The World As It Should Be…

Last weekend I went to a festival. An actual, proper festival, with camping and everything – which if you know me even slightly, is somewhat out of character, seeing as I am the fluffy towel, chocolate on the pillow kind of traveller. I should point out that I glamped – so got there to find the tent already set up, complete with bed, duvet, pillows etc, so it’s probably cheating if you’re a ‘real’ camper.

The reason I was prepared to camp/glamp (although there was the option to stay in a hotel nearby and take a minibus to and from the campsite) was the nature of the festival itself. Oh, didn’t I say? I went to the Primadonna Festival – the very first one, as it happens, created to celebrate brilliant writing, music and ideas. Catherine Mayer, one of the Primadonnas (a handful of fabulous women behind the Festival, including Sabeena Akhtar, Joanna Baker, Jane Dyball, Shona Abhyankar, Jude Kelly, Alexis Kirschbaum, Lisa Milton, Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Sonia Purnell, Catherine Riley, Monisha Rajesh, Athena Stevens, Cathryn Summerhayes, Sandi Toksvig and Sioned Wiliam) described it as “the world as it should be for one weekend”, and it was the most extraordinarily warm, welcoming and inspiring experience.

The Primadonna Festival was designed to give ‘prominence to work by women’ and introduced ‘fresh voices alongside famous names in a fun and welcoming environment’. It totally lived up to and in many ways exceeded my expectations, for a number of reasons. Even from the beginning, it encouraged participants to be generous – at every stage there were opportunities to support others, whether it was the ability to donate a ticket for those who couldn’t stretch to it, donating fees for writers to enter the Primadonna Prize (so proud to be one of those longlisted), or donating against the cost of the minibus.

This generosity of spirit was embedded in everything about the Festival. Speakers were from varied backgrounds, opinions in discussion sessions were listened to, properly responded to whether agreed with or not, and everywhere, all the time, participants said hello to each other, made new friends and celebrated successes, large and small. I saw performance poets, met writers and agents, sang along with Ukelele karaoke, watched films by the campfire and laughed my socks off at Katy Brand, Sandi Toksvig and Ada Campe. But most of all, I came away feeling hopeful and energised for the first time in a long time, given what’s going on culturally and politically in the UK in recent years. It was the most fantastic example of female leadership in action – empowering, inspiring and engaging across the board. And what’s most interesting is that whether you attended or not, there’s been a ripple of extended engagement post the event on Twitter, so the spirit of Primadonna is being extended.

Fingers and toes crossed that this Festival runs again next year, because it’s an oasis of fabulousness in a world that feels increasingly claustrophobic.

Be Bold For Change

Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a global day “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”. It also marks a call to action to accelerate gender parity, something which is close to my heart and which I have written about in the past.

Do I think ‘international days of…’ continue to have value? Or generalised awareness weeks? Well, they certainly have their place but from a media standpoint unless you have something to say, an awareness initiative on its own is difficult to make newsworthy. For example, today (Monday 27 Feb) has been designated Strawberry Day, Polar Bear Day and Kahlua Day, and I can’t say I’ve seen any stellar coverage of any of these topics as I write.

One of the things I do think is interesting about International Women’s Day is the increasing involvement of big name businesses and organisations supporting this UN-led initiative, such as bp, Pepsico, AECOM, Metlife and Avon. The 2017 campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange and the lead sponsor is Ernst & Young.  Amongst a wide variety of events and initiatives, the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomens Association) is holding a three-hour virtual summit that can be accessed globally by its membership, and the WOW – Women of the World festival is taking place at the Southbank Centre in London from 7-10 March, sponsored by Bloomberg. You can find out more about these and other events at

Here are some of the ways in which the organisers suggest that everyone can take action to support women and shorten the estimated 170 years still to go before gender parity

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • boycott all-male speaking panels
  • pull people up on exclusive language
  • challenge stereotypes
  • call it out when women are excluded
  • question all-male shortlists
  • monitor the gender pay gap
  • point out bias and highlight alternatives
  • embrace inclusive leadership
  • redefine the status quo

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • decide to buy from companies that support women
  • choose to work for a progressive employer for women
  • support or back a woman-owned business
  • take a junior female colleague to a major meeting or event
  • build conducive, flexible work environments
  • appoint a woman to the board
  • mentor a woman and sponsor her goals
  • invite women into situations where they’re not already present or contributing
  • measure and report on gender parity gaps and keep gender on the agenda
  • create new opportunities for women

