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Supporting Plan

7 Jul

Plan_talks_Sticker_logoLast week, Plan contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in working with them to provide blogging and social media support for their campaigns to support girls around the world. Apparently,  they want someone who writes about  “… life, money, girls with a healthy dose of humour …” and so it seems that I fit the bill! More importantly, I’m a long standing supporter of their work and have blogged and attended events about it before: when I raised over £300 to support their “Girls’ Night In” campaign in 2009;  at the launch of the Plan book, “Because I Am a Girl” in January 2010 and then a few months later at their International Women’s Day event at the House of Commons. It seems that I’ve just missed their event featuring Angelina Jolie and William Hague, but I’ve been invited along to learn more about their plans and how they’d like to use social media to raise awareness: so that’s where I’ll be on Tuesday afternoon. This workshop will be followed by a “Plan Talks” event featuring their long term supporter, author and broadcaster Kathy Lette,  who I remember as being fabulous at the book launch event four years ago. I’ll write about that later this week.

The Return

7 Jul

It’s been a while (understatement of 2014) since I’ve blogged,  as somehow,  life and a Really Big Corporate job got in the way. Lots of things have changed for me and in the wider world since I last updated here, but my interest in and passion for all matters gender related has remained steadfast and, now that the RBC job has gone away through redundancy (the fools!), I’m keen to re-discover my blogging mojo.

Since I last blogged,  here’s what’s changed for me:

  • australian_flag_3The Really Big Corporate Job: it came and it went but I made some amazing new colleagues and friends and travelled to work and speak in Australia, Singapore, Dubai, the USA and Canada. I broadened my knowledge of a whole new corporate sector (engineering) and learned and shared about diversity and inclusion across a broader plain than just gender. Specifically, because I was working for an Australian company,  I learned a lot about indigenous Australians, the history of their treatment in Australia and how things are now (not great, but better, in part thanks to Australian NGOs like CareerTrackers, with whom I was privileged to work over the last few years). I really recommend John Pilger’s book “A Secret Country” for more on the disgraceful way indigenous Australians (and particularly women) have been treated throughout history – believe me when I say that at times it has rivalled the South African apartheid model.
  • I moved house: this time last year, TLS and I put our much loved London house up for sale and, in October 2013, moved 103 miles south west to a little town where we are now building a new life in a new community. I can’t lie: it’s been hard to arrive somewhere  where you know no-one, and, because I was either working from home or away on business,  I didn’t have the ready-made office network of colleagues with whom to interact. But, we are slowly getting there and making new friends, getting to know the area and really loving our new house. I’ve just about got used to the fact that I can’t get a manicure at the top of the road anymore and I have finally discovered a very good coffee place in the local town. Skinny flat white, please.
  • I lost weight: just under 100 pounds (or c. 45 kgs if that’s your unit of choice). Also not easy but,  as with moving house,  very worthwhile and I certainly feel far happier and more healthy now. I’ve also started noticing an odd thing when I read articles and interviews with female celebrities – they ALWAYS mention what they eat in the article. Food always crops up, even in pieces published in my much loved Observer. Yesterday’s paper had a “This Much I Know” interview with former Pussy Cat Doll/X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger in which she mentioned that the things she misses about England are “… Percy Pigs and … fish and chips …”. Really? Male subjects of the weekly column never seem to feel the need to reference this sort of stuff: I wonder why?

Things that have stayed the same:

  • Still an avid reader: nearly 500 books read on my Kindle since I first acquired one;
  • Still devoted to The Observer, above comment notwithstanding;
  • Still passionate about India and determined to finish my book about women in India.

Today’s last words come from the marvellous Katharine Whitehorn,  as shared in her recent “Life Class” column in The Observer of 29th June:

“I can’t remember the name of the woman who recently said she couldn’t be a feminist because she thought men were splendid – which is just as well, or she might wish to sue me for what I feel like saying about her. How often does it have to be said: feminism is not about hating men. It’s about wanting the same rights, chances and privileges that men have – things like decent chances of promotion at work and equal pay for equal work and being taken seriously about sexual harassment.

