Spotlight #10 – Mark Okes-Voysey
From challenge comes change.
As part of our ongoing International Women’s Day campaign, we are publishing a series of spotlight videos and interviews which explore the candid views and experiences of members of our team, looking at the factors they feel contribute to gender bias, and to urge all women, and men, to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world.
- This year’s International Women’ Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge. How can workplaces create a culture where people feel confident calling out gendered assumptions and biases?
When dealing with change, it boils down to communication. Senior management should discuss the benefits of a diverse workforce as well as the specific challenges facing women, but also the solutions to these (there are a vast array of measures that can be taken). It is incumbent on Senior management to take the necessary steps to adopt a zero-tolerance policy to any gender bias and for it to form an integral part of their culture. Let’s not forget that engaging the mind is the first step towards changing behaviours. With this at the core of the business, people will be able to call out any problem areas confident that management are actively working towards creating an environment where all are valued and supported equally.
At the end of the day, this is a matter that will require strong leadership…sometimes from above but also from up and comers from within the ranks (remember, leadership and management are different things). Whoever is leading, needs to focus communications around two issues which will be key to unlocking bias. 1. The value to the business (from all stakeholders’ perspectives) of gender diversity and 2. Articulating the real challenges faced by women as well as the solutions in place.
- Research shows that when women are well represented at the top, companies are 50 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. What steps can businesses take to address the challenges women are facing?
I lead a business where women outnumber men in senor positions and can speak from personal experience to the advantages of having women properly represented at the top. We must recognise that, for many businesses, their workforce/leadership team does not reflect the gender diverse make-up of their client base. I would argue, like even the most hard-headed businessmen, that successful businesses are all about their clients and as such the customers can only be fully understood if they are fully represented in the workplace. As such, I believe that if we do not tackle, head on, all the issues that hold women back from succeeding business will be poorer for it.
One of the more practical issues that women in the workplace have long struggled with is having more flexibility. The case for this flexibility has been strengthened enormously during the COVID pandemic. Forced by circumstances, businesses have accepted, even embraced, that working from home, connected digitally, has not resulted in a decline in activity, far from it. I suspect there is a strong link between the way businesses have leveraged technology and coupled with this, working from home and time flexibility will empower women to do even better in the workplace by levelling up the playing field further.
- How have things in the workplace changed from the beginning of your career to now?
I feel I should provide a little context. My career started in London 35 years ago and has taken me to Madrid, New York, Mexico City and Moscow. The changes I have seen are enormous but national culture seems to be a big determinant of the pace of change that has happened with respect to diversity in all its dimensions.
My first recollection of gender diversity being on the agenda was in my time in NYC almost 30 years ago. At that stage I recall the discussion was more about recognizing that there were gender issues which needed addressing. Things have moved on a lot since, perhaps not enough, but senior partnership and board positions in the US are no longer the exclusive domain of men. This is also the case in some parts of Europe.
I believe that aside from increased awareness about gender issues, embracing workplace flexibility further enabled by technology is now accelerating the rate of change. The big change from 30 years ago is that one is not surprised to see women in the boardroom, it is expected.
Many thanks to Mark for taking part.