Episode 49: The pace of progress

October 5, 2014

"I often walked away from the school playground thinking, why am I doing this? I am disheveled, I am tired, I am exhausted, and it is just relentless. But then I'd get to work and think, 'This is what I am doing.'" - Carola Hoyos

"When you look at the whole career path it’s such that women just can’t be bothered. They think the workplace they’re in, at universities especially, is just so lousy that they leave.” - Curt Rice

23 minutes.

Carola Hoyos

So much attention is focused on women in the workplace these days that you might think progress is everywhere. Yes, more women are joining company boards, and some prominent women have top jobs. But other numbers haven't shifted much. In this show Financial Times journalist Carola Hoyos laments the slow pace of change in Britain in particular. But she says one upcoming move could turn things around.

One country that seems to be getting a lot right on work and life is Norway. Curt Rice has lived there for 25 years. He's steeped himself in research on why women lag behind. Still, he's optimistic about gender balance in his world of academia and at companies - partly because of an experiment his university carried out.
Curt Rice

This is first of three podcasts I'm producing with the Financial Times. Check out the FT’s women in business topic page - it's a dedicated hub for coverage of women in the workplace around the world. I'm a regular reader.

As I mentioned in the podcast, join the FT’s Communities Forum to receive a curated newsletter featuring coverage of women in the workplace, delivered straight to your inbox every month.

If you tweet about this show - and naturally I hope you will - do use the hashtag #FTwomen.

Further reading:  Here's Carola's piece on her day as a fighter jet pilot, which she mentioned during the show. 

She also mentioned The 30% Club during our conversation - you can read more about them here.

You can find out more about Britain's upcoming parental leave policy in this Guardian piece.

Here's more information on the promotion project at the University of TromsØ. You can download Curt Rice's e-book 6 Steps to Gender Equality here



Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time on the show: how much progress have women really made?

“We’ve got a few token big-wig woman at the top of companies, we’ve got more women on boards, but actually what’s happening below is really of great concern.”

And what can a sluggish corporate culture do about it?

“If you believe that having diversity at the top is actually a smart thing to pursue then you have to look at the whole career path, and the career path is such that women just can’t be bothered, they think the workplace that they’re in is just so lousy that they leave.”

Coming up – boxing-ticking versus real change, and how paternity leave can lead to a better experience for women at work.


I'm producing this episode of The Broad Experience in partnership with the Financial Times - I'm delighted about this because I've been a keen FT reader for years – and longtime listeners will know I’ve already interviewed a couple of their journalists for the show.

My first guest this week is the FT's Carola Hoyos – she’s the paper’s recruitment editor. She works on a lot of coverage of leadership and HR issues. She recently edited a special report on the status of women in the workplace.

Carola is Austrian but she grew up partly in the UK and then went to college in the US and spent years working there. She’s covered a lot of different beats for the FT during the past 15 years in both New York and London. She’s now based in London with her husband and three children.

Before we spoke, we’d emailed about what to talk about – and Carola said, basically, let’s talk about the fact that women are stuck.

AM-T: “You say this is a dangerous moment when it comes to women’s progress in the workplace where momentum is flagging. But it’s also quite an exciting moment isn’t it, because ever since SS wrote the book there’s been so much focus on women’s status at work.”

“I think that there has been. But I think the reason I think that momentum in the workplace is flagging here is that, one out of personal experience in that we had a much harder time for example selling this report than we have previous reports.”

She means selling the FT’s latest report on women in the workplace to advertisers – getting them to place their ads within the report.

“…and some of comments were, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so last year’s topic,’ and that was really shocking. But the other thing was earlier this year, something that the 30% Club and others have been campaigning for very strongly actually came to fruition. The last FTSE-100 all-male board became a mixed board. Now it wasn’t very mixed, it was Glencore and they just added one woman. And many of the boards will just still have a deep minority of women on them. But there was this kind of feeling of ‘Oh, job done’. But what’s really interesting is that it’s really not about the boards. You can put a token woman on the board and change absolutely nothing. But when you look at the data below that and the executive ranks, we’re still pretty much stuck in the mud. So my concern is that we have these wonderful success stories, we have these individual success stories of women who are heads of state, but again below that in the parliamentary ranks, the data really hasn’t moved. We’ve got a few token big wig women at the top of companies, we’ve got more women on boards, but actually what’s happening below is really of great concern.”

She says too many companies are just ticking boxes when it comes to women at work – they don’t want to look at the deeper issues underlying why so few women progress beyond the middle ranks.

