SOLVE magazine Issue 01 2020 - Page 35

GENDER: STEREOTYPES Diversity straining on its leash Gender inequities encoded into organisational cultures and professional stereotypes lead to less effective organisations. How well do institutions at the heart of ‘representational democracies’ actually represent citizens? It’s a question that fascinates Karen Johnston, Professor of Organisational Studies. Her recent publication, ‘Women in public policy and public administration?’, questions the extent to which a government is democratic if it doesn’t reflect the population it serves. Inevitably she is drawn to ask why governments are not representative, and what are the consequences. Born in South Africa during apartheid, Professor Johnston has seen up close the abuse that stems from inequality and divisive government policies. “It focused my mind,” she says with understatement. Professor Johnston has a particular interest in gender equality in institutions and in the impact of public sector reforms. “For all the advances made, gender is still baked into professional stereotypes,” she says. In exploring this issue, one of her pivotal findings demonstrated organisations that better reflect the communities they serve are not just achieving an important democratic principle – they improve the organisation’s performance. This phenomenon was highlighted in seminal research undertaken, with Professor Rhys Andrews of Cardiff University, on the effect on domestic violence arrest rates when there are more female police officers. “We showed that where there is a higher representation of female police officers, there was a higher rate of domestic violence arrests,” she says. “So, female officers were acting – more actively – in the interests of women as victims of domestic violence.” The benefits work two ways: better representation builds community trust and the institution itself better understands the community. The outcome is greater progress in addressing community issues. With such potential gains in effectiveness and efficiency on offer, Professor Johnston turned her attention to understanding the barriers for women in public sector organisations. On the surface, the UK is more progressive than countries where social, cultural and religious views inhibit women from entering paid employment, but there’s still no shortage of hurdles. “For one, we have some of the highest childcare costs in Europe, and a culture in which mothers are more likely than fathers to step back from their careers and raise children,” she says. Glass walls The UK is also stymied by both ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘glass walls’. Glass ceilings stop women from rising to the more senior, better-paid roles in an organisation. The NHS is an example where women make up 70 per cent of the workforce, but only 43 per cent of NHS executives. Glass walls are the invisible barriers that keep both women and men in occupations that defer to gender stereotypes, such as more women being found in care professions like nursing. Professor Johnston sees this compartmentalising as the residue of cultural and gender norms still woven into organisational cultures. “We are born into biological categories, male and female. Society attaches gender norms to those categories, and those values create identities,” she says. “Women are supposed to be ‘feminine’, which means being nurturing and caring. “Conversely, if the organisational culture values ‘masculinity’ – supposedly decisive, competitive, task-orientated and direct – these values are rewarded, and the assumption is you need to espouse them to be a leader.” Professor Johnston believes there are, however, ways to effect change. In her research, she has identified how government can be more innovative in solving complex cultural problems by including and collaborating with the ‘third sector’ – valuesdriven bodies such as charities, voluntary and community organisations, social enterprises and cooperatives. “Involving the third sector in innovative solutions, being inclusive in decision-making, and implementing this in practice holds solutions to more effectively engaging the community.” Community partnering “Bringing communities on board is a pathway to more innovatively addressing complex social problems,” she says. “But if an institution doesn’t represent or mirror its population, then its legitimacy is open to challenge.” In 2018 – a landmark year that marked both the centenary of the women’s suffrage in Britain and the rise of the #MeToo movement – Professor Johnston reached out to scholars around the world to brainstorm ways to increase female representation in policymaking areas: “Introducing legislation and ticking a box doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to introduce change,” she says. “The Equal Pay Act, for example, was passed in 1970 but in 2018 we still had a gender pay gap of almost 20 per cent in the UK.” Professor Johnston refers to an ‘implementation deficit’. For example, more women are now graduating from medical school, but are entering general practice as opposed to specialist or surgical careers. “General practice offers more flexible working arrangements, which helps with personal childcare but results in a shortage of [women] surgeons.” The solution she advocates lies in innovation: by restructuring jobs – including the duty roster for surgeons – so they are gender inclusive and facilitate better work– life balance. “We need, as a society, to look at the profile of the workforce and ask ‘what are its real needs?’.” It’s a question with deep ramifications for communities and for economies, but it is one that Professor Johnston argues all organisations need to ask. � ‘Women in public policy and public administration?’ is available at 2.2018.1534421 ISSUE 1 / 2020 35