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Author and activist Caroline Criado Perez addresses industry leaders

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Award-winning writer and campaigner, Caroline Criado Perez OBE wowed an audience of over 200 at AXIS Network’s Gender Balance: A Leadership Issue at P&J Live on Friday.

The Shell UK-sponsored event addressed tough questions such as “Are performance appraisals methods systematically biased?", “Do offshore survival suits actually fit women?” and “Why do organisations persist with outdated models of what it means to be a successful man?”

AXIS Network vice chair Erica Kinmond kicked-off the event with a candid, sometimes controversial conversation with Caroline, covering the gender data gap, the myth of meritocracy and the importance of workplace culture.

Audience members were horrified to discover that cars are not designed to keep women safe in the event of accidents because crash test dummies mimic the average male body - and that new female dummies are actually just scaled-down men, tested only in the passenger seat.

Leaders seemed similarly surprised to learn that people judge women by a different standard when making hiring/reward/promotion decisions.

It was news to many that workplace cultures requiring discretionary effort in the form of overtime structurally favour staff unencumbered with caring responsibilities.

Craig Shanaghey (OGUK D&I focus group lead, and President Operations Services Europe & Africa - Wood) and Steve Phimister (VP Upstream Shell UK) then joined Caroline for a lively panel discussion, with questions from the floor moderated by Karen Blanc (AXIS Network chair).

“I see a diverse workforce as a huge opportunity, rather than an issue to be solved,” said Craig. Steve echoed that view, stating “There’s plenty of research to show that companies with diverse leadership teams do better.”

Panellists highlighted the pressing need to attract girls into STEM careers (a parallel Shell Girls in Energy event was also taking place), but emphasised the need to do more to create a structure of inclusion beyond attraction, and into development, promotion and retention.

The contentious issues of quotas was also raised, with Caroline sharing London Business School research findings that quotas do not over-promote women, so much as they weed out incompetent candidates.

Men’s changing role as fathers and care-givers also featured in the panel discussion, with Caroline urging Steve to be a role model for younger men too afraid of stigma to use shared parental leave benefits offered by their companies.

AXIS Committee member Katy Hardacre brought the event to a close, reflecting on the themes of the morning: why gender balance is a leadership issue, what good gender balance looks like in our industry and how we as people and organisations can take action to drive change in years not decades.

November 2019 event write-up

Katy Hardacre, AXIS Committee member



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