with the flexibility to deliver as expected. So, with some careful project managing we deliver as we expect, and staff get the work-life balance they want.

Naturally the above example works brilliantly for working parents and as parent myself I wish I had had a boss back in the 1990’s who allowed me to spend more time with my children as they grew up. I will never forget the time when I heard my then 10-year-old son say, when asked by a friend what does your Dad do, that he didn’t know because he never saw him until the weekends. You never get that time back. Sadly, I had a boss who was not only a dictator but expected me to beat him into the office every morning and leave after him every night. I later discovered he had a flat 500m from the office! Lesson learnt….

But whilst things are changing for working parents it will be some time before we can truly say it has changed for women in the workforce. There has been much debate about the “glass ceiling” in the workplace and that Boards of many companies and across many industries have few if any senior managers and directors. This is slowly changing but it is not easy for some companies to change and it’s not necessarily what you think. 

Recently I have been researching the marketplace to find a Chairperson for one of the companies within the Gemini group. I particularly wanted to balance the Board in question with not only experience but also gender and age. The Board in question was too white, middle aged and male! However, with just c10% of women holding ‘Director’ positions there are even less experienced ‘Chair women’ (I estimate less than 1%). So, there’s the dilemma… Looking at official sites for qualified certified directors shows the paltry percentage in all its sad glory. My current shortlist is 2 when if it was a male that I was looking for, there would be 100. Indeed, whilst I want to recruit a woman to be the Chair, I am struggling for the right one. Sure, I could take a risk with a Director with no experience of ‘chairing’, but we aren’t a big business and I need experience. Here lies my quandary. Do I take a punt and risk the business or play safe? I’ll let you know….https://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.htmlREPORT THIS AD

But meantime let’s get women into these positions of responsibility and we will all ultimately benefit. Gemini is not alone in wanting to promote and create balance but unless the industry and in particular the larger firms take this situation seriously then and start to give people the chance to grow and take on senior positions such as Fund Chairpersons then we will never get the balance and the diversity right. And without balance we wobble, and we all know what happens then…. we fall over. Let’s hope the industry doesn’t fall when given the chance to take a position.

Have a great weekend and may the sun shine for you.

Stuart Alexander

CEO

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