Monday, 21 November 2016

It Is a Slippery Slope For Gender Equality

Oh my, what terrible weeks we are experiencing. We started the month with  more refugees losing their lives trying to cross the sea to safety; Calais Camps misery and unexploded bombs in London. We then progressed with the American election. But there was another important piece of news  however that appeared lost in a sea of information and that I wish to discuss in my blog today as it is equally relevant to women and to equality (or lack of it):  The World Economic Forum published its Index of Nations for Gender Equality. 
The index measures equality around some key parameters: economic empowerment, political empowerment, education and health. Some pretty key criteria if you ask me, but - guess what? - UK has gone down from 9th to 20th place. Not to mention US and Australia, even further behind at 45th and 46th place respectively. So now it is estimated that there won’t be gender equality for another 170 years – an increase on last year’s estimate of 118.

On the other hand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand, and Nicaragua are all at the top, even so, only the first five have closed the gender gap by 80% or more. I am sure many of you won’t be surprised that most Scandinavian countries are there. But, had I asked you to guess the top ten, Rwanda, Ireland, Philippines and Nicaragua would have not exactly come to the front of your mind. Surely here in the UK we are better, more progressive, more open minded and make decisions based on a meritocratic system?

Let me tell you, as somebody who has lived in this country 23 years and has been a passionate advocate for women for over 10, OH NO WE ARE NOT! And so we are slipping inexorably towards the bottom. But why?

Well, I have my theories.

First, it’s that ‘old boys’ network cliché.  Except, it is not a cliché at all, it is true. You want to look at the private sector, public sector, educational institutions, you name it. In most places the same people rule, who met in the same schools, went to the same universities, enjoyed a similar upbringing. Those networks are made up by ‘boys’, and dominate the establishment so you are either in or you are not, women and men alike.

This approach is pervasive and affects most areas in society, but especially those linked to political and economic empowerment. The British 50:50 Parliament initiative says that only 3 in 10 MPs and Peers are women, equivalent to 30% or so. Rwanda’s figure sits at 64%.

We also know that in the UK men continue to denominate top-table seats across the FTSE 100. As for hundred private companies that are not required to publish any figure, I fear the worst.

‘Old boys’ continue to choose ‘old boys’ as their successors, protégés and mentees.

Nothing can change that unless some important but still fringe government-led initiative becomes mainstream and an increasing number of women rushes through the flood gates, making it possible for the younger generation to push ahead. Or more likely, let me tell you, it will be by introducing quotas.  I can see your noses curling up in disdain, but here’s the proof: 
  • Board quotas have been introduced in countries such as Norway and Iceland. Top spot.
  • Quotas have also been introduced in many African parliaments, including Rwanda, another top spot holder.

Then, of course, we must talk about childcare, share of caring responsibilities, flexible working, and paternal leave. 

In Scandinavian societies the State has legislated in favour of working families  (of whatever denomination) and granted the flexibility, child care and leave necessary to retain women in the workforce and grant them the economic independence that ultimately adds £££ to the country’s GDP.  In some of the other top spot country, I suspect that community network and extended families come to the working woman’s rescue. Here in the UK most of us have the worst of both worlds. No community network and not supportive legislation and company policies to speak of.  And even when the company policy exists, its ‘old boys’ culture is decisively against it.        

So here we are, down to the 20th spot. With a woman as country leader, we hope that things will improve in due course, but – as the recently launched Women Equality party (WE) has already publicized – her first 100 days have made no difference to gender equality. I am waiting impatiently to see if the next 100 will.    

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

This Girl Can…. in a latex leotard?

