Category Archives: ESG

International Women’s Day—Breaking the Bias

International Women’s Day—Breaking the Bias

On 8th March, people around the globe come together to celebrate the important contributions women make to society and that everyone has an equal role to play in creating a ‘gender-balanced’ world.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias—meaning creating a world free of discrimination, stereotypes and biases. A gender equal world.

At GK Strategy, we are proud to support our colleagues with strengthened parental leave, menopause, and equal opportunities policies. We are also proud of our work to empower more women to enter and progress in the sector. Moreover, we are very proud to have a female leader.

Louise Allen is the CEO of GK Strategy and has answered some questions about how she and GK work to create a more gender-balanced world and break the bias.

Interview of Louise Allen by Rebecca Deegan, Founder and CEO of I Have a Voice and Nicole Wyatt, Associate at GK Strategy:

NW: Generally, do you think women face any bias in the public affairs and strategic communications sector or politics?

LA: Absolutely. Senior women are leaving the sector in droves because agency life is not working for them. It’s a massive waste of talent.

At GK we have a board that focuses on empowering women in senior positions. When I took on the role of CEO, it came with unquestionable support from the board.

We work across finance and politics, and I often find that I am the only woman in the room. Inherently that creates bias. Women often need to earn the respect of the room rather than granted it by virtue of their presence and position. We really need to change this.

This is epitomised for me by how regularly people assume I am someone’s personal assistant. I love PAs—they are amazing, But, even if its unintentional, it is a bias that a man would not experience.

I’ve also noticed that there are often very few quotes in the media attributed to senior women in the industry.  We need to be better at challenging journalists that don’t quote women experts and seek out their male colleagues for comment.

RD: Have you noticed any changes throughout your career – both from the perspective of the industry potentially changing and as you’ve become increasingly senior?

LA: Things are improving. I am forever an optimist—you have to be. I see a lot of great women in senior roles, running organisations, making things better for women. This has vastly improved over the past 10 years, and you are seeing more and more talented women coming through the system.

You are starting to see more women who are in positions to put ladders down for other women to climb. But there needs to be more done at senior levels, including more diversity amongst strategic advisers and senior leadership teams.

Breaking the bias for women needs to include intersectionality. I am proud that I was the first in my family to go to university. I recognise that I have white privilege.  We don’t see enough women of colour or people from low-income backgrounds in our sector. We must prioritise all forms of diversity.

Increasingly, the commitment and willingness are there. I think people have wanted things to be better for some time. We have great organisations, such as I Have a Voice, that can really help to drive change. There are no excuses now.

NW: That’s great, but what do you think can be done to break gender bias in the sector?

LA: I think there are a few things.

One is supporting parents who come back to work after taking parental leave. When I came back from maternity leave GK was extremely supportive and promoted me twice after coming back. But it is an adjustment. Politics is so fast-moving you feel out of it after being away for a while. You feel like you lose your expertise, but you don’t—it’s a confidence thing.

GK was founded by two young dads and so I intentionally said parental leave, not maternity leave. Supporting dads in the workplace is so important. It stops it from being a conversation about mothers and childcare. It becomes a conversation about parents—whatever your family make up—and childcare needs. My husband takes equal responsibility for our childcare and so it is equally important that dads have equal flexibility. That’s why I extended parental leave, at full pay at GK.

We’ve adopted a whole range of policies to support women. We see our policies as living documents that will need to constantly evolve. Whenever we see something that needs to change, we change it. We have a staff council that is part of the policy developing process to make sure our policies reflect their needs. We see the benefits of crystallising things that are in our culture on paper as this creates clarity and assurances about what support you can expect.

The second is that more openness is definitely required. Talking more about endometriosis in the office. Talking more about baby loss, abortion, menopause, and the support people need from their employer during these times helps to create a supportive environment. I never want to be in an organisation that doesn’t talk about things.

Reporting is also key. We  have reported on gender pay gap before ( which is negative) and we will do again.

NW: How do you feel about salary bands? Women in Public Affairs (WiPA) did a survey and found that 87% of women are put off from applying for a job if the salary bands are not openly advertised.

