Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top
Despite not being a huge fan of this Dragon’s Den business celeb, I was quite gripped by her documentary about inequality in employment between the genders. There was nothing very new in it, but it was great to see a “queen bee” (as a powerful leading woman in a male-dominated business gets called these days) being jolted out of her previous simplistic take on gender in the workplace – basically the “I managed it, why can’t they?” approach. Interesting in particular to hear the success of changing gender awareness and gender balance within the ranks at P&G.
There are some areas that will always be male dominated, one suspects – but some are just that way because no one has bothered challenging received wisdom. More than a decade ago I carried out some qual work on a gender issue in the British Army and interviewed soldiers right across the ranks. I can’t share the detailed insights on here, fascinating though they were. But it is a matter of public record that there are women who can pass the physical tests for entry into the infantry – there are some superb and very tough female athletes in the Army. The barriers to the Army accepting women into the teeth arms of the British military are not physical but to do with group dynamics, culture and psychology – no less real for that, but not what you might have expected coming at the issue afresh.
The infantry is perhaps exceptional because its personnel decisions have life and death consequences, but Hilary Devey’s warehouse was all male also for no good physical reason, just a cultural one. Women have not been encouraged to think they could train as forklift truck drivers and so there are few out there. But there’s no obvious reason other than the work culture to exclude women from training up for that kind of job. And warehouses don’t have the life and death excuse. But cultural stereotypes are powerful.
I also wasn’t surprised to see in the team exercise experiment, the mixed gender team out-performing the single gender teams. That’s been my experience of workplace teams too and I’m a big believer in not just mixed gender in teams but mixed personality type and mixed as much as possible. It’s that coming together of different perspectives that is so effective, especially in my line of work, qualitative research.
I’ll watch the rest of the series with interest.