Wow. What a few weeks it's been. Some serious girl power vibes have been coursing through our conversations and work, and we've loved it. As part of our initiative, The Female Focus, in partnership with Jess and Nat of Mac & Moore, we have talked to so many talented and inspiring women who intersect many different sectors and roles, to get their views on what it means to be a woman in the business world. But more than that; we probed into the change we need to see this year to support women to create a truly balanced society. So here's a round-up of what they had to say....
First, we asked them what the biggest issue or barrier for women in business is. What really came through was that the working environment is masculine in nature and male-dominated in power, which makes the creation of change a challenge. Emma Sexton, Founder of MYWW and Broadcaster for Badass Women's Hour, said: "(We need to) change our working culture and one dimensional view of what makes a successful leader. Work is masculine in nature and until we value feminine values and leadership qualities as a viable alternative women are going to lose out.” Sarah Welsh and Fara Kabir, co-founders of Hanx, the first luxury vegan male condom designed for women, highlighted that it's the underrepresentation of women at the top, which means that good habits can't trickle down. They told us: "The number of female CEO's is ridiculously low in comparison to our male counterparts. There is still more to be done with regards to pushing women to reach their potential in leading roles." The pattern is particularly prominent for women belonging to an ethnic minority. Sheeza Anjum, social media and digital content specialist, has worked with some of the biggest creative and digital agencies in the world, "but unfortunately every single time I step through the door I can’t help but notice there is a serious lack of role models and mentors for women like me."
And there is not enough support for women who are having children to provide flexibility for them to do so. Freelance PR consultant and founder of Little Gnashers, Victoria Dove, is one of them. She said, "Many employers are missing out on top talent because they can’t arrange their businesses to offer flexible working hours. We all have mobiles, laptops and the internet so it really shouldn’t be an issue anymore for office-based jobs." Work Well Being founder Louise Padmore thinks that, whilst the rules around shared parental leave go some way to evening out the balance of responsibility for childcare, for many men there’s a workplace culture that still makes this feel like an unacceptable thing for them to do.
But it's not just men building barriers to equality, it's womankind too. Rosh Thanki, trailer editor and creative lifestyle Instagrammer, highlighted: "We can be unwelcoming to other women in the same industry". There is also the well documented 'imposter syndrome' - a fear of failure - which has a big effect on many women and something we, as women, have to push to overcome ourselves in order to break the cycle. Heidi Budino, Freelance Global Sustainability & Social Purpose consultant at Shell, pointed out, "As a society we still associate authority with a man which leads to women often feeling like they need to downplay their authority, doing things like apologising". Founder and CEO of You Make It, Asma Shah, offered up some steps in the right direction, "We need to hear more from women who have experimented and failed and that this is okay, because you learn more from failure than from successes." We need to create positive role models out of failure.
It's not just habits we have to shift but fundamental systems that have historically inculcated the male focus.
So what's the solution?
Caitlin Evans, a Senior Planner at MBA, thinks that the status quo environment means that women just put up with it and won't speak out, "We often put on a brave face when times get tough. We accept burdens and say that everything’s fine. But if we spoke up and out more often we might have to deal with less crap. I want to open up really productive, ongoing conversations." There was a resounding response from the women we spoke to that they are all planning to delete the apologies. It's got to start somewhere and our narrative should be apology-less but we need to push harder for progress. Heidi Budino adds, "I’m going to be more aware in meetings when men are in the room, bring female colleagues into the conversation if I feel they’re hesitating to speak up or call a man out if they’re talking over me and not letting me finish."
When it comes to building flexibility in the workplace for mothers, Jaxx Nelson, founder of Whisk Delivers, an online delivery service for new parents, has plans for her fellow female friends who are family planning. "I’ll be encouraging (them) to speak openly with their company management about work flexibility. It's so important for women to be able to maintain our fought-for careers and have the family life we want."
Antonia Taylor, a PR specialist, believes that mentoring will help. "I’ve sadly seen so much lately about women pulling up the ladder behind them. Having a mentor earlier on in my career would have been game-changing. So I’d like to invest in that, possibly working with other women in my field to create something meaningful."
There's a long road ahead but the conversations building and building, and women are opening up and shouting louder. But they, as well as men, need to push harder to see the change we want to see.
The Female Focus doesn't stop here. CLO PR and Mac & Moore will be teaming up for more activities with the lens angling on women in due course, as well as continuing to talk to mavericks who are trying to change up the status quo and pull the matriarchy up in their wake. Watch this space!