 “It’s worth remembering not just that we once couldn’t vote but that a woman couldn’t get a mortgage without a male sponsor. Even banks have now recognised that women make not only money but their own decisions. What serious feminists worry about is the chances that girls never get, like those denied education in Pakistan or Nigeria, where a child is automatically of its father’s religion, not its mother’s.”

Why women? A few suggestions

17 Oct

Yes – still here,  still blogging and prompted to do so again by noting that there’s a link to the Gender Blog on my new employer’s intranet – so hello, new colleagues from the Women Professionals Portal!

Here I am in my new hard hat,  as handed out during induction on Day One a couple of weeks ago.

My next post will be about what I’ve been up to in recent months but here in the interim is a useful reminder,  courtesy of Forbes Women, as to the value women bring to leadership positions.

List compiled by Magus Consulting.

• “…. Companies with three or more women in senior management functions score more highly on average (on nine dimensions of company excellence). It is notable that performance increases significantly once a certain critical mass is attained, namely, at least three women on management committees for an average membership of 10 people. “ (Women Matter, McKinsey 2007)

• “Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors.” (Catalyst, October 2007)

• “A selected group of companies with a high representation of diverse board seats (especially gender diversity) exceeded the average returns of the Dow Jones and NASDAQ Indices over a 5 year period.” (Virtcom Consulting)

• “An extensive 19-year study of 215 Fortune 500 firms shows a strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability. Three measures of profitability were used to demonstrate that the 25 Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions are between 18 and 69 percent more profitable than the median Fortune 500 firms in their industries.” (European Project on Equal Pay and summarized by researcher Dr. Roy Adler in Miller McCune).

Women and the 1911 census

28 Mar

If you’re in the UK,  did you fill in your census form this weekend?  I did,  and it made me think … about how much my life has changed in the last 10 years (I got married,  moved to my current house, have done all sorts of things in work terms) and also about what stories my house could tell if it could talk.

It was built in 1909 (here’s a rather wonky photo of the street from an old book of the era)  and so the house would have been quite “new” at the time of the 1911 census.  I wonder who lived here then and what they did for a living? How many people lived in this house and how did they keep warm? What did they wear, what did they eat?

Of course,  assuming that there were female residents,  one thing they couldn’t then do (or, indeed do for between the next seven and seventeen years) was to vote,  given that women were then denied that right and the UK was in the grip of the suffrage movement. My friend Rachel shared a link to this fascinating article from The Times,  published back in the glory days of 2009 when access was free,  which details how some 1911 women used the census forms to make a protest, as part of a coordinated boycott over their continuing lack of the right to vote.

“The documents show how women refused to fill in their names and left comments in the margins. One suffragette taking part in the boycott arranged by the Women’s Freedom League wrote: “If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent enough to put a cross on a voting paper.”

“Another glued a poster over the form stating: “No votes for women, no census.” A piece of paper stuck to the form suggests that the women stayed away from households where the census was taken to attend a protest in Trafalgar Square.”

As I often do when considering history, progress and change, this has made me reflect upon the privileged era in which we live. How lucky we are today that we can use the 2011 census form as just that – a tool to capture socio-economic data about the world in which we live.

What’s on my mind?

27 Mar

Facebook are always exhorting us to share, with the question “what’s on your mind?”

So here,  in no particular order, is what’s on MY mind.

Thought for the day … is the concept of dressing for success only a female thing?

I’m currently doing some interim in-house corporate communications work around connecting the employee engagement and diversity agendas.  Part of this has entailed helping the company to set up a women’s network, which launched earlier this week (hence, no blogging).  At the same time,  we’re also working to plan some events for the rest of the year and debating what they may be and who best to involve.  One suggestion has been that we co-create an event with the community affairs and philanthropy team,  and perhaps do something together which will benefit a women’s group or charity.

Now obviously,  I love this idea and am looking forward to the meeting where we can discuss this a bit more.  Another suggestion has been that we do something around the concept of “Dressing for Success” and do something for or with the charity of that name … and that made me wonder if such a concept even exists for men?

