This week we marked International Women’s Day; a day where the world united in a joint call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity.
I was honoured to speak at Nucleus’ Unlock the value in diversity event, which was held at BAFTA in London. I focused on gender equality, dispelling a few gender-based behavioural myths, and used evidence to demonstrate that financial decision making can be a big beneficiary of an equality model.
I have very strong opinions and feelings about diversity and gender equality; views that were forged very early on in my life and have held me in good stead ever since.
My childhood years were spent in the working-class, gritty, North East of England. I was one of five children, of which I was the only boy. My father worked away from home for extended periods, so for many years I was fortunate to have first-hand experience of the female way of living. On reflection I believe this insight, this experience, is responsible for moulding my views on diversity and equality, both personally and professionally, and I have my parents to thank for instilling this in me.
Parents have a crucial role to play when it comes to diversity and equality. Part of their job in raising a well-balanced child is to provide information and serve as powerful enforcers of gender-appropriate behaviours and beliefs. Our children aren’t born with social stereotype views pre-programmed - it’s all learned, and parents are the most influential teachers we encounter.
With this in mind, let’s explore how you view gender. I’m going to ask a question I would like you to really ponder on and try to answer honestly. What is the difference between a woman and a man? Now, you aren’t allowed to answer using biology, because the answer then becomes obvious. I want you to answer the question based on everything else you’ve learned through life.
Some of you may have answered immediately, some people may really struggle to answer this (like me!), especially when you add the restraint of not being able to use genetics as an answer.
But let’s add another layer of complexity. Try to answer the question, but this time, you can’t use our invented social understanding around gender, you know, that boys wear blue and girls wear pink… that kind of thing.
I think it’s safe to say you’ll struggle to come up with a sound and reasonable answer. That’s because, other than biological differences, there aren’t any differences. In fact, I would go as far as saying the way we categorise women and men, using our standard social norms, is no different to the way society deals with race.
We live our lives in an invented, biased social framework that says A is better than B, based on zero evidence or fact, that only serves to cause harm. By way of example, take the workplace. We wouldn’t pay an equally qualified and experienced black person less than a white person for doing the same job. So how on earth can society continue to accept that paying a woman less than a man is indeed acceptable?
It’s clearly not just in the workplace that this divisive social baggage resides. It’s very much visible in the world of finance. It fuels the belief that men are better investors than women. It fuels the belief that women are more emotional than men when it comes to investing.
Thankfully, there is a growing body of evidence that is slowly ridding us of these old-fashioned views, and categorically proving that some ‘truths’ are indeed anything but true. It’s this growing body of evidence that we need to draw on, so that together we can begin to understand the benefits of unlocking the value in diversity.