LA: I think salary bands are important as they give us the parameters to judge equity and if we think that not publishing them is a barrier to women applying for roles then we need to change that, today. We do a mixture of putting competitive and salary banding at the moment as we think there may be times when salary bands can put women off, so I want to understand this better and understand what is needed. I am not wedded to a set way of doing things, I am committed to making changes when needed, so I will ask our staff council their views.

This also raises gender differences in job descriptions more broadly, and the likelihood of women applying for senior roles where they can already prove they can do 90% of the job description, feel unsure on the 10%. Whereas my experience is that men are less likely to be put off by a proportion of a job description being new to them or a significant step-up.

Anything we can do to make recruitment more equal is absolutely right and necessary.

RD: What are your aspirations for breaking the bias in the industry and how will you use your platform as a CEO in the sector?

Being loud!

We’re in the process of setting up a network for senior women in the sector. The hope is that if something like including salary bands in job descriptions was agreed as a necessary thing to do, that we have the right women in the room to make those changes, quickly, across the sector.

I also want to encourage more open conversations about what it is like to be a working parent in the sector, particularly just after returning from parental leave, as this is a crucial point at which we’re losing talent.

Finally, given GK’s work with the investment world, I want to do more to bring together women in these two interwoven, male-dominated industries and we’re in the process of putting some budget towards this.

These are on top of the things we’re already doing through our support for I Have a Voice and a domestic abuse charity, Surviving Economic Abuse. Equality is already embedded in our culture and crystallised in our policies, but I hope to be louder on these issues as CEO to encourage and support equality across the industry.

GK and I Have a Voice

GK Strategy closely partners with I Have a Voice, an organisation that supports young people from under-represented backgrounds to engage with politics on the issues that matter to them and their communities. We have a shared goal of creating opportunities for young people who may not think they have a valid voice in the political realm to get involved personally and professionally. GK has committed to hiring 100% of our interns from I Have a Voice’s amazing participants.

In the past, we have had amazing interns work for GK from I Have a Voice, such as:

Annabelle

“At university, I usually feel outnumbered by men in my Politics and International Relations lectures but being given the opportunity to work with GK Strategy gave me the space to develop my skills and use my own voice. I now feel prepared to go into the public affairs sector, because interpersonal skills and practical experience are invaluable when it comes to the world of work, especially in politics.”

Abi

It isn’t enough to just call out gender bias, individuals and workplaces need to actively fight discrimination and tackle misogynistic behaviours and attitudes, no matter how small. I love how GK Strategy and I Have a Voice are doing this and have provided me with opportunities I never thought possible. I once thought I had no place in politics, but IHAV and GK are proving that everyone has a place in politics and public affairs, regardless of their background, gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality!”

Charlotte

“Work experience with GK strategy allowed me to learn about a career in public affairs with inspiring women in leadership roles. I am able to see that the profession is working hard to break down barriers especially for young women. To further #BreakTheBias GK arranged a fantastic virtual work experience, which as a young person based in the north-west, gave to me an opportunity usually only open to people who are able to travel to London.”

Fatima

“Seeing a lack of representation in politics has always been extremely discouraging, especially from being from a black working-class background as I always found it hard to access opportunities that different people were exposed to at a younger age. Working with GK Strategy and I Have a Voice has meant I have learnt about a range of careers in politics that I never knew existed! Learning about the field of public affairs at a paid internship at GK and campaigning at IHAV has really equipped me for future jobs!”

 

 

 

Government’s push to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Government’s push to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050

Comment Piece by Nicole Wyatt, GK Consultant

Ahead of the much-anticipated United Nations Conference on Climate Change, or COP26, commencing on 31st October in Glasgow, the Government has published a series of highly ambitious strategies to shape the green agenda for the next few decades, striving to ‘build back greener’.

On 19th October, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published the Net-Zero Strategy and the Heat and Buildings Strategy. To completement this, the Treasury published the Net Zero Review to analyse how much the green agenda costs, as well as the Green Finance Roadmap, which lays out the groundwork for green investments.