DfS (who I think are fabulous and do great work,  by the way – I’m not having a pop) was “set up by women to help other women get a job and become financially independent”.  But in all my years in the corporate world,  I’ve never seen anything similar for men – have you?

Imagine it:

  • a poster campaign in the lift and around the office
  • – which asks men to donate their unwanted suits and ties.
  • Men providing other men with interview advice

Is this because men don’t need this help,  don’t want it or some other reason?  Is the help in question perhaps provided more casually?

* * * * *

Also on my mind … an article from last Sunday’s Observer, which has been circling around and around ever since I read it. Dr. Abhay Bang’s programme to reduce infant mortality in Maharashtra has achieved dazzling results but they –

“.. owe little to the orthodoxy of western medicine and everything to his team of neonatally trained rural women.”

Click here to read more.

* * * * *

I went to hear Sonia Gandhi deliver the Commonwealth Lecture in central London a few weeks ago.  The theme of her talk (and of this year’s programme of Commonwealth activities) was “Women as Agents of Change”, which celebrates women whose work has made a positive difference to the lives of others and emphasises the message that, by investing in women and girls, we can accelerate social, economic and political progress around the world.  My big “wow” moment from the talk – which you can read here – was to learn that 60% of all women in the Commonwealth are in India.

* * * * *

And finally … when I was in Mumbai in December,  I met a very interesting man called Abhi Naha,  who is working, through his company Zone V,  to develop a mobile phone for use by the blind.  Abhi told me that over two thirds of the 415 million blind and partially sighted people in the world are women, which is why he is so passionate about empowering blind women through mobile phone technology.  Zone V‘s motto is:

Imagine a world where lack of sight does not mean lack of vision”

– and Abhi certainly doesn’t lack vision,  in any sense of the word.  A few days ago,  he texted me and asked – “If you could have an ’empowerment button’ on your mobile phone for women in developing countries, what would you make it do?”

I replied:

“I’d use it to educate the 62 million girls around the world who don’t even get to go to primary school.”

How about you – what would YOUR empowerment button do?

“Feminism is the unfinished revolution …”

13 Mar

– declared Natasha Walter in The Guardian earlier this week,  in her column about the centenary of International Women’s Day. Meanwhile,  back in my spiritual home of India, Dr Elizabeth Menon‘s piece in The Hindu reminded us that equality for some is still very elusive.

For me,  IWD was all about spending the day at a university,  at which I spoke and chaired an event called “Breaking Glass”.  I heard about the glass ceiling as it exists within academia and learned,  not altogether surprisingly,  that the issues faced by female staff at universities (reasonably high numbers at entry level, falling away at a career mid point,  subsequent difficulties in progressing to the top tier) mirror almost exactly those faced by their sisters in the corporate world.

I used the centenary of IWD to structure my talk around the way in which the world has changed for women since 1911 and the key events and people who have made those changes come about.  My brief had been to “make it light”,  so I peppered my slides with a few key quotations – some of which I share now.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women …”

– Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, 1997 – 2001

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what a feminist is.  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

– Rebecca West, writer, 1913

“Well behaved women seldom make history …”

– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, professor at Harvard University

“I wanted to work there because I wanted to become a writer. I was quickly assured that women didn’t become writers at Newsweek. It would never have crossed my mind to object … It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule.”

– Nora Ephron – writer, novelist, film director [on starting her career in 1962]

My favourite quotation,  which I didn’t use because I hadn’t then read the originating article,  comes from Mariella Frostrup in The Observer,  who,  in a blistering and truly excellent piece of journalism, reminded us that the struggle is far from over and that,  within the closed world of UK politics:

“… there are more blokes called Dave and Nick in government than there are women MPs. Women continue to hover at a steady 19% in the chamber, put off perhaps by a testosterone-fuelled climate where the last two prime ministers’ wives have given up high- flying careers to support their husbands or simply to satisfy the perceived demands of middle England.”

Check it out – one of the best and most impassioned articles on feminism you may read.

On the centenary of International Women’s Day …

8 Mar

… this very short film, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, voiced by Dame Judi Dench and starring Daniel Craig,  tells us so much about where women are in 2011.  We’ve come a long way, baby – but there’s still so far to go.


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