She says as far as she can see, at least in Britain, the one thing that may prove her pessimism wrong is the fact that from next April, new parents will be able to share a 12-month period of parental leave.  Right now, dads in the UK may get one or two weeks’ paternity leave. From next year they’ll have the option to take far more. Carola says this new leave situation could have a big impact on companies’ biases during the hiring process…

“It’s no longer going to be mmm, do we hire this woman, she is child-bearing age...that goes kind of out the window, as long as men embrace this. And that is a really big if. Suddenly the hiring practices aren’t going to be -- and I know it’s illegal to take these things into consideration but they are taken into consideration whether during promotion or during hiring -- it’s at some point going to be less of a consideration because as long as men do take this up, and it’s going to take a while, people are going to go, hmm, well he’s just as likely to go off on a parental leave as she is and then it’s going to be well he’s just as likely to go off to the soccer match for the kids as she is. And you begin to able to redress that balance. And I actually think, having married a feminist husband who is very successful in business and very dedicated to his job but equally as dedicated and in love with the idea of being the head of a household and the father of children. I think it’s very liberating for the guys too, and I think that’s a generational thing as well. I know very few women who are among my friends and especially below thirty who marry a guy who a expect a traditional marriage from them.”

She’s 40, and she and her husband don’t have a traditional set-up. She’s always worked full-time at the paper since she had kids except for one short period where she got Fridays off. And every time she said to her husband I can’t do this – the intense full-time reporter job and the intense, full-time job at home – he bolstered her confidence – and he pulled his own weight. But she says she can understand why so many women with the financial means DO quit the workforce or go part-time when their children are young…

“You know I held on through it and it was brutal. My oldest is 10 and my youngest is three-and-a-half and I often walked away from the school playground thinking why am I doing this? I am disheveled, I am tired, I am exhausted, and it is just relentless. And I watched all the other mothers fall by the wayside, all incredibly accomplished women in their own right. And I’d run past them on the way to work, maybe grab a coffee to go from the same cafe that they were sitting in sipping their coffees, and thinking what I am I doing, but then getting to work and thinking this is what I’m doing. I absolutely 100% adore my job. And the two best things I ever did was be absolutely ruthless about the career I went into and do just what I wanted to do and be ruthless about who I married. And I know that’s not very feminist but that’s the best thing, you know, if I were to advise a girl on what to do those are the two decisions she has to make. And so I always left home, and if was a great privilege to be able to do that, to something I loved.”

She says working throughout the most rigorous years of childcare was worth it. She’s now been promoted to a job she says really fits her life.

“And I wouldn’t have gotten the job, not in a million years, had I gone to three days a week or taken a really extended time off. I did take my full year maternity leave each time, so that’s three years off. For American listeners, they’re going to be like, hang on a second. But other than that, I always came back full tilt and I spread my pregnancies out. I had a baby every three years, so I came back each time for kind of a full two years.”

But even having had that year off after each baby, she still thinks about her own upbringing, which was quite different.

“I had the most wonderful stay at home mom, incredibly bright. And there are many, many things I don’t give my children because I didn’t stay at home. But there are many other things that I do give them by being at work. You know I flew a fighter jet not long ago while I was a defense correspondent. And I did it for a lot of reasons but in the back of my head I hoped that I would gain some street cred with my kids. Of course I didn’t at all. But maybe when they’re teenagers I’ll be able to flash the pictures in front of them and go I know you think I’m the stupidest person in the world, but you know...actually once in while [laughs]. But joking aside, what I’m showing them is that if they work hard and if they’re absolutely relentless and ruthless about making choices and sticking with it, just go and do the job you love. You do not want to leave your family for a job you don’t love and realize how incredibly lucky you are for being allowed to do that. Because there are millions and millions of women who work shift jobs because that’s all they can do and they scrape by and it’s very, very difficult.”

She knows she’s incredibly fortunate.

We’re going to hear more from Carola a bit later in the show.

One of the things that jumped out at me when I read the FT’s women in the workplace report she edited was an article that brought up Norway and some of its policies on women and work. Now when it comes to the kind of parental leave Carola was just talking about, Norway got there a long time ago. As my next guest can attest.

“My name is Curt Rice and I work as a professor at the University or Tromso in the north of Norway – it’s the most northernmost university in the world – and I am head of Norway’s Committee on Gender Balance in Research.”

Curt is a Minnesotan who ended up in the far north 25 years ago and never left. And just before I spoke to him I’d heard the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, speak, here in New York. She talked about the high number of Norwegian women in the workforce and the fact that the country’s generous parental leave was a big contributor to this. Now Norwegian parents get 58 weeks of leave that they can share – and fathers have to take ten weeks of that.

