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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”.



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