I am reposting today a blog from Claire Hazle, director of Marketing and Ecommerce for Cosmos Tours and Cruises, Avalon River Cruises, Archers Holidays. Claire discusses female empowerment and how a latex leotard may or may not have to do with it… Whether you agree with Claire or not, she makes some interesting points! Claire was a mentor at the Women in Travel Meetup that I organise and that took place last week at World Travel Market 2016. She can be contacted @clairerosehazle
I inadvertently caused a minor Twitter stir recently. Whilst watching X Factor on a Saturday night, I sent an innocent tweet that questioned why Little Mix had to wear such skimpy outfits (latex leotards and thigh high boots, in case you missed it) and asked why we couldn’t provide young girls with female role models who wore more ‘normal’ clothes.
I received a torrent of response, from supportive likes and retweets to accusations of my disempowering women and policing what they wear.

The most disheartening insight was how many of the angry Twitterati perceived the girls performing in their ‘perky dominatrix outfits’ (The Telegraph) as a symbol of empowerment.

“I think they’re being great role models by showing girls that they can wear whatever they want” said one. “Women’s bodies aren’t some shameful disgrace thing, as a young girl myself, [they] have always empowered myself and other girls my age” said another.

Yes, girls should be able to wear what they want, but should we be measuring female empowerment by the length (or absence) of our skirt? Is ‘because we can’ a valid argument? In my opinion, that X Factor performance represented the antithesis of empowerment. It suggested to me that the feminist swing-o-meter is in danger of lurching too far the other way, into a place where we risk hailing false symbols of equality that are in fact re-cementing inequality. I am yet to see a boy band perform on stage in their boxer shorts, ‘just because they can’.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see all women wearing sacks, and of course we should be able to celebrate our sexuality. However, it feels as though there is a sub-section of young women coming up through the ranks whose view of empowerment is diametrically at odds to that of the generation above them. Empowerment and equality should be about having a voice and being heard. It’s having the courage to voice an opinion and being respected for that opinion. It’s having equal access to financial, political and social opportunities across all sectors of society without compromise or repression. It’s respecting each other and not feeling like you have to conform to a particular norm in order to succeed. It’s choosing to stay at home to bring up your child, or indeed choosing not to have children, and not feeling like you are letting ‘the side’ down in doing so. Empowerment is about having choices, and using those choices wisely.

I am fully aware that I risk sounding like I’ve turned into my Mother overnight. Perhaps I have. But do you know what? I’m proud if I have, because she is a fantastic woman and a great role model. She has supported me throughout my career, wanting me to have the opportunities that she didn’t when she was growing up in post-war Britain. She’s encouraged me to carve my own path and to stay true to myself. I’ve worked in a number of male-dominated organisations over the years where that’s been tested, but I hope I’ve gained the respect of my teams and colleagues along the way by sticking to my own particular brand of leadership, which has been strongly influenced by my sense of self as a woman.

As a senior business woman and also as a step-mum, I feel a palpable responsibility to be a suitable role model. The reason I am mentoring at Women In Travel at WTM is because I truly care about helping people to achieve their potential. Empowerment breeds responsibility and a sense of achievement and self-worth. Most of all, I encourage people to find their own style that they can embrace, whether male or female. As my step-daughter grows up, I will help her to see that she can do anything and be anything, with dignity and inner strength.
Find your own voice. Be heard. Don’t compromise who you are, but keep in perspective what empowerment truly means. And do me one small favour…..make sure you’re wearing something that won’t make you catch a chill while you’re doing it.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

A #Brave #Woman Indeed!

Hillary Clinton was defeated in the US election this week.

Below I have provided the transcript of the most important passages in her 'concession' speech, which is in my opinion one of the most courageous, graceful and inspirational I have come across.

Her resilience and leadership resonates throughout and we can and must be proud of what she has achieved on behalf of all women!

‘This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.’

Passage #1
Last night I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.
I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, [...] But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together. This vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign.

This is painful, and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this.
Our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America, and I always will.

We must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.

Passage #4
Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. [...] say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone—for people of all races, and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone.
So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek.

I’ve had successes and I’ve had setbacks. Sometimes, really painful ones. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.
It is, it is worth it.

To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.
Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will—and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.
And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

I still believe, as deeply as I ever have, that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strengthen our convictions, and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that.
My friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.