#BeBoldForChange and …

  • raise women’s visibility as spokespeople in the media
  • drive fairer recognition and credit for women’s contributions
  • launch even more awards showcasing women’s success
  • hail the success of women leaders
  • applaude social, economic, cultural and polical women role models
  • celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome
  • reinforce and support women’s triumphs

What will I be doing for #IWD2017? I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the amazingly talented and inspirational female leaders in the WHAM (Women in Health Agency Management) networking group and seeing how we can collectively #BeBoldForChange. I’d love to know what you and your organisations are doing to make change happen and support women to achieve their greatest potential.

Making a Comeback?

With the continuing debate about workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap, it’s easy to forget just how much life has changed for working women over the past twenty or thirty years. I was vividly reminded of that when I came across a book aimed at women returning to work in the 1990s, written by my mother (who was a journalist and author specialising in careers) to accompany a BBC Radio 4 series of the same name.  Making a Comeback by Margaret Korving hit the Sunday Times Business Books top ten in 1991, and was written very much from the viewpoint of a working mother, as alongside sound advice on how to identify your skills and what training might be available, it also provided suggestions for how to juggle home vs work.

Modern conveniences such as freezers and microwaves were highly recommended, as was the use of timetables splitting responsibilities with family and friends so that washing, cleaning and childcare were all covered, so that the woman could go to work whilst continuing to run the house.  At the time, there was predicted to be a shortage of school leavers going into the workplace, and therefore employers were keen to attract a different kind of employee – the Equal Opportunities Director of the Midland Bank at the time, Anne Watts, wrote a foreword encouraging readers to return to work, saying that “enlightened employers will value your maturity, develop your skills and make you a very welcome ‘returner’”. The view then was that many women would have given up work completely on having children, and might only be thinking about returning once their children were at school.  Of course at that time, taking maternity leave might well have coincided with the introduction of new technology into the workplace so the fear of lacking computer skills referred to in the book was very real for many women.

The big thing that’s changed since then of course is that it’s now the expectation that women will return to work after maternity leave, although I do think that many of the other challenges are the same, especially when it comes to juggling work and home.

One of the major challenges that still affects women returners is the issue of confidence. I have worked with a number of hugely talented, highly competent women who on returning from maternity leave have plunged into a real crisis of confidence.  These seem to be rooted at least in part in redefining how they view themselves, and of managing the conflict many feel between work and home. Some have felt great guilt towards their teams because they are working shorter hours, believing that they are somehow ‘letting them down’, whilst others have struggled to adapt to the changes which have taken place in their absence, whether that’s about changes of clients or changes in the seniority of their colleagues.

As a manager, it took me some time to recognise what was happening – because I didn’t view them any differently, I didn’t understand that some women felt differently returning to work after maternity leave.  If we are to truly address what we now clearly know is the negative impact on women’s careers and salaries post maternity leave, then we need to build programmes and initiatives supporting women on their return to work. We need to build post-maternity induction schemes that go beyond ‘do your flexible hours suit you?’ to restore confidence, add skills and empower women to reach for career success alongside motherhood.

Golin London has partnered with former Starcom MediaVest director Liz Nottingham and f1 recruitment’s Amanda Fone on the Back2Businessship returner programme for the past two years – an initiative that supports parents struggling to re-enter the workplace after taking a career break. The programme combines career planning, help on how to approach the jobs market, confidence building sessions and practical advice on how to manage your first 90 days back in the workplace. What a great idea, and kudos to everyone involved for quietly getting on with an initiative that has the potential to make a real difference to many women.

The Golin London scheme is aimed at women who have been out of the workplace for more than three years – but what’s to stop other agencies taking elements of this programme and adapting it to support any woman returning to work after maternity, parental or extended family leave?  Every agency worth its salt will have a decent induction scheme for new employees, to which they really ought to be adding a return to work scheme. It’s time we provided practical support to restore confidence and accelerate women’s professional development and job satisfaction post-maternity leave. Let’s do it.

How much are you worth?

The thorny question of remuneration is in the news today, as the High Pay Centre analysis of annual reports found that the salaries of chief executives in the FTSE 100 had increased more than 10% last year compared to the previous year. It’d be interesting to know whether their respective company revenues and profits grew similarly, don’t you think?

