As International Women’s Day came and went, it prompted many to publically question how far our major institutions had progressed in their quest for true gender diversity. One area put under the spotlight recently was the world of football, as a survey by Women in Football revealed that two thirds of respondents had directly witnessed sexism in the workplace. Of these respondents 31% were being told they were unable to do their job because of their gender.
Although the success of West Ham vice chair Karren Brady for example, may have led people to think the situation is improving, clearly attitudes are not changing across the board.
The issue of diversity in football of course, is not restricted to gender. This month ex-England international Sol Campbell became the latest to suggest that, both amongst supporters and within the Football Association itself, diversity is a long way away. During his playing career Campbell claimed to experience what he called “sick”, racist and homophobic abuse from fans. The fact that there is only one black manager in the English Premier League implies the problem exists not simply on the terraces but throughout the institution as a whole.
Another high profile sector – the film industry – also seems to be struggling with true diversity. Although, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best director Oscar for the Hurt Locker in 2010, a report cited in the Guardian this month reveals that this might be an exception rather than a trend. The study reports that, in the year Bigelow made her landmark achievement, females comprised of only 29% of major characters in the top 100 US grossing films, and top executive roles were largely held by men. This degree of marginalisation has remained largely unchanged since the 1940s. It seems that other than the odd success, little progress has been made in terms of the overall culture of the film industry either.
It may be tempting to see rare examples of success as evidence of progress for diversity. In reality they may well mask the true challenge that faces these areas and indeed many businesses in the wider world. The real advantage of having a diverse workforce is that it can bring fresh ideas to any organisation, be it a football club, a film production or a company.
However, this is only possible if the whole culture of the organisation adapts to these ideas. If examples of diversity are one-off exceptions, then most likely they will have had to adapt to the existing culture rather than being able to change it. This applies not only to the issue of gender diversity, but to all types of diversity.
Although high profile success stories should be celebrated, it is vital that the change of values occurs across entire businesses and industries. If we can help these exceptions to inspire a general cultural evolution, true diversity will be closer. However if we let them paper over the cracks of a lack of progress, then it will be further away than ever.
Article by Helena Parry of Ochre House