And listen to how they view parental leave over there. Curt and his wife have a son who’s now 20. When he was born Curt knew he wanted to take a good chunk of leave…

“I was relatively new in Norway at that time and my son came along and we got this incredible package and we were going to decide who would take how much, and I wanted to take quite a bit, and ended up taking 5 or 6 months of the leave. But I was new in my job and I wasn’t sure how that would play itself out. So I went and talked to the chair of my department and said I’ve just started, I want to do this, but do you think this would be a minus for me career wise. And he hardly batted an eye at that and he said I don’t really think of this as being a right for the parents, I think of it as being a right for the child. It’s the child’s right to have his daily life with his parents during the first year of life. I thought that was really – almost a touching way to put it, so I went ahead and took the several months of leave and indeed it didn’t have a negative impact on my career.”

Like the Norwegian Prime Minister, he believes gender balance at home is related to gender balance at work – and that this shared parental leave contributes strongly to that.

But here’s the thing about Norway: yes, they have all this leave and lots of female participation in the workforce. But there’s still a pay gap between the sexes. And jobs in Norway still fall along very traditional lines – women still teach, nurse, and clean in huge numbers. There are fewer female doctors and lawyers in Norway than in the US or Britain, and fewer female CEOs. A quota system that came in in 2006 means Norwegian companies have to have at least least 40% of each sex on their boards. But the number of women on boards has not done anything to influence the number of women in other positions of power.

So it seems Norway may be in exactly the same boat as other countries when it comes to some of the social influences and structural blocks that slow women down.

In fact Curt has come across this at his own university. Yeas ago he couldn’t help noticing young faculty members had different experiences at work based on their sex. He became fascinated by some of the barriers he says his university had built into its system.

Such as?

“Well in academia for example one of the most central aspects of career advancement is about self-promotion. We have to submit articles for journals, apply for grants for research councils…to take initiative ourselves to apply for promotions. Men and women approach the task of self-promotion differently, men tend to overestimate their skills and women to underestimate them. So when you build career paths that depend on self-promotion, you’re likely to be building a system that treats men and women differently, given these cultural differences.”

10 years ago his university was a glaring example of the gap between men’s and women’s career success. Just 9 percent of the full professors there were female. That number began to edge up, slowly. Then the university’s board stepped in, and Curt was put in charge of changing those numbers. The board wanted 30% of professors to be female within four years. He got to work.

“I initiated a project I call the promotion project. And the promotion project focused on women at the next to highest level. We call that the associate professor level. And I was looking for women within a few years of being able to apply for promotion and find out what they might need to help them take that last step. What the women said to me was, it seems the guys are willing to apply before they’re 100% sure they’re there, and we tend to be slower. And I looked at the numbers and saw the average age of women when they applied was much higher than for men. So we talked some about what kinds of things would give them that nudge and then developed a project based on that. And one of the central aspects of the project was that we simulated the promotion process.”


So here’s what happened: he and his colleagues identified 50 women across campus who were within a few years of being close to a point where they could expect to move into a top job. Then they trained them in the things they needed to do – assembling a portfolio of their work and various other things…and they asked outside assessors to assess all this stuff and then tell the women what they needed to do to be ready for full professorship.

“There were many interesting things that happened there. About 10% of the women received feedback in the simulation saying you’re there, you have this level of proficiency you should go for the real application, and they all did and all got it. And they all said to me, ‘I had no idea. I didn’t realize I was ready to apply.’”

Again, not one of those women had suspected she was already good enough.

Three years later 80% of the participants in that project have been promoted to full professor.

“The result of that for my university is that now over 30% of our professors are women and we went in a 10 year period from being the worst university in Norway to the best university in Norway.  So that’s a pretty exciting thing for us and it’s created – a lot of people are very aware we’ve made this investment. It’s given us a lot of attention internationally as well. And I think what it shows is that engagement from the leadership of an institution not only is crucial but it can actually work, it can make a difference, and truth be told it’s not that hard, you just have to make a commitment to doing it.”

And Curt says this wasn’t about tokenism – these women were just as competent as their male counterparts. But in many cases, they were unwittingly holding themselves back.

I asked about the men – wasn’t there simmering resentment from male faculty? Weren’t they complaining about ‘special treatment’ for the ladies?

Turns out – not so much.

