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This week, clients have told me two things that have occurred in their businesses. Either could make a considerable change for women. Here’s the first:

A certain bank recently canvassed its employees on the topic of flexibility. Interestingly, when the results were in, they discovered that men and women were equally enthusiastic about the concept of flexible working. So far, so good. Further questioning revealed that: Women wanted flexibility so that they could fulfil more of their other important roles in life – homemaker, carer and so on. Men wanted flexibility to . . . .play golf or take up other personal activities. So if a woman seeks flexibility in her organisation, the chances are that a male boss is likely to perceive this as an opportunity for inessential, extra curricular activities – because that’s what he might use flexibility for himself. As a result, women are often judged as less serious or committed because they want flexibility and the issue is not supported as it could be. The other fascinating story was from a financial services firm that is very keen to become more diverse. Every year they ask managers to put forward the people they deem ‘Talent’ or High Potential. Women have been making up about 24% of the final list, despite making up 49% of the workforce in question. This year when the request went out for the talent list, they did one thing differently. (They didn’t nag or exhort or introduce quotas) The document for each manager just gave a break down of the percentage men and women who were eligible. This year’s final list had over 40% women on it.  Somehow, seeing those numbers reminded managers that there women there with loads of talent – merit even- who were probably just quietly getting on doing a good job and not fighting to get ahead. The debate about quotas keeps coming back to whether women will be appointed on merit. Our argument throughout has been that the purpose of quotas is to make the situation transparent and visible. Once you make the women visible and the system fair, women get ahead on merit.

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