This Sunday is International Women’s Day. That means that for just one day, companies will turn their attention to publishing data on women in the workplace or on successful quotas reached and improved targets met. But the problem with reducing equality to any one day, or one set of numbers, is that it is lazy. It is a mark of our failure to overcome unconscious biases and our failure to truly value the people behind our every interaction, regardless of their gender.  

Though more women have risen to the top levels of companies over the last five years, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. Most significantly, their absence is clear in the first step up to manager. By focusing too much on quotas to smash the glass ceiling, we have forgotten about the steps to be climbed along the way. A “broken rung” remains the major obstacle to gender parity. It is especially perverse in the investment management industry, where women make up only 19% of C-Suite, when at an entry level, they represent almost half of the cohort. 

It is evident that lazy thinking reveals a tendency to discriminate based on gender, or any other qualifier, despite denials. But when I hear people question where the meritocracy is in introducing quotas and targets – what happens when we reduce the issue to numbers, not people – this truly highlights that not everyone is aware of their own unconscious bias.

In an experiment where participants were shown the same pitch video relating to a new entrepreneurial venture, 68% of participants (both male and female) chose to support funding when a male voice pitched the venture, compared to 32% when the same pitch was narrated by a female voice.  This unconscious bias is the epitome of lazy thinking and is why we’re still a long way from gender equality, despite increased awareness of it.

Ultimately, we’re operating off a data base that’s already flawed with bias, which if left unrecognised, leads to a break down in both system 1 and 2 decision making. Why is it that in performance reviews studied, where men are praised for ‘confidence’ and ‘assertiveness’, traits that lead to eventual promotion to the exclusive C-suite, women are more likely praised for ‘resilience’ and being a ‘team player’?

Although it is almost impossible to eliminate this bias, the most supportive colleagues I’ve worked with interrupt it when it happens.  At EG, I’m very lucky to work with inspiring and supportive mentors (both male and female) who introduce me as ‘colleague’ as opposed to by my title. It demonstrates that it is the person and their voice that counts, and not their gender, title or representation in a statistic. By calling out unconscious bias, we can tackle and address the issue from the foundations and make sure women are not left invisible. Relationships really do matter – and people must be at the heart of every business decision, interaction, hire or promotion every day of the year.