Fleet News

Industry: Unconscious prejudice

Colin Tourick looks at the leasing industry's unconscious prejudice.

Three things have happened in recent weeks which have motivated me to write this article.

When Vahid Daemi, global CEO of LeasePlan, gave a speech at January’s International Auto Finance Network conference he pointed out how few women there were in the audience, and indeed in senior management roles in the vehicle leasing and management industry in general, even though they represent perhaps 50% of the industry’s workforce.

That comment motivated us to invite senior female executives to speak at the 2nd International Auto Finance Network conference that was held in London last month. We found one but she withdrew shortly before the conference so we started looking for a replacement.

We scoured our databases and were surprised how few women in senior roles we could find. By the time we had phoned around and tried to find someone who was available, the conference was upon us and our quest had to end without success.

It was noteworthy that of the 155 people who registered for the conference, 149 were men.

Speaking as a member of the panel at the conference, Nigel Clibbens, Chief Operating Officer of Lombard, said that many of us have a tendency towards "unconscious bias" - an unconscious preference towards employing people who may look and sound like us.

He said we need to be aware of this and challenge ourselves when making people related decisions.

So this experience – the difficulty we experienced trying to find a female panellist – was the first motivator for this article.

The second was a BBC World Service article about a UN project in the Ivory Coast that is designed to reduce to the number of women who die in childbirth, which is amongst the highest in the world.

Apparently, in the Ivory Coast the number of children you have is a sign of your wealth, so men are motivated to have as many children as possible whether or not they can afford to feed them and with little regard to the gaps between each pregnancy. They interviewed one man whose wife has had 26 children.

The UN solution was to hold classes for the men, to make them understand the harm they were causing and to try to change attitudes. The results have been quite dramatic and in the long term this project may well help to reduce the level of deaths during childbirth to the international average.

The third motivator came from a statement by Gordon Taylor, chief executive of The Professional Footballers' Association.  He said that there is a hidden resistance to hiring black football managers in English football and called for the introduction of a 'Rooney Rule'.

Not being much of a football fan and certainly not an American football fan, I had to look this up. Apparently Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, got the NFL to change its rules so that clubs had to interview at least one black or ethnic minority candidate when looking to fill any senior vacancy.

This change has been credited with a driving a sharp increase in the number of black and ethnic minority coaches, though it seems there is now a problem finding suitably qualified candidates because they are underrepresented lower down the chain of football management.

Women in our industry don’t want to be seen as a special interest group warranting special behaviour. And they’re right of course; they shouldn’t need to be treated differently. Just fairly.