AllBright’s Viviane Paxinos: ‘There is no silver bullet to solving gender inequality at work… it’s a leadership problem’

The CEO of the women’s working collective shares the actions it is taking to help businesses of all sizes break down gender-based career barriers

When AllBright launched in 2018, founders Debbie Wosskow and Anna Jones had one mission: to support and inspire women to achieve their goals, whatever they might be. On this mission, they support women across all ages and stages of their careers, starting with female founders and going on to build a collective ‘sisterhood’ of half a million women from director level, to middle management and senior leaders. Female entrepreneurs have been known to go to an AllBright pitch day and get funding on the spot thanks to the strong network the organisation has created. 

“We know that women are more powerful together,” explains CEO Viviane Paxinos, who joined the business just last year and is the power force behind its latest collective, the AllBright Alliance, which has already seen the likes of Eldridge, BNY Mellon Investment Management, HSBC, Simba Sleep, Northern Bloc, Visionable Healthcare and Chelsea FC Women pledge their commitment to driving positive change for all women in the workplace.

Explain the AllBright Alliance; how does that fit into your mission?

Viviane Paxinos: The alliance was born out of [the consideration for] business needs. I spent my first six months as CEO meeting with women to understand what works; I’d talk to prospective members who were being shown around AllBright, all to get an understanding of what’s happening in workplaces. Those conversations, combined with the data from our Future of Work report, highlighted that work isn’t really working for women at the moment. My favourite part of my job is when women come up to me and say they got a promotion or they achieved a goal. But I recognised that we can’t do it alone, so we’ve created a collective of thought leaders and companies that are applying the data-led framework to their workplace to help drive change. 

AllBright’s goal is clear. Where does it stem from?

It comes from wanting to see a world that’s more balanced. When the founders met, they were the only two female senior leaders in the room and they asked why there weren’t more. They started to look at the data and said ‘we need to change; we need to do something about it’. For me, it comes down to a passion for merging people and profit. In previous roles I helped women negotiate for roles and salaries that they weren’t going for before. I’ve always championed the women around me and so AllBright was a perfect fit.

Do you get frustrated that there’s still a fight to be had?

Yes. Sometimes I stand up and I talk about [our mission] and I get the response of, from men and women: ‘We’re not doing the gender thing anymore.’ But women aren’t a movement, we’re not a moment in time, we’re 50.5 per cent of the global population, and really it’s about educating companies that men and women need different support in the workplace – I’m not saying men don’t have needs, I’m saying we need to prioritise women because they’re not at the same level that men are. I’m concerned about the future because the leadership pipeline is drying up; we’re seeing women leave the workforce at a really fast pace – the likes of Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon being high-profile cases. Women aren’t sticking around because something isn’t working, and if we make work work for women, we make it work for everyone. 

The challenges around gender equality cost the global economy $7trn per year. It’s huge. If you look at the Covid vaccine, that took a year to roll out. Landing on the moon took 10 years. By 2040, we’ll have electric cars everywhere, and yet we’re still more than 100 years away from achieving gender equality at work. It’s too long – we need to prioritise it.

What advice would you give to HR teams wanting to make moves to increase gender equality within their organisations? Where should they begin?

There is no silver bullet. If you look at it practically, a few things to begin with are looking at recruitment – are you applying a 50/50 policy to recruitment? Are you looking at the gender representation within your company? And are you making sure to hire with that in mind? Make sure that when you are recruiting or promoting internally, roles are visible. Often you promote or recruit internally with someone in mind, and that’s not fair. Go through the fair interview process and give others a chance. Then, as we come up to the end of year review season, HR teams should be doing their benchmarking and, if women are affected, they should be doing what they can to increase pay to level the playing field. 

Flexibility is another big thing. I’m passionate about childcare and flexible working. It should be about output rather than sitting at your computer all day. Personally, with my children, I do one pick up and one drop off per week, and I put those in my calendar to model that behaviour.

We often see reports highlighting that HR teams struggle to get buy in from senior leaders – how can they deal with knockbacks?

It’s really about bringing it back to the business needs. The CEO cares about the bottom line, so when talking to them I really emphasise the return on investment – how this is going to benefit the business. So, we know [from McKinsey research] that when you’ve got a more gender-diverse leadership team, your profits increase by 15 per cent. We know that mentoring will improve retention by 50 per cent. We know that if people are promoted, they’re more engaged but, at the moment, our data shows that only 10 per cent of women are looking to stay in their role for five years or longer. So there’s a direct business benefit [to supporting women].

And the AllBright Alliance is reinforcing that?

Correct. The challenges women face in the workplace have to be supported from a leadership point of view. Often I speak to CEOs and they say ‘speak to my EDI team or speak to my HR team’, and they are important teams, but this is a leadership issue and if leaders don’t lean in to support, change doesn’t happen.

How do you get them to 'lean in'?

When a company joins the alliance we start by doing a scan of the business in regards to how women are feeling – we get a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not, and we look at that data. We then create a framework that is a series of steps for the company to take, starting with mentoring; we’ll set a goal for them to have a certain number of women on mentoring schemes. Data shows mentoring can increase retention by 50 per cent, so it makes a real difference. Then we focus on networking, the idea of women being stronger as a collective, and then upskilling – supporting women to have the confidence to take on new roles by offering workshops that will be tailored to the company based on that scan right at the beginning. Then, we ask the CEO or CPO to attend two of our roundtables a year.