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5 posts from February 2008

28 February 2008

Gone to rock the vote

I’ve had a very hectic week this week, in the way that one always does just prior to a holiday – there always seems to be a disproportionate amount of activity, doesn’t there?  One of the things which kept me busy was talking to Gloria from Engage magazine, www.engagemagazine.co.uk who will be publishing a feature on the Gender Advisory Council in a forthcoming edition of the magazine. I’ll post a link to it here once it appears in print.

While I’m away, there will be another “Super Tuesday” style primary in the USA.  Although obviously I’m not eligible to vote in the USA, and nor is this blog a platform for my own personal political views, I do still take an interest, particularly given the backgrounds of the two most high profile Democratic candidates.  I find the political commentary of whether America is “ready” for a female President, or “will accept” a black President to be really interesting and thought provoking, and I’ll continue to follow the coverage with interest.  Oddly enough, I was on holiday in Florida in November 2004 at the time of that Presidential election, and stayed up all night to watch the coverage.  I think that may have been the election in which Barack Obama first came to national prominence.

Here’s a photo I took on that trip on Election Day – just as relevant now.


See you next month,


24 February 2008

Why Women Mean Business – world domination beckons!

Great to hear from Alison and Avivah that the European launches of the book “Why Women Mean Business” are going so well.   Following the successful event in Brussels in early February, this week saw the WWMB roadshow reach Paris, in which the authors and their team took over a bookshop on the Rue de Rivoli.

Alison Maitland wrote to tell me that the bookshop: “…had devoted one of their two windows entirely to the book,  with quotes from the cuttings and a big poster about the event. They set out chairs and a signing table in the middle of the shop (which was closed to customers), so we were surrounded by bookshelves. It felt decidedly literary, so we read a few passages from the book, as well as talking, and had lots of interesting questions.”


Those of you who subscribe to my PwC mailing list will know of this offer, but it bears repeating here – I have a copy of “Why Women Mean Business” to give away and I would like to award it to a woman in PwC who contributes a piece for publication in the Gender Agenda blog.  It can be about anything you like, but must reference gender in some way - what it's like to be a woman in the firm, an experience you've had, your hopes for the future, life as a working mother or carer, your experience on a training programme, something that's caused you to look at life and your career differently of late, life on a secondment or global assignment, etc.  Drop me an email before the middle of March and I’ll announce the winner at a later date, and hopefully publish several of the entries.

I was in touch with colleagues in PwC Australia and South Africa last week, and they are also interested in receiving copies of the book, to both keep as reference tools in their libraries but to also share with male and female colleagues. It’s very exciting to think of the book winging its way around the PwC world in this way. Next stop: Toronto, early April.


14 February 2008

A spoonful of Sugar

This week’s flood of “Have you seen THIS?!” emails have been around an article which appeared in last Saturday’s edition of the UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.  The front page bore the headline:

“It’s easier not to employ women, says Sir Alan”

and page 18 then carried a journalist’s dream of a half page interview with Sir Alan Sugar, in which he shared such gems as – “These laws are counter-productive for women. You are not allowed to ask about children so it’s easy – just don’t employ them.”

For those of you not resident in the UK,  who may well be reading this and wondering “Who?” or even “Who is this dinosaur?”,  then the Sir Alan in question is Sir Alan Sugar, entrepreneur, self-made millionaire and founder of a consumer electronics company called Amstrad.  More recently, he has achieved a media platform by being the UK equivalent of Donald Trump and hosting the BBC TV series, “The Apprentice”, in which both men and women compete in various trials in order to win a job with Sir Alan and a salary of £100,000 per year.  As with The Donald, the catch phrase is either a weekly rendition of “You’re Fired!” or, to one individual in the final show each season, “You’re Hired!”.

Although the article is littered with all sorts of opinions, such as the benefits of hitting children (“a good clip round the ear never hurt anybody”) and “some people don’t approve of my leadership skills”, he does concede that “women can be much better lawyers and accountants” – but he also believes that mothers are writing themselves out of jobs, due to the support and protection offered by (UK) maternity laws.

I had a couple of possibly contradictory thoughts around this article.  Firstly, my immediate reaction was that Sir Alan is using both his unassailable position as a successful businessman and his media platform / persona as a blunt speaker to voice opinions which he knows to be unpalatable and politically incorrect but which I bet are still shared by lots of other people.  I really do wonder how common his thoughts are and how many other decision making leaders share them?  And, does he have a point?  Is he right in his view that British women are actually harmed by this level of protective legislation?  Do these laws make it easier to not even hire or promote a woman of childbearing / parenting age, in order to avoid the risk of her potential absences on maternity leave and / or childcare emergencies?  Do women really only work to “support the lifestyle, the flats, the car and the gadgets”?

