Tag Archives: Commentary

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.

“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.

Guest post: Three Big Questions: Expose gender stereotypes in your business

11 Feb

This is a guest post from Christina Ioannidis, an international speaker, consultant and seasoned entrepreneur.  Christina is the author of the recently published “Your Loss: How to Win Back Your Female Talent”.  She is a thought leader on the subjects of gender-savvy leadership and talent management, employee and customer engagement, effective product development and marketing, as well as innovation and intrapreneurship.

When writing Your Loss: How To Win Back your Female Talent, we asked professional women to share their thoughts on gender stereotypes and how to retain women in business. Here are the three Big Questions we heard.

1) Do you hear ‘Is management really a woman’s thing’?

36% of the skilled, professional women we questioned in Your Loss left the corporate environment because they did not feel fulfilled in their role. Statistics of women in business make this the biggest single push factor. Are you addressing gender stereotypes within your management team and on your board of directors? Women’s management style may not be your norm, but it could just be your saving grace. Read more about nurturing female management styles in my blog post.

2) Is flexible working or working from home considered “skiving”?

The traditional gender stereotype is that women leave the corporate environment for more flexibility to juggle work with a hectic home life. The big question is how to retain women by making remote working acceptable in your corporate culture ? First, make sure everyone is fully aware that this is a real option. Then, update your communication systems and support line managers in running their teams remotely. Finally, don’t forget to evaluate how it’s going, tweak it a bit and reward good performance. Read my blog on flexible working for more extensive hint and tips.

3) Would you promote her if you heard she wanted another child?

It’s oh-so-familiar: the stereotypical professional women in her thirties who is passed over for promotion (because the male management think things will fall apart once she goes on maternity leave). Do not underestimate the benefits of having a satisfied, loyal, long-term employee who appreciates having a great job whilst still being able to pick her kids up from school.

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Read more about “Your Loss” on the Recommended Reading tab, above.

Memo to employers who want to create and retain happy and engaged staff –

17 Jan

- and who talk about their work-life balance ethos, support for employee engagement and so on.

 If you are serious about (a) treating your staff as adults; (b) making it easier for them to have a work-life balance and,  indeed,  a life away from the office and (c)  you really,  truly want to engage with them and make them feel that they’re supportive of the wider organisation:

 - then consider loosening the shackles on your IT policy. 

You know,  the policy which blocks approximately two thirds of the internet, making it impossible for anyone to do anything on the net in their own time,  such as at – radical thought – lunchtime.

Most lists of handy hints and tips on how to be more organised,  as either a working parent or just as a wage slave,  with or without children,  will these days suggest that you go on-line and do stuff. 

Pay your bills,  on-line.  Order your groceries,  on-line.  Book a hair appointment – on-line. 

Great: if you can GET on-line.

Of course,  I’m not suggesting that we’re on the payroll in order to spend the day surfing around chat rooms,  porn sites and other nefarious sections of the Net.

Or even on Facebook.  Or Twitter.  Or Linked-in.


But equally,  there are sections of the working day (first thing in the morning,  ahead of the arrival of your colleagues,  or at lunchtime) when I think it would be valid to be able to do the odd personal thing at your computer,  given you’re sat there anyhow.  The fact that sites such as those for grocery deliveries, banking and the like are banned says to me that someone, somewhere has done a survey and made a conscious decision to block them,  along with the webmail sites,  the porn and so on.

 This to me is old-school, twentieth century,  thinking.  Firstly, it’s failing to acknowledge that,  these days,  a lot of people do live a lot of their lives on-line – and if they’re away from home, working for you,  for c. 60 hours per week if you include travelling time,  then it’s pretty difficult to do those things Monday to Friday.

Secondly, it’s not treating your staff  (especially the Gen Y crowd, who’ve never known a life without instant on-line access) as if they are the smart, skilled adults that you must have thought they were when you hired them. Instead, it’s treating them as if they’re cunning, work-shy net surfers who’d be on-line 24/7 if they only had the technical environment to make that possible.