“So young male faculty would go to their department chairs and they’d say hey, those women are getting the opportunity to have a simulation of the promotion experience and to get this feedback and to make a career plan…I want that too. And their chairs would say great, let’s make that happen. So something that started out as an offering to a specific group of women started growing and the department chairs would open that up to other people. So I think that gender equality work, it really is the work of making workplaces better for everyone, and I think there were concrete examples illustrating that point that came up in this project. Instead of being jealous or angry the men said hey, I want to be part of that too, and then we tried to create the possibility for that to happen.”

Now, there weren’t that many men asking for assistance, but the ones who asked got it.

Curt says some people always say, oh, look, women just have to catch up…just give them time…not special help. After all they’re the majority of university students these days – they’ll be bosses in no time.

“But in United States for example that hasn’t happened, it’s been a very long time since women have been in the majority of medical school students, but what about deans of medical schools, what about leadership positions in hospitals – that is still a male dominated domain, women aren’t getting there. In academia in general women aren’t getting to the top at the same rates as men…even though for a generation or more they’ve been in the majority at the level of undergraduates, and why is that? It’s because they leave. So the idea that everybody is going to progress at the same rate is simply not true. If you think diversity actually makes organizations better, which research strongly suggests that it does, if you believe that having diversity at the top is actually a smart thing to pursue then you have to look at the whole career path and if you look at the whole career path it’s such that women just can’t be bothered, they think the workplace they’re in, at universities especially, is just so lousy that they leave.”

Talking of men’s attitudes, I spoke to Curt during a busy week for women’s equality…

AM-T: “As you’re probably aware, this week the Harry Potter film actor Emma Watson was at the UN and announced this He for She campaign, which is all about men supporting women’s equal rights. But why do you think even in the privileged world of the white-collar workplace that this talk of women’s status and women’s success is so often happening just among women?”

“Right…that is a great question. I think that we are progressing from a period in which our focus for equal rights was based on a sense of social justice. We are changing form a stage where we talk about gender equality as being important because it’s the right thing to do to a stage in which we talk about it as being important because it’s the smart thing to do. And as we do that more and more men become interested in this issue. I think these arguments are so new and the social justice arguments so well entrenched that so many men haven’t yet figured out the value that working with gender quality has to offer their organizations.”

Curt says it’s a matter of time, and he's optimistic.

Carola Hoyos would also like to see more women making big decisions at companies, in part she says because male group-think helped cause the financial crisis…

“One of the main reasons I want more women in leadership, or I why I would welcome that, is not because it would be fair to me or my daughters or that it is the right thing to do, it’s because I think that if you have a diversity of thought at the top in terms of those people making the rules, in terms of those people making the deals, you will have a better chance of not repeating the kind of mistakes we’ve all just lived through. And that diversity of thought does not have to come through woman, or through somebody who is from a certain ethnic minority or even though somebody who is from the LGBT community. That diversity of thought can come through nationality, and one of the things that really isn’t talked about but I think is really important is that a lot of diversity of thought comes from diversity of experience and diversity of socioeconomic background.”

She says companies just aren’t yet thinking deeply enough about these issues.

When it comes to women’s success at work, though, Carola also believes a lot of this stuff has to start at home.

“When I meet one of my three-and-a-half-year-old girl’s girlfriends, I will not comment on her shoes. Just watch yourself and find out how many times you comment on what a girl is wearing when you first see her. “Oh those are pretty shoes!” And I noticed that even in myself, and every time I’m about to say that, it’s the only filter I have in fact, I filter it and I say ‘Oh, what book are you reading at the moment? Oh really, Harry McClary, he’s my favorite as well.’ And I know again that sounds oh so...we should be talking about CEOs and we should be talking about government rules about these things, but I actually think it is that kind of attitude, and my 7-year-old son hearing me say that, and my 7-year-old son asking what I’m doing and I’m saying, ‘I’m sending an email to my colleague’. It is those kinds of things, it is us not calling girls bossy even when they’re being bossy. It is just putting on a filter once in a while. And raising feminist boys, really, really, it’s as much about raising feminist boys as it is raising strong girls. We’re all about the mighty girl, but I’m all about the feminist boy.”

Carola Hoyos.

You can receive a regular round-up the articles Carola works on by joining the FT’s Communities Forum – when you do that you’ll get a curated newsletter with coverage of women in the workplace, delivered straight to your inbox every month. You can go to to the link under this episode at The Broad Experience.com to sign up.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. I’ll be posting notes and links related to today’s show at TheBroadExperience.com. If you have feedback please get in touch – I welcome your comments on the site or on the show’s Facebook page.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.