One of our teams is thinking of holding a “Spa and Shopping Day” for a number of its key female clients and contacts.  The three female managers are organising it and have invited the five other female members of the team but none of the men. One of the male managers has complained because he believes a female colleague is going to try to muscle in on a contact he has been nurturing.  I think this is a backlash against all the rugby, golf and cricket days that the male managers hold to which female team members are rarely, if ever, invited.  On the one hand, I think it is a bit ripe him complaining about this given all the events he has attended and that its about time things were balanced out but, on the other, I am worried that there might be some backlash.

Yours
E. Qual- Rights

 

Dear Ms Qual –Rights

Your female managers are following a trend by targeting female clients and contacts.  A  recent article in the FT highlighted the rise in female focussed marketing.  Many employers see it as a positive part of trying to achieve diversity and the promotion of women.  However, if a certain group of employees is given more opportunities to hob-nob with key clients and senior managers they will be perceived as receiving more favourable treatment  i.e. a better opportunity to impress those likely to promote them and more chance to develop and secure client relationships.  It may also lead to resentment by those left doing all the hard work back in the office.  This can create the conditions for allegations of discriminatory treatment.  However unjust it may seem, all those complaints that female staff have had over the years about the sporting events might be levelled at them if they exclude male colleagues.    So how can you avoid the problems?:

  • If there is a culture of selecting those who participate in events by sex – stop it now.  Whilst claims are rarely based on this alone, it’s a gift to someone claiming discrimination to be able to paint a picture of a culture which favours a certain group.
  • If this situation has perpetuated, think about awareness training for the team in question (and other teams). Those organising the events may not be aware of the atmosphere created in the team or the risks to the business, particularly if no-one has ever really pointed this out.
  • Encourage the women to take the moral high ground and set a good example.  This may influence their male colleagues when planning their next event.  
  • OK so the female mangers may not relish sharing a sauna with their male counterparts but  avoid stereotyping when you ask employees to participate in these events. 
    • If existing clients are invited, selection should be on the basis of closeness of connection.
    • If it’s new contacts, don’t assume that women just like to be marketed to by other women or men by men.
    • Don’t assume that certain groups of employees would not be interested in attending a particular event or would not have anything pertinent to say – its not just women or gay men who like spas and shopping and women like (and contrary to the belief of some can talk intelligently about) sport too!
  • Delegate someone to keep a watching brief over marketing events to ensure fairness and consistency.  Consider giving that person equal opportunities training. Its an easy point for a claimant to score in a tribunal If the person with a watching brief for equal opportunities hasn’t been trained in the field.

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