Overview of Net-Zero Strategy

The Net-Zero Strategy is this one of the Government’s hyped projects. It ambitiously sets out the UK’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach net-zero by 2050. This green strategy also completements the Government’s ‘levelling up’ plans as it promises to “support up to 440,000 jobs across sectors and across all parts of the UK in 2030″.

Some noteworthy points that can be observed in the strategy include the Government’s plan to fully decarbonise the UK’s power system by 2035. Moreover, the Government would like to see that no new gas boilers be sold after 2035 and all heating appliances in homes and offices be low carbon—but this is not going to be a legally binding commitment. Other measures include the £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme (more detail in the Heat and Building Strategy), £625 million for tree planting, decision about a nuclear plant by 2024, ending sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 with £620 million for zero emission vehicle grants, and a focus to deliver 5GW of hydrogen production capacity by 2030 while halving oil and gas emissions.

Opinions of the strategy have been mixed with some worried about how much this will all cost the individual taxpayer or homeowner, and others concerned that these measures still won’t get the UK to their 2050 goal.

Overview of Heat and Buildings Strategy

With 21% of the UK’s total carbon emissions coming from heating and cooling buildings, the Government felt one of the main ways to achieve net-zero by 2050 was to address the housing sector. Their main target within the sector was gas boilers. Natural gas provides heating to approximately 85% of homes in the UK. Within the Heat and Building Strategy, the energy saving measure which has been allocated the highest level of importance is heat pump installation. From next April, homeowners in England and Wales will be offered subsidies of £5,000 to help them to replace old gas boilers with low carbon heat pumps through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. These grants, totalling £450 million over three years, form part of the Government’s £3.9 billion plan to reduce carbon emissions from heating homes and buildings, by ensuring that no new gas boilers are sold after 2035. The emphasis on heat pump installation stems from real concern in Government that gas boilers possess a disproportionately high carbon footprint, with one report suggesting that gas boilers contribute twice as many carbon emissions as all the country’s gas-fired power stations combined.

However, the Government’s plans have already attracted criticism, due to the fact that the £450 million funding package for heat pump installation will only cover 90,000 new heat pumps over the next three years. This falls well short of the Government’s aim of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.

Interestingly, there was very little focus on other energy efficiency technologies in the strategy. Despite the fact that the Government stated that they wanted a ‘fabric-first’ process to reduce costs for homeowners and address the core energy efficiency problems within the structure of buildings, this had little attention in the strategy. There was some mention of improved insulation to walls and lofts and even less mention of other technologies, such as triple glazing to windows and doors. Many industry leaders may be left wondering why.

Treasury Contributions

The main takeaway from the Treasury’s analysis of the costs of the net-zero strategy is that “the costs of global inaction significantly outweigh the costs of action”. While due to the geography of the UK, much of the impacts of climate change may not be felt as directly in the UK, the indirect costs will be significant, especially in relation to global supply chains. The report sets out some of the economic benefits of green such as the fact that “improved air quality could deliver £35 billion worth of economic benefits in the form of reduced damage costs to society, reflecting for example lower respiratory hospital admissions”.

The bulk of the report lays out the expenses to individual households as the Government encourages people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Ultimately, the homeowner, but also businesses, taxpayers, motorists, will have to invest money to reduce carbon emissions from heating and cooling homes, but the report suggests there should be more policy to incentivise people to do so. The Heat and Buildings Strategy establishes grants for heat pump installations. The report also suggests more can be done to encourage people to get Electronic Vehicles (EV). The report finds that it’s impossible to forecast these costs over the next thirty years and emphasises that they will be disproportionately felt across different economic backgrounds.

Next, the Green Finance Roadmap lays out the Chancellor’s framework for how the UK’s financial sector can be greener. The financial sector plays a vital role in assisting the country to meet its decarbonisation goals by attracting Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) investments and utilising green bonds. Moreover, the aim of this report is to help align the financial sector with the green agenda.

How GK can help? 

GK Strategy is a political and strategic consultancy that specialises in environment policy and the built environment. If you want to hear more about how GK can help your business or investment, please get in touch with nicole@gkstrategy.com