 What you end up with too,  is possibly counter-productive.  You may think that you’re stopping the work-shy cubicle rats at your version of Veridian Dynamics from spending hours on Facebook,  but all you’re doing is creating a culture where people have their smart phones on “silent”,  do what they can on-line via apps but under their desks and where an illicitly plugged in BlackBerry, Nokia or iPhone charger is worth its weight in gold.

 Does that really spell “talent management” or “employee engagement” to you?

Desperate housewives?

14 Jan

I love (actually, maybe “love” is too strong – OK, I’m “interested in”) the way that Mad Men’s Betty Draper is now being used by picture editors as visual shorthand to illustrate articles referring to, variously, housewives, stay at home mums and ladies who lunch.

(Similarly, photos of Joan now inevitably accompany an article about “curvy figures”.)

Dr. Catherine Hakim’s recently published report – Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: The Flawed Thinking Behind Calls for Further Equality – which concludes that mainstream feminist thinking is defective and that the UK government should stop trying to promote it (there’s an accurate, if somewhat right wing summary of her arguments here in this Daily Telegraph article) and that women tend to marry for money rather than love – has caused a rash of newspaper reports, published from London to Sydney and (probably) all points between – and the two highlighted here both feature lovely photos of the former Mrs Draper, as does a recent article along similar lines in Grazia.

Tanya Gold’s piece in the Guardian:  

“Inequality between the sexes is not a big deal any more, a new study tells us. That is only true if you are happy for women to have less than men …”

- does at least make some fleeting Mad Men reference to the assumptions in the report, commenting that perhaps Dr Hakim’s work is:

“ … based on a weird, Mad Men themed dream she had on Boxing Day …”

Female writers across the world have decided that actually, it’s OK to want to marry for money, to not have your own career or income and to stay at home, surrounded by items from Cath Kidston and Emma Bridgwater (ironically, two women who manage to be married and have their own eponymous businesses). And of course, yes, it is fine, I suppose. But this lifestyle framework is surely only OK if there’s someone to fund it – and what happens if that someone isn’t there anymore – either through death, divorce, a change in their own or their employer’s financial circumstances?

(This rather gloomy article from 2008 suggests a potential increase in divorce due to the credit crunch, with:

“… about 80 percent of those surveyed believe that the turmoil — and lower bonus payments — will prompt more women to seek a divorce before their husbands’ wealth evaporates further.” )

Obviously, nobody goes into marriage or life as a stay at home mum thinking “one day we’ll split up or he’ll lose all his money in some huge, unprecedented global melt down and then what will happen to me?”.

But as this cautionary tale, Regrets of a stay-at- home Mom, recently published on salon.com shows, it can happen:

“Fourteen years ago, I “opted out” to focus on my family. Now I’m broke.”

(For more on the wildly radical idea that “a man is not a financial plan”, check out The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up too Much?  by Leslie Bennets on the Recommended reading tab above).

* * * * *

In other news … the flyer I designed for Educators’ Trust India has now been printed up and is ready for use – if you’d like to see what they’re giving out to tourists in Goa in order to raise awareness of the issues of child poverty and of the need for literacy programmes, you can take a look and download a copy from my freelance writing site, Collaborative Lines.

Children, women, flip-flops and money

7 Jan

Happy New Year!

A friend just sent me a link to this site, wordle.net, which will generate your own word cloud for you,  based on your  choice of text (which you paste into their cloud generator window) or a URL.

Here’s what we get when I popped in www.thegenderblog.com – click on the image below for a closer look!

Wordle: A month in Goa, India

See in the New Year by becoming a Godmother

31 Dec


(c) VSO

I’ve just signed up to become a Godmother (I was number 36!) in support of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)’s new campaign for women,  the Godmothers.


VSO tells us that:

“Worldwide more than 60 million girls have been forced into early marriage. Of the 780 million people who can’t read, 510 million are female. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours but earn just 10% of the income.

The new UN women’s agency could put a stop to all this. But to fulfil its promise it needs your help.