But, as I read on, the continuing assumption that it is solely the WOMEN who have the child care responsibilities which would remove them from the workplace at an inconvenient time to the employer began to irk me.  Whilst many of the women interviewed last year for the Gender Advisory Council’s “Women in Leadership” report did state that they often had overall responsibility for co-ordinating domestic and childcare arrangements, there was also a very clear message that these responsibilities are shared. And not all women either have children, plan to have them, are able to have them or see any kind of childcare responsibilities in their future. So it’s interesting to note that in Sugar World, this is solely an issue for female employees and not one which even touches or impacts on the careers of the men – and yet presumably, a fair few of them are also parents. 

Additionally, there was a thread running through his views which seemed to ignore that childcare responsibilities and maternity leave does, in reality, only impact a portion of a woman’s career. It’s not an arrangement which lasts forever; as Leslie Bennetts states in her fantastic book, “The Feminine Mistake” “the acute phase of mothering doesn’t last forever” – and that’s as true for employers as it is for their staff.

She goes on to say: “The really difficult period amounts to only a few short years out of the fifty-plus I will spend in the workforce overall – a relatively short period, if you take the long view.”

In essence – we should all, from both sides of the fence, look at time spent in the workforce as a marathon not a sprint, and not look for reasons to either not enter the race or to give up at an early mile marker.      

(I know I rave about this book nearly as often as the equally thought provoking “Why Women Mean Business”, but looking at it again in order to reference it today has reminded me that it’s out in paperback on 4th March, if anyone’s interested.)

Until next time – I am off to lace up my virtual running shoes.


05 February 2008

“So few women were expected that the ladies' toilets were actually closed for the evening …”

I’ve written before on the Gender Agenda about the way in which lots of people are very supportive of both my work and my tendency to be curious about gender related news items, and how this is reflected in their habit of sending me assorted articles.

And I can always tell how much a topic in the public eye has fired up people’s attention by how many copies of an article are forwarded to me for my viewing pleasure.

This week has been no exception.  We always read the Sunday Observer newspaper and my husband was barely three pages in to this weekend’s business section before he sighed deeply and then passed me across an article entitled "The glass ceiling isn't broken - in fact, it's getting thicker". I then logged onto my email the next day to discover that six of my friends and colleagues had each sent me the same link. Thank you all.

Extremely depressing to be in 2008 and yet to read this sentence – my use of bold:

“The rarity of female directors was painfully evident last week at the glitzy Quoted Company Awards held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London to reward the performance of listed firms. So few women were expected that the ladies' toilets were actually closed for the evening, and a scan of the programme showed that, of a thousand guests, fewer than 15 per cent were women.”

Heaven help those women who did attend, then – and shame on the hotel for giving out such an antiquated and unwelcoming message to the 150 women who did apparently turn up.

Still, articles such as this are a startling reminder of what the world can and still does look like for many women.  But for how much longer?  And what more can we do to force the pace of change?  Is it just down to the employer, or can women play a part in re-shaping the future of the workplace?

The Chair of PwC’s Global Gender Advisory Council (GAC), Moira Elms, has just joined Opportunity Now’s Advisory Board and attended the launch of their latest research paper: “Women and Work – the Facts” last week. It’s available as a download from their website if you’re an ON member, or drop me an email.  To those of us who,  in the words of one of the members of the Gender Advisory Council,  “live in this space full time”, their findings and recommendations made interesting yet familiar reading … perhaps less so to the participants of the Observer’s survey. 

I often get asked for information on flexible working and work life balance, so here’s a few numbers from the Opportunity Now research:

  • Four out of five employees state that work-life balance considerations play a crucial role in deciding whether to stay or leave their current employer
  • 87% - the proportion of executive candidates rejecting a job due to work-life balance considerations
  • 49% of employers have seen an increase in productivity following the implementation of work-life balance options
  • One quarter of female employees and one tenth of male employees have some form of flexible working arrangement.

When the GAC interviewed nearly 80 of PwC’s female leaders last summer, and asked them how they had achieved their career success, and what advice they would give to existing male leaders, this quote stuck with me – perhaps it contains the answer to bridging the gap which currently exists between an anti female, male dominated leadership culture and the Opportunity Now research, which indicates that there’s a new generation of people in the workforce who want to work hard yet flexibly:

Try to challenge your mindset …shift it from “putting up” with flexible work practices to “supportively backing a future leader”.


01 February 2008

Let’s get serious about sex: the UK launch of “Why Women Mean Business”

This week saw the UK launch of Alison Maitland and Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’s new book: “Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergence of our next Economic Revolution”.

