Before tomorrow’s Women of Influence Conference at the Army and Navy Club, Parliament Street Chief Operating Officer, Clare Ambrosino discusses the ideas that inspired her to create the Women of Influence initiative .
Why women need to join together to ensure that their voice is heard in the boardroom
With so many powerful women in key roles, May and Merkel, Sandberg and Mayer has the time come where women have at last achieved gender equality?
In every aspect of life – in politics, business and in the media – women are making their contribution and crashing barriers.
But is it as rosy as it seems? Have we finally achieved gender equality?
Is the value of female brainpower finally universally recognised?
And, finally, why is it so important to achieve full gender equality in the world of work?
The number of women holding leadership roles in FTSE 100 firms has more than doubled over the last five years, according to FN’s Sixth Annual Women in Finance Survey. But there are still only 26% of women at board level. There is still a notable gender imbalance in the financial services sector.
Why would companies be interested in hiring more women for leading roles?
First, it’s in the companies’ best interests. A report from the Government Equalities Office states that bringing the balance of women’s productivity and employment to the same level as men could add £600 billion to the UK economy, whilst equalising participation rates could add 10% to the UK economy by 2030.
Second, women represent 50% of the human race – and it is fundamental that their input is not lost. Modern neuroscience studies have shown that women and men do think differently and therefore come up with different solutions to problems. Speaking as a lobbyist and PR consultant, I have seen first-hand how often women bring different skills to the table, things like natural empathy, an ability to listen, connect and communicate with people, qualities often missing in men, are invaluable to the success of a campaign. I can imagine these same skills would be an asset to many other sectors.
What are the obstacles facing women in business?
There are many cultural behaviours that are still slowing down women’s progress in business – and many of these are so subliminal that men and many women are not even aware of their existence. There is a lot of talk about a glass ceiling which stops women from rising too high, but as Sue Unerman and Kathryn Jacob explain in their book The Glass Wall, it is not this which impedes women’s progress in careers, but rather the glass wall.
In a male-dominated working environment, women are excluded from much of the career enhancing bonding which takes place outside of the office. They are left out of office conversations, which are taken to the pub or the golf course. And within a system – designed by men for men – women can be sidelined, both in informal networks and in the board room.
However, by taking the bull by the horns and becoming proactive, this situation can be overcome. Women are learning that they need to find new ways to make their views heard. By consciously requesting time with superiors for lunch or a drink, women can create a situation where more informal conversation can be had and where they can showcase their achievements at work.
Modesty is not the best policy
But one of the biggest problems women face is their tendency to hide their lights under bushels. If they are to get ahead in male dominated industries, they need to improve their self-confidence and negotiating skills. One issue that women need to tackle is a tendency, out of modesty, to talk themselves out of a job. Very often women will not apply for jobs unless they believe they are 100% qualified to do it, whilst men often don’t seem to think that way.
Similarly, women are much more reticent about putting themselves forward for promotion or asking for a salary increase.
We women need to stop focussing on our weaknesses and spend our energies on improving them. We need to understand that we are brilliant at and we need to sell our qualities.
The power of the female
Personally, it is very disappointing to see women leaders trying to hide their feminine side and adopt mannish behaviour and rhetoric. Could Hillary Clinton possibly have been more successful in her campaign if she had not tried to present such a tough guy image? It is not that women cannot be tough, they certainly can, but they should show the world how effective female toughness is. Our very own Margaret Thatcher – who nobody could deny was tough, underlined this when she famously advised a female campaigner to “Never wear trousers, dear: they rob a woman of her authority”. Barak Obama, on the other hand did not play down the fact that he was black. He confidently embraced his background and sold the Americans a ‘dream’, offering a vision of change. The black community were able to identify themselves with him in a way that many women were unable to do with Hillary Clinton.
Michelle Obama on the other hand, who is already being named as a possible presidential candidate is a wonderful role model of female leadership. Women and men admire her for her confidence and warmth and she does excellent work motivating girls from under privileged backgrounds to believe in themselves and to use the education system to their advantage.
So women have come a long way since their main role in the work space was to type their male bosses’ letters and answer their phones. But the road to total gender equality is still a rocky one and it is important that we do not become complacent and imagine that if we are good at our jobs then we will receive automatic recognition. Women need to understand their own value and find strategies to disseminate the message to employers. The fact that women’s input has been seen to impact bottom line profits is our most powerful tool – but we need to stick together, as men do, and formulate strategies to ensure that our voice is heard.
I envisaged the conference Women of Influence to be held on Saturday at the Army and Navy Club as a multi-platform series looking at how female leaders are successfully shaping the world of business, politics and our communities. My hope is that women will have the opportunity to meet and learn from each other and lend support and motivation. Together we can make sure that our voice is heard effectively, so that the things that we are brilliant gain recognition whilst we make things happen.
Parliament Street will be holding its Women of Influence Conference tomorrow at the Army and Navy Club from 10am – 7pm