Putting Winchester at the forefront of gender equality

Is Winchester a diverse city? Participants in the final session of the day felt it wasn’t. To the casual observer, Winchester looks white and middle class; and official statistics back this up. Does it matter? Two participants who advise businesses on recruitment argued that it did. “There are untapped resources available” to businesses that find staff hard to find, one argued.

So, how to get things to change? Andy Eymond, who advises small businesses, and runs a shared workspace in Winchester, said there needed to be real, bottom up approach. “There’s lots of evidence that just the words you use can be exclusive. Even before you get to recruitment, you have to have all the cultural aspects right. To do that, you need more diverse people in the organisation. You need to shift thought.”

Think now, act later

Of course, this takes time – another participant pointed out that his small children are being influenced by the roles they see men and women occupying, now. So shifting the dial on diversity will take a combination of short term initiatives and long-term measures. Immediate, practical ideas included: getting businesses to visit schools, working with universities, thinking carefully about where to place ads (one participant suggested that GP surgeries would be a good place to reach women).

Also, going back to the theme of an earlier session, encouraging local businesses to look for support from other, local businesses. The session facilitator, Sarah Duggan, from Connexions Consulting, said there could be a prejudice locally against “the solopreneur” – yet freelance and small businesses are more likely to be headed by women than, say, the big four accountancy bodies or an international firm.

Long-term ideas included: encouraging businesses to value ‘female’ ways of doing business and making decisions; making sure that men saw caring roles as open to them; and taking pride in Winchester as a diverse city. “Potentially, it is a competitive advantage,” Andy summed up.

“We pride ourselves on being liberal, well-educated. We have a lot of advantages over other places. If we could tap into this it could become a real competitive advantage.”