International Women's Day: Part 1

Over the weekend, many across the world celebrated the annual Internal Women’s Day. It is a day to take a step back and appreciate the achievements made by women politically, socially and economically. Within business and marketing, gender equality has over the last hundred years made astounding changes as successful attempts have been made to encourage women into managerial and senior roles, glass ceilings have been broken, and the generation of the women who can ‘have it all’ from the 1980s and 1990s have been able to change societies expectations that women must choose work or family.

However, when I attended the recent TFM&A exhibition, I couldn’t help but notice that although around half if not a majority of the attendees were women, a majority of the exhibitors and speakers were men. Out of the key Note speakers – talks by thought leaders and industry trend setters – 9 out of a total of 11 speakers were male. In the case of seminar speakers, 86% were male. This is a significant figure, because if women are to be seen as equal in any business sector or industry, they need to have equal representation at the highest levels.

This under-representation of women in senior and leading positions is evident throughout the business world. Although the proportion of women on FTSE 100 company boards has finally reached 20% (FT, 2014), this could be greatly improved especially in light of the fact that only 4 CEOs of these companies are women.

I don’t in any way think the TFM&A producers were sexist in their selection of key note and seminar speakers; the overarching issue is with women’s ability to become thought leaders within their field in significant enough numbers. I attended ‘The Future of Social Media as a Marketing Platform’ keynote talk in which Catherine Flynn (Manager of Global Marketing Solutions UK, Facebook) was the speaker, and only wished there were more women that people like myself could be inspired by. Females holding top positions at a large multi-nationals, and being considered the voice of their industry should no longer a rare occurrence…it should be expected.

It has been argued that the tendency for women to not be proportionally represented at senior level can be explained simply: they are not capable, women will always be disadvantaged by their biology, or women do not want senior roles. The first reason can be discarded as there is no evidence that can justify the belief that women are fundamentally less able than men, the presence of an unconscious bias which may deter male senior managers from employing women is another matter. The second reason based on the undeniable fact that women give birth, is not a reason at all. Yes, women are the sex who are biologically able to become pregnant and give birth, but both sides are able to aid in the brining up of children and domestic work. Finally, the assertion that women do not want senior roles or to be the leaders of industry is simply unfounded.

Across the world there are shining examples of how government and corporate policies can enable the career progression of women, both in terms of removing barriers to promotion, and creating an environment where traditional notions concerning paternity and maternity leave have been reconsidered in favour of personal choice. Furthermore, counties such as Germany have legislated quotas that outlines that a certain proportion of company board members and people of seniority must be women – but does this help or hinder the women’s cause? It has been asserted that in fact this kind of enforced inclusion could lead to ‘tokenism’ which puts a question mark over every female appointed as whether they were elected on merit of because of their sex would become a contentious issue.

It is imperative that as business people we strive for gender equality in senior positions by considering:
  • What can be done to improve gender representation in senior positions?
  • Are quotas a positive or negative step?
  • Are the maternity/paternity policies in your place of work sufficient to promote gender equality in the workplace?

Posted: 11/03/2014 11:55:49