Here at PwC, we’ve been big fans of the book since I first read an outline of it and a few sample chapters last October at the Women’s Forum in Deauville, so it was fantastic to finally arrive at Wednesday 30th January and get my hands on a copy.  In addition to sponsoring the launches this week in London and in Toronto and New York in April, the book has also been endorsed by our global CEO Sam DiPiazza.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

"Attracting and retaining the best talent is a top concern amongst global CEOs. As the war for talent escalates, even companies in burgeoning labour markets can no longer afford to limit career opportunities for women. This book ably illustrates that the companies which succeed in the 21st century will be those that realise the full potential of women and make the necessary investments towards nurturing their talent."

We hosted the UK launch at the PwC offices at Embankment Place, and welcomed over 100 guests on Wednesday evening. The event began with PwC UK board member and Gender Advisory Council Chair Moira Elms welcoming our guests and reiterating PwC’s support for “this fantastic book.” Moira then handed over to the two authors, Alison and Avivah, who gave a brief overview of the book and why they decided to write it.

“Let’s re-think where we are and re-frame the gender agenda.”  “Why Women Mean Business” contains research drawn from all over the world and is aimed at both men and women in the business community.

So, why do Women Mean Business?  Alison outlined three reasons:

Firstly, women make up most of the talent pool: 60% of European and American graduates are female.

Secondly, they represent most of the marketplace – in the USA alone; women make 80% of consumer spending decisions.  Added to that, women live longer than men, and are trendsetters – so, what women decide is worth buying will then be bought by both other women and men.

And finally, and perhaps most crucially in terms of appealing to male business minds: gender balance in an organisation is good for performance – and there’s a robust body of evidence to support this.  Recent research from both Catalyst and McKinsey (previously referenced on this blog) shows  that companies which have a critical mass of women at a senior level – usually defined as one third or more of the board – achieve an average of 83% higher return on equity.

So, given that women make up most of the talent, much of the market and are good for the bottom line: hasn’t the time come to get serious about sex?

Here are Alison and Avivah’s pragmatic guidelines for changing your focus and business practices around gender diversity:

  • Stop trying to fix the women! Meaning – stop training women to behave like men.  This only creates an unsuccessful hybrid.  Instead ….
  • ...start trying to fix the organisation instead!  What are the systemic barriers which prevent women meaning business?

They suggest focussing on the following:

  • Obtaining management buy-in and commitment to addressing and fixing this issue;
  • Creating what they refer to as “management bi-lingualism” – that is, investing in learning “the language of men and women” – so that both genders can understand what drives and motivates the other, and how and why we behave and act as we do.
  • Empowering women to grow, develop and lead.
  • Fixing the systemic issues – the unconscious biases that we all hold.

Avivah concluded by reminding us of the saying that “Privilege is invisible to the privileged” and saying that, if we each do only one thing, “try and make your male managers aware of this issue.”

We then moved into a panel discussion, moderated by Stefan Stern of the Financial Times.  The panel was made up of three male leaders: PwC UK’s Paul Cleal,  board member for People; Kevin Daly, Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs and Professor Soumittra Dutta of INSEAD. Each participant spoke of the challenges and issues facing their own organisations, with Kevin focussing on the economic implications of the gender gap and illustrating with a number of global examples how productivity gaps could be closed and GDPs increased with a higher level of female participation in the workforce.

Stefan then took a number of very spirited questions from the floor, and the panel and the authors both answered them and linked the topics under discussion to the themes covered in the book: what about cultural differences and global impact?  (answer: “cultures change if policies do”); the benefit (or perhaps the dis-benefits?) of role models – on which there was general agreement that bad role models for women are in some ways worse than no role models.  Finally, I enquired as to the panel’s view on the use of targets as a change mechanism. This received a thumbs up from Paul and Professor Dutta, and a cautious and uncommitted “hmm, maybe” from Mr Daly.

The audience then adjourned into the PwC Atrium for drinks and the authors were mobbed for signed copies of their books, which we gave out as gifts to the attendees. Here’s a photo of Alison at the signing table!


It was a great evening and we’ve had lots of positive feedback over the last few days about how our guests enjoyed both listening to the panel debate and hearing about the themes contained within the book.  If this blog posting has whetted your appetite, click here to read a sample chapter.  And then go and buy the book!

Oh, and keep checking back to the “Read and Listen” page on the main website, as we hope to have some video footage of the launch event made available very soon, thanks to the work of Vincent Eaton who had his camera glued to his shoulder all evening.

“WWMB” launches in Brussels next week, and we wish Avivah and Alison great good luck with their Belgian event.  Next stop for the PwC/WWMB Express: Toronto on April 3rd, New York on April 7th.