Are you surprised though, to hear that of the five female chief executives within the FTSE 100, none were within the top ten best paid (and that’s data from 2014 and 2015). Funnily enough, according to The Times today, “ten companies…had no female executive directors and no women on the remuneration committees that draw up plans for pay and bonuses.”  So, not only is it tough for women to get to the top, if you do get there chances are you won’t be paid the same as your male counterparts.  And for most of us, how would you even know that you aren’t being rewarded in the same way, especially when it comes to discretionary elements of remuneration packages such as performance related bonuses?

The 2016 PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) looked at (amongst other things) the influence of gender on salary and remuneration in a survey of 1,874 people carried out by YouGov.  Across the board, women earned an average of £9,000 less than men – and where people were given a bonus, the average given to women was approximately £4,000, compared to an average of £6,000 for men.  Some of the differences can be explained by the fact that there are more men than women working at a senior level within PR agencies. As PR Week reported, in agencies women outnumbered men by three to one among the junior ranks, but two-thirds of board directors or partners were men.

A quick look at the WPP 2015 Annual Report reinforces the seniority issue. Women made up 29% of the board and 33% of staff working at director or executive leadership level, set against an overall 54% of employees. Similar numbers abound at other media holding companies. So, women are entering the industry in ever-increasing numbers but not making it to the higher levels of leadership in the same numbers as men.

There’s a belief amongst some Millennials that the gender gap is a generation gap, and that as Millennials increasingly climb the corporate ladder, the number of women in leadership roles will automatically even out, but that’s not going to happen without sustained support.  Most of the big agencies and holding companies have been putting in place programmes designed to engage with women, provide role models and networking opportunities (Publicis has VivaWomen, Omnicom has Omniwomen – you get the picture) so change is definitely coming, but there’s a lot more to be done.

As with so many things, knowledge is power, so if you don’t know whether you’re being rewarded appropriately for what you do, make it your business to find out.  Check in with trusted peers, speak to your HR department if you have one and if all else fails, have a chat with a friendly recruiter to benchmark what you’re worth.  There’s nothing wrong with negotiating, or for deciding to settle a little under market value if other aspects of the job you do outweigh the purely financial, but if you don’t know where you sit vs the rest of the world, you’re not in the best position to make the right decision for you.  Good luck – and remember, you’re worth it.

Anything is possible

Today’s twitter feed has been notable for two stories in particular. Firstly, a letter in the Financial Times from members of the Investor Group of the 30% Club expressing disappointment that progress towards the target of one-third of FTSE 350 board positions by 2020 has slowed, according to the Female FTSE Board Report 2016.

This, from the foreword to the report, sums it up: “If we are to see sustained gender diversity at the top of business we must do more to ensure women progress through the executive pipeline. The reality is that progress in women’s representation remains too slow. Analysis in this report also gives us an insight into women’s representation at Executive Committee level in the FTSE 100, showing that they hold only 19.4% of Executive Committee roles.  In 2016 it is unacceptable that women continue to be an exception when it comes to the most senior leadership positions in business.”

The second story, all over the mainstream media as well as online, is that of Kevin Roberts, currently taking a leave of absence from his role as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, who claimed in an interview that the debate about gender diversity is over, and that he doesn’t think the lack of women in leadership roles is a problem, commenting, “their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.” Senior leaders at Publicis Groupe, owners of Saatchi and many of the world’s best known communications companies, have roundly condemned his comments and rightly so, as have many other leaders within the communications industry.

In this sector as in so many others, speaking out in support of women’s career development and finding ways to help people flex around their personal lives is driving real change, but it takes time.  One of the most positive things to come from Kevin Roberts’ comments was the way in which so many leaders responded, re-emphasising the importance of women in the workforce, and it was refreshing to see Publicis’ walking the talk by taking such swift action.

There is still a long way to go, and the Female FTSE Board Report suggests that instead of having an individual focus on women, organisations take a more holistic approach to ensuring that women are able to bring their full potential to work – which means looking differently at the way businesses are designed, the processes and behaviours that can ensure people from diverse backgrounds are best set for success.

In a month when the UK Conservative party appointed its second female prime minister and the US Democratic Party selected its first female presidential nominee, appearances can be deceiving. It’s all very well standing up and saying that their appointments show our daughters that anything is possible, but the fact remains that for many women, achieving their ambition feels a long way out of reach.  As a leader and a manager, ask yourself what you can do to help the women you work with achieve their potential.