7 March 2018

  |  CBI Press Team


Time for action, not warm words

In a speech to the 30% Club at MI5 in London last night and ahead of International Women’s Day, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn said 2018 will be a critical year for women in the workplace. 

Time for action, not warm words

Despite great progress, women still face challenges.  Carolyn urged firms to examine and constantly question their daily practices.  She said it’s time for a push for progress from business - action not just warm words.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said:

“2018 feels like a particularly important year.  Exceptional women in every field are breaking boundaries, taking on leadership roles, providing great role models for our girls and young women. The number of women in work has never been higher, and we have equal numbers of men and women starting out as apprentices and joining graduate schemes. 

“But we’re not there yet.  Company practices need to be more inclusive, sexual harassment needs to be stamped out, slow progress on career progression for women must be addressed. And the gender pay gap needs to be closed by moving to a world where there are just jobs – not men’s jobs and women’s jobs.

“With disruption and change all around us, business must not take its eye off the ball. Instead of being an excuse for lack of progress, Brexit must become a reason to accelerate it.”

On female leadership in the workplace, Carolyn said:

“We know that companies with diverse boards perform better than those without.  Women are joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors. These are important roles but they are not the day-to-day leaders of UK firms. We need more women in top executive roles, as CEOs, Finance Directors, running business units, on executive committees and just below.

"Today only 4% of FTSE 350 CEOs are women and this number has fallen from 18 to 15 in the last 3 years.  The proportion of female attendees at Davos this year was only 21%. Like many in the business community, the World Economic Forum is taking steps to change this.  For the first time in its history, Davos was chaired entirely by women.

“Seeing women in leadership positions is important, but we need more action. In education, we need more businesses visiting schools, inspiring women to pursue STEM subjects and taking apprenticeships. 

“Mentorships are important too.  They give aspiring young women the chance to learn leadership skills from the best minds in business.  We need more ideas like this.  Because there is nothing better than a helping hand, a piece of advice, a word of encouragement when you’re starting out.

“It’s also about how we find talent.  All-male shortlists should always be challenged and interview panels themselves must be mixed.  And people should be promoted based on ability, not just experience.”

On changing workplace cultures, Carolyn said:

“We must take a hard look at the culture of business.  There have been some sharp lessons over the past 12 months and the President’s Club scandal was one of the sharpest.  Firms must ensure a safe and respectful working environment for everyone.”

On the gender pay gap and measurement, Carolyn said:

“With four weeks to the deadline, employers of more than 250 people will be revealing what, on average, they pay men and women.  This is a good thing because, for the first time there will be proper measurement. And what you can measure, you can change. 

“When we asked our members how they were responding to gender pay gap reporting, nearly two in three said they would be taking more steps on diversity and inclusion as a result.

“So we know this work is paying off, but just not fast enough.  We need a real push for progress in 2018.”