Gi Group UK CEO Paulo Canoa discusses the significance of this year’s International Women’s Day theme – Choose to Challenge – and the need for equality to be a 24/7/365 pursuit.


Today marks International Women’s Day. A key date set aside to celebrate women’s achievements, but possibly, and more importantly, a call to action for many organisations and employees to look at how we drive greater equality in the workplace.

There are undoubtedly positive signs in the UK. Just last month we celebrated news that FTSE 100, 250 and 350 firms had reached the target of women making up 33% of boards by the end of 2020. They did so with this being a voluntarily goal, not mandated quotas as in other countries such as France.

The discussion on quotas versus merit is a complex and interesting one. One approach allows you to quickly reach your goals, while the other, albeit slower, potentially drives more engagement – as those promoted to senior positions, and those working for and alongside them, know with complete certainty that it is based solely on their abilities. While as a result the UK may be slower in reaching the ultimate objective, I understand the UK’s desire to achieve the inevitable balance through merit, not diktat.

Whichever method is used to shift the dial on gender equality in the workplace, achieving it is a change programme. It requires a change in mindset, a change in behaviours, and the removal of any unconscious bias from processes. Only then can you create a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees are able to bring their whole self to work and are empowered to realise their true potential.

It is important we celebrate that progress has undoubtedly been made but it is critical we do not rest on our laurels. We must not let circumstances – no matter how challenging- arrest the pace of change.

Unprecedented occurrences such as Brexit and the pandemic, obviously huge in terms of their impact, can lead a business to focus on short term financial and logistical challenges. Now more than ever, it would be easy to take the path of least resistance. To neglect, for now, doing those things that may be tough to drive through but are fundamentally the right thing to do. However, despite the brutal trading conditions, for the long-term benefit of your organisation, you must not take your eye off your culture and your people. For it is these aspects, where diversity and inclusion play such a fundamental role, that will ultimately determine your success. And in the specific case of the women in your business, the last 12 months of severe challenge must not be justification to reinstate the glass ceiling they have strived so hard and for so long to dismantle.

Gi Group strives to embed equality throughout our business. 40% of our leadership team are female and traditionally this has been even higher. Remuneration on a companywide basis is gender neutral and we actively support female career progression as we understand the link between diversity and business performance. But is this enough? Of course not. As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day suggests, we must choose to challenge continually, because from challenge comes meaningful change. Ultimately though, it is not about grand gestures on a single day. Instead, if we are to see continued progress, businesses need to carefully consider how they integrate this commitment into the fabric of their operations and are focussed on it 365 days a year.

I am proud of our employees who today have made pledges to make a difference, and to that end, this is my pledge – I pledge to make diversity and inclusion something that becomes intrinsic to our business and I #ChooseToChallenge all business leaders to do the same.