The Godmothers is a group of men and women who think women everywhere deserve a chance. Together we’ll watch over UN Women, help keep it on track and protect it from people who’d like to see it fail – everything a good godmother would do. By making sure UN Women gets the powers and funding it needs, we can make life better for millions of women worldwide.”

Click here to sign up and be a supporter – and help to make the New Year a Happier one for women everywhere.

“Advice” on how to ask for a raise at work …

29 Aug

… the Summer’s Eve way.

The text of this advert is, I think, self-explanatory,  but do read on to the comments below it on this website – genius.

And then?

Remind yourself,  via a quick glance at your calendar,  that we are in fact in 2010.

Is Julia Gillard heading for the Glass Cliff?

20 Aug

(c) BBC

Tomorrow sees a general election in Australia, and the two main parties are currently neck and neck at the polls.

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, is facing a fight to the finish with conservative coalition leader Tony Abbott.  Ms Gillard became Prime Minister in June after ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

But reports say that she faces a backlash at the ballot box over a range of issues,  including the way she replaced Mr Rudd as head of the Labor party and her policy directions on climate change and immigration.

If the Labor party,  currently just ahead in the polls at 52%,  does lose the election,  what will this mean for Gillard’s career? Will she be left to carry the can and blamed for the loss?  Or will there be an appreciation for the political status quo that she inherited so recently, at a time when the Labor Party’s popularity was sliding in the opinion polls?

Apparently, say the BBC, Kevin Rudd “surrendered without a fight” after realising that his support amongst government colleagues had collapsed.

That sounds like a poison chalice of a job to me – in fact,  it sounds like the roles described by researchers at the University of Exeter in their paper a few years ago as the “glass cliff”,  in which they suggest that senior women are:

“… more likely than men to find themselves in positions associated with a high risk of failure and are correspondingly precarious. … A female candidate is overwhelmingly favoured if the opening is described as difficult and involving a high risk of failure.”

The paper,  entitled “The Glass Cliff: Evidence That Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions”, summarises the glass cliff position as follows:

  • While men are given safer and more secure jobs, women at all levels often feel that they have been “set up to fail”;
  • Such leadership roles can lead to increased stress for women leaders, and can contribute to larger numbers of women departing senior management positions;
  • Glass cliffs may also have repercussions for organisations, leading to poor communication and decision making

The research,  conducted in 2005 and updated in 2007, was conducted across a range of sectors which included business,  the law and, crucially here, politics. Significantly,  Julia Gillard was not handed the role of Labor Party leader/first female Prime Minister,  but actively sought it out – so in that regard,  the concept of being appointed to  a doomed, risky role does not apply to her.

However,  should her party lose at tomorrow’s election,  the blame will undoubtedly be laid at her door and you don’t have to be psychic to predict that there’ll be a media firestorm suggesting that the Aussie electorate didn’t vote for her due to her gender,  and/or because they didn’t want to have an elected (as opposed to an appointed) female Prime Minister.

Whilst,  as outlined here in this guest blog for Catalyst,  Australia does have a relatively high proportion of high profile, successful women in senior political roles,  the amount of media attention focussed on Gillard over the last two months has been intense and has been largely centred on her gender and personal life.

So, irrespective of whether she strode to the cliff edge herself or was parked there – I see that Australia’s first female Prime Minister is  poised on the edge of the glass cliff at the moment – and only the Australian electorate can keep her there or send her tumbling over the precipice.

However, on a lighter note,  just as we had Paul the Octopus making (ultimately) successful forecasts during the World Cup last month,  Australia now has psychic crocodile Dirty Harry making election predictions. Of course,  given that crocodiles are a bit more vicious and unpredictable in their behaviour than are our eight legged “friends”,  the selection protocol is a bit more feral:  this time,  Harry has to indicate the electoral winner by lunging for some raw chicken hanging below images of Gillard and Abbott.

Watch the video link here to see who he picks – and may the best crocodile win tomorrow.


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