Stop making excuses – close the gender gap today

Caroline Dilloway shares how breaking down gender norms and stereotypes will help benefit the workplace for the better

Caroline Dilloway

Managing Director STORMBRANDS


As a female leader with 25 years in the creative industry, I’ve witnessed and experienced the good, the bad and the downright ugly in opinion and behaviour towards ‘gendering’. Nowadays, with optimism at my heart, it’s clear purposeful strides are being made towards an equal future.

But globally, according to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of progress, it will take 131 years to close the gender pay gap. And scarily, right here in the creative industries, salaries are rising, but the gender pay gap is widening. In a sector known for its maverick, make-our-own-rules vibe, it’s out of sync (and embarrassing, surely?) to be dawdling – especially when we have the privilege of abundant talent, of all genders, keen to make their mark in the industry. It’s time for business leaders to stop the excuses and take effective action to close the gender gap. The future is not soon enough; changes must be realised today.

Breaking out of 20th-century gender norms

As more females move into leadership roles, they bring attributes that have a positive impact on previously male-dominated spaces, like the boardroom. A study by Harvard Business Review found that women improve decision making on boards. It revealed that females are not shy in acknowledging when they don’t know an answer and are more willing to ask in-depth questions to get discussion points on the table. So their presence improves the quality of discussion and creates a more open, collaborative and honest forum. 

Meanwhile, men are operating in the domestic sphere in an entirely different way to the 20th century, in terms of parenting and household tasks (although in some cases, still not differently enough!) As workplace patterns change, more men are moving into roles traditionally seen as female, including the caring professions. There is nothing inherently ‘female’ about skills such as managing medication, preparing food and helping with personal care, and many men excel in caring roles with empathy and commitment, so it’s vital these changing role personas are celebrated and encouraged.

Future working environments will reap the benefits derived by children who have experienced parents of all genders playing non-boxed roles in their upbringing, smashing the assumptions of gender roles given to those growing up in the late 20th century. This will organically change perceptions and affect their adult lives, with expectations of balanced gender representation, both at work and at home, becoming the norm. Ultimately, when we break free of constraining and outdated gender roles, it brings more flexibility for both men and women to have the work and home lives that they each want.

The broken rung

In the workplace, women who do make it to leadership roles are forging ahead, but not enough are making it. A 2023 McKinsey study showed that the biggest barrier to women’s path to senior leadership is not the ‘glass ceiling’, but rather the ‘broken rung’ – their first critical step up to leader. We can see this clearly in the creative industries, where over 60% of students are female, yet only 12% make it to director level.

Business leaders need to encourage and support ambition and continually nurture, grow and shape the next generation of talent throughout their journey. Whilst always striving for a healthy gender balance (50/50) at every level, from junior roles right up to C-suite and Board Directors.

Leaders must fairly delegate general administrative and caregiving duties - beyond specific job descriptions - across all genders, and careless expectation should never be tolerated that ‘she’ will tidy up, make the drinks and take the notes.

Businesses need to be proactively flexible towards BOTH men and women (particularly parents) in order to reach gender equality.

Caroline Dilloway, Managing Director, Stormbrands

Responsibility for creating change comes at all levels and is everyone’s responsibility. From the top, strong leadership instils a working environment where speaking up and challenging inequality is not just endured but embraced. And from the ground, inspiring future leaders can have a broad impact on the whole company culture, with more needing to step up to support all workers in achieving balance in their personal and professional lives.

Proactive flexibility

As outdated gender norms change, it’s clear that flexibility is key to unlocking potential in the workplace. The same McKinsey study busted the myth that it’s mostly women who want – and benefit from – flexible work. In reality, both men and women see flexibility as a ‘top three’ employee benefit and critical to their company’s success. The study also found that women are more ambitious than before the pandemic – and flexibility is fuelling that ambition.

Businesses need to be proactively flexible towards BOTH men and women (particularly parents) in order to reach gender equality. Because if you continue to delineate ‘mums’ as being the only ones needing flexibility then the patriarchal system is fuelled, creating further isolation amidst assumptions of differing priorities.

Men seeking parental flexibility normalises it, and makes it appealing to others to follow suit, instigating gender-neutral parental pride instead of the previously associated shame and shirking labels. So, better for everyone. 

Less lip service, more action

Business leaders need a crystal clear and actionable strategy that drives for a 50/50 balance of gender representation at board level and at senior management level, via promotion, training and recruitment (with investment for current employees as well as the next generation, to bring in a balance). It’s not viable to simply claim that people of the lesser represented gender aren’t available. A combative plan must be outlined to influence young people, whilst they still have time in education, to be inspired to pursue particular career paths.

And businesses need to, quite simply, pay people for their role. It’s no longer about ‘years on the clock’, instead it’s about approach, delivery, skillset, attitude, ideas and outcomes. If a mum has had time out on Maternity Leave, this should never dictate her being considered lower level than a colleague who has worked throughout her time away from work. It’s crucial to have absolute clarity in the delineation between roles and remits of similar levels, and a concrete professional reason, beyond time spent, if there is any difference in pay structure between the hims and the hers in that role.

Making equality real

Women already know their worth and the value they can add to a business when engaged on an equal footing, so gender equality goes way beyond recruiting ‘male allies’. It’s about fundamentally engaging men as the key players and change makers because in a historically patriarchal world, as this is where significant and immediate change needs to happen.

Actual – not just notional – gender equality makes for better business and a culture where fairness, inclusion and representation drive progression, thriving environments and commercial effectiveness. And instilling a proactively flexible and human working environment, aimed towards BOTH men and women, can be a powerful driver of change.

Guest Author

Caroline Dilloway

Managing Director STORMBRANDS


With over 25 years’ experience in branding, Caroline started her career in client service at a retail brands agency, working with clients including ASDA, Halfords, First choice, Focus DIY and Cannons Health Clubs on various in-store and external media comms campaigns. Continuing in client service roles, Caroline moved to global branding consultancy Elmwood (Leeds then London then Leeds) partnering with clients including Mars, First Group, Travelex and Carlsberg across global markets and multi-national brands. In 2018, Caroline took the role of Client Service Director with STORMBRANDS, advancing to Managing Director in 2021. Caroline is a people-centric leader, passionate that the sweet spot for success is galvanising a genuine balance of human approach and commercial (growth) mindset.