Do something incredible. Yes you.
Womanthology reaches 10 Downing Street
So the summer holidays are over. What have you been up to over the break? Hopefully you’ve been sunning yourself somewhere glamorous and you’re now fully recharged? It’s that time of year when things kick back into action again after a two month hiatus.
People are settling back down into their work, and the kids are back at school, but general election wise, it’s all hotting up. And women are a key group for all the parties to target. We’ve seen women move to centre stage and all the main parties looking to woo the female electorate. It’s time for politicians to get in touch with their feminine sides…
From kitchen table to boardroom table: Anything could happen
Talking of politics, it was a great honour to have been invited to visit Number 10 Downing Street recently to talk professional women at work and female entrepreneurship with my digital business hat on. That’s something that I never imagined would happen in my life. One for the bucketlist I think.
The moral of my story is that literally anything could happen. If you invest your heart and soul into anything, mind blowing opportunities can arise. You can’t always see them coming round the corner, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you had told me this time last year that I would be writing about this, I would have laughed in your face.
It’s incredible to think that Womanthology has gone from being something I sit writing at my kitchen table oooop North (well it’s more of a breakfast bar actually) to something that has brought me to visit the home of our premier in less than six months of launching. I couldn’t quite believe it myself to be honest, but I had to put all notions of the imposter syndrome firmly to the back of my mind…
(Not) just another day at the office
When I’d gone through security, said “hello” to the various smiley policemen dotted up and down the street and I got to the door, I wasn’t sure whether to knock or not. It wasn’t exactly a secret that I was there. But even though they are expecting you, they let you knock. Bless ’em. My big moment. And in I went.
It’s a bit strange that this was such a massive deal for me when some people go in and out of there every day. As I perched on the chair in the tiled entrance hall in advance of my meeting, I was chatting to civil servants who were totally un-phased by where they were. I suppose when you’re in any location often enough, the novelty wears off. No 10, Parliament, The Whitehouse, it’s all just another day at the office for some people.
Diversity is diverse
As you will be well aware, the Womanthology premise is that incredible women are all around us every day. There is categorically no shortage of incredible women, contrary to common opinion. Sometimes they will be chief executives or board members or award winning scientists or racing drivers or airline pilots or film producers and sometimes they will be in your local community as founders of businesses, or doing amazing work helping others as volunteers, as doctors or nurses, or as students or as mums or as carers and we try to bring you them all. The thing about diversity is that it’s well…diverse.
Different women, same challenges
At the meeting I wanted to share how I’ve reached out to dynamic women at home and from overseas; we’ve showcased the talents women from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, India, Finland, The Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain amongst others, and the list grows every fortnight. Most of the problems that are facing the UK economy in relation to gender diversity at work are common to all industrialised / industrialising economies. If the challenges are the same, then surely it makes sense to work together on shared solutions?
Not forgetting the men…
There have also been the Womanthology men who stand alongside the women. I wanted to make the point that it’s not until more of the enlightened, comfortable-in-their-own-skin professional men get involved in the gender diversity dialogue will things truly start to change.
How much of a difference will it make to women’s career progress when working fathers are encouraged to step out of the workplace to take up shared parental leave when it is introduced next year? It shouldn’t be something to feel ashamed about and it isn’t something men should be penalised for at work. Surely it’s only natural and healthy for all parents to want to spend time with their kids? And this balanced approach has to help plug the leaking pipeline of female talent and fill in the gender pay gap. Fair’s fair.
Open your mind and keep it open
I also wanted to share my view that it doesn’t make sense to stereotype, label and pigeonhole women. The problems we’re experiencing now with the gender pay gap and challenges around retention of female talent in the workplace are as a direct result of outdated ideas and attitudes, but please don’t replace the old stereotypes with a whole load of new stereotypes. The point of diverse thinking is that you open your mind to new possibilities and you keep it open.
Emphasise the human in human resources
Yes, working mothers need flexibility and support, but don’t assume that all women want the same thing. Let’s celebrate the forward-thinking employers who understand that we’re all people with lives outside work. If you want to get the best out of those people at work, it makes sense to shock horror, treat them as human beings and help them realise their hopes and dreams, whilst respecting their personal choices, whatever these look like. Let’s emphasise the human in human resources.
Female entrepreneurs – sisters doing it for themselves
This brings me to female entrepreneurs. Research shows them to be more risk averse than their male counterparts and are more likely to set up social enterprises. But how hard is it to find funding? Ask any entrepreneur – male or female. The needle-in-a-haystack approach is of little help when there are literally hundreds of schemes to pour over, usually all with their own different conditions attached. Have you ever met an entrepreneur who isn’t run-off-their-feet busy?
Women usually fare worse than men when it comes to raising funding through venture capital, but women are increasingly harnessing tools such as crowdfunding to secure investment in new ways. Wouldn’t it be great to look at new funding models that allow women to get access to low risk investment at an earlier stage? If you want increased exports and more job creation, then female entrepreneurs are a great group to work with.
The Fawcett Society’s research on low paid women includes a quote from Home Secretary, Theresa May MP stating that getting more women into work and making better use of their skills could be worth £21 billion to the UK economy. The latest research from the Young Women’s Trust makes the same point in relation to young women specifically.
Underemployed women are potentially a massive income booster for the economy. If you want more economic growth, let’s get to work on getting these women into jobs that fully utilise their skills.
Likewise the latest UK Commission for Employment and Skills report highlights how women have overtaken men skills wise and the differential is getting bigger (the gender skills gap) yet women are paid less (the gender pay gap). We have to work together to fix this inequality.
It’s over to the politicians now to tell us what they plan to do to next. Watch this space…