15 minutes with Shay: Gender equality and its importance

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Gender Equality is such an important topic, one that has been on every company’s radar for decades. As we progress as a society so does the gender balance. Why is gender equality so important to BT?

“It’s important to BT as it should be important to every company. It’s more difficult in a company that’s technology led because the statistics I mentioned in my previous blog show that we have a current split of 32/68 mainly because there are fewer females entering technical third level courses. When I did my degree in Electronic Engineering only 10% of the class were female so you’re facing a structural issue of more males going into the technology and engineering subjects than females. But that’s not to say that we don’t have plenty of roles in the organisation where it’s the opposite as well. But if we start out at 32% female, 68% male, the general trend is that as you go up the management layers it gets worse, where at the very top layer you have an unbalanced ratio. If you look at our line managers the ratio goes to 36/64 which is a slight improvement but at our leadership level it’s 45/55. I have a great team around me and each individual is in the position they’re in because they are the best person for the job.

What is BT doing to tackle the problem?

I spoke at the Executive Institute back in November about the subject, and my own journey on gender diversity is that I didn’t think there was a problem. My father passed away when I was nine so I grew up with my Mum, three sisters and a brother. I always had a strong female influence from my family so I never considered that females were anything other than strong role models, capable and equal. But if I stand back now I realise that the lived experience of women in the 80’s, 90’s and even to this day, is quite different to my rather naïve predisposition. If you don’t realise there is a problem it will only get worse. This is something we’re improving on and something we continue to focus on. It’s hugely important to have a balanced organisation because society is balanced.

However, gender is not the only diversity that we look at i.e. age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and many others. Inclusion is extremely important to BT to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable working for the company. I think it’s important to look out for these things especially when we look to fill vacancies. What is important for me is to have a balanced interview panel and balanced interviewees to ensure we have diversity to choose from, always bearing in mind, that the best person gets the job. If you don’t measure it then you won’t manage it, so we have put it into our HR scorecard what is the distribution of males and females coming into the organisation. So that is definitely a conscious focus and that has helped move the needle.

Research carried out on the matter has universally agreed that organisations that have a balanced leadership team, have a balanced company as much as they can in terms of gender, perform better, they’re more responsible, they’re a better place to work, they have more engaged employees, they make better choices and decisions and they are never the ones that end up in the headlines for corruption and all the negative things that are associated with an imbalanced organisation. But it is a progression of thought. “Journey” is such an overused verb, however I think it’s more like a cycle of enlightenment and it starts with understanding there is a problem in the first place. When you’re a male and in the male privilege club, and think “I’ve nothing against woman so I’m not the problem” you are not doing enough. If you’re not physically and actively doing something to address the problem then you are actually still part of the problem and this is an issue with many companies.

           BT Ireland’s leadership team is a 45/55 split

I partook in a course “Men Advocating Real Change” a few years ago and it really helped to open my mind and challenge my predispositions and expose the unconscious bias that is engrained in all of us. We did an exercise where they asked multiple different questions including personal questions, for example; were you ever poor when you were young?, did you grow up in a dysfunctional family? did you have an alcoholic parent? etc. It was amazing to see that everybody is in a minority at some stage in their life, there isn’t anybody who is always in the majority. I did realise through that exercise that at some point in life everyone has felt as though they were an outsider, and sometimes you need those well-crafted sessions to unlock some of the areas in your brain that need to be triggered to realise something needs to be done, it’s not just going to be ok, we can’t just understand the problem we have to actually do something about it.

Shay Walsh