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2 posts from September 2008

30 September 2008

Sex, Flights and Videotape

Hello again.  Last week’s promised update on the progress of our video failed to materialise, as you may perhaps have noticed, due to one very simple reason:  I was without a laptop!  My computer made a noise, not unlike the sound of a champagne cork popping (only much less fun) last Sunday evening and suddenly I had no technology.  It transpired that the hard disk had become corrupt and so my poor PC had to go off to be mended.  Whilst all this was going on, I was working in Barcelona and then in Amsterdam, frantically trying to function via my BlackBerry and constantly checking for updates as to the patient’s progress.  Fortunately, my wonderful colleagues in IT managed to recover absolutely everything and so I was able to collect a fully functioning laptop when I got back to London on Friday.

But, just to end my week …. if you read the news story about the technical failure of London’s air traffic control systems last Thursday, then spare a thought for those of us who were, like me, trapped at Schipol airport for several hours, gazing in despair at a departures board which listed my flight home as:

“Indefinitely Delayed.”

I eventually arrived home FIVE hours later than scheduled, at midnight rather than at 7pm.  If you’re reading this and you don’t travel on business, but have a sneaking suspicion that its “glamorous” – consider this story!

However, the time spent in both Spain and the Netherlands was excellent, and I learned and shared so much.  The Barcelona trip was for me to participate in our annual “Women in Europe” two day conference,  which brought together men and women from 20 European countries, plus guests from other PwC territories, including GAC members Anita Stemmet and Laurie Endsley from South Africa and Central and Eastern Europe, respectively, and Elham Hassan the leader of PwC in Bahrain.  I am particularly fond of both this group and this event, as, back in 2006, it was the first ever PwC function which I attended in my new role as Gender Advisory Council programme office leader.  I’d only been in the job for about three weeks and I caught the train to Brussels to talk about the creation of the Council and what we planned to do.  As if standing up and speaking to about 50 complete strangers wasn’t daunting enough, I was also forced to “mime” my slides due to a technical fault which meant that, basically, I was there but the slides were not.

It’s true what “they” say about difficult things making you stronger … I survived - and every year since then it has been both easier and more fun to get together with my European colleagues and to learn about the creativity, energy and passion they are applying to advancing the female agenda in their respective countries.

One of my favourite writers, Alison Maitland (co-author of “Why Women Mean Business”) was our guest speaker and shared an excellent presentation which outlined the themes of the book and why more companies should both care and take action on the gender front.  And to keep her talk current and linked with breaking news, Alison started by commenting that:

“The business activities of the last few weeks have shown us the kind of havoc that can be wreaked by male dominated organisations.”

Which is certainly true – where are the female faces amongst the failed investment bankers?  And is their absence a good thing?

The following day, I travelled to Amsterdam, where “International Women of Excellence” were hosting a one day workshop at TNT headquarters, entitled “Leading for the Future: Women Do Mean Business.”  The excellent keynote speaker was Marie-Christine Lombard, CEO of TNT Express, who began by warning us that she may be viewed as radical, because: “the more senior I get, the more radical I become.”  She outlined her career, which has taken her through an MBA, a spell in US retailing and time spent in investment banking in both Wall Street and Paris (“there’s a new generation coming through – a new generation of men”) before moving into the transport and logistics industry.

When asked what women need in order to get to the top, she replied:

  • Legitimacy:  you have to come up through the pipeline and know your stuff
  • Credibility: you have to be really smart and knowledgeable
  • You need a network of key people to support you, plus - 
  • Determination to succeed – and –
  • Self confidence and self assurance.

She warned us that “companies need an extraordinary HR strategy to change the current way of working” and concluded by saying that:

“Women in companies are only an outcome of the position of women in society.”

This last sentence particularly resonated with me, as it ties in so completely with the themes that we are exploring with our film.  As I’ve mentioned before, we have been filming all over the world (this week will see our crew in both New York and Brazil, obtaining footage to accompany that already shot in South Africa, India, the UK and Russia) and asking leading business people, politicians, academics and commentators to share their vision of the world in 2050. What needs to change in society for women to achieve their full economic potential?  Who is responsible for creating those changes?  What interventions really make a difference?  And what do we want the future world to be like for our children?

As long ago as 1995, the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women made this statement: 

"… empowerment of women and equality between women and men are prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security among all peoples.”

- and it’s been interesting to hear our interviewees’ views and perspectives.  Of course, one of the most fascinating tactical and operational aspects of making our film has been the climate in which we are making it, at a time of unprecedented global economic changes.  I have wondered on more than one occasion if it would have been a different (easier?) experience if we had been filming a year ago instead of now ….

Challenges we have faced have included the resignation (post filming) from her leadership role of one interviewee, the very high profile meltdown of a financial institution associated with another interviewee, and staff redundancies occurring within a major corporation which led to the CEO deciding that now might not be the best of times in which to participate in this film.  Oh, and there’s also some election or other happening in America in November.

I described the filming process to my colleagues in Barcelona as being something of a moving target and that’s certainly been the case, but what a fascinating project.  We are on the home stretch with regard to filming and are now working on the edit and considering what to keep and what ends up on the cutting room floor (more new vocabulary for me; other key phrases which I can now bandy about include “establishment shots” and “viewing the rushes”).  We hope as part of the editing to create a short trailer which I’ll try to stream here once it’s completed.

Later this week I fly to Washington DC to have meetings with a couple of external organisations and also to present on gender as a business issue at Genesis Park and I’ll then come home via the annual Newsweek “Women in Leadership” event in New York, which was the subject of one of my very first blog entries almost a year ago.

Happy Birthday, Gender Agenda!

Until next time, from the US –


15 September 2008

In the news: pit bulls and snails

Hello again.  I returned from my recent holiday (only narrowly missing the collapse and subsequent impact on holidaymakers cased by the demise of the XL Group) to a raft of emails in response to my “Travel Tao” post.  Many thanks to you all for these great suggestions, and keep them coming in; I will collate them and post another “Tao” article in a few weeks’ time.

While I was away, as the whole world now knows, and as pondered upon here and in the UK Observer of 13 July, John McCain selected Sarah Palin, the self dubbed “pit bull in lipstick”, as his running mate in the forthcoming American Presidential elections.

“Gender, Back on Stage” screamed the New York Times headline in the international edition, as acres of newsprint were then devoted to discussing Sarah Palin’s family life, glasses, lipstick choices, bear hunting past, time as a beauty queen and other issues germane to the debate around who is the best person to be the deputy to the future President.  Conservative political strategist Vin Weber commented last week - that he had “… never heard such a divergence of views as that on Sarah Palin”. 

For all that I agree with the oft-repeated comment made by Palin about the “eighteen million cracks in the glass ceiling”,  I also concur with Gail Collins, who challenged the excessively optimistic view that Palin will inherit all of Hillary Clinton’s supporters with her observation that:

“… the idea that women are going to race off to vote for any candidate with the same internal plumbing is both offensive and historically wrong.”

When I’ve discussed this with friends and colleagues, many of whom are American and hence can either vote or, if expats of long standing who can’t vote, still take a keen interest, they have mirrored this perspective, with one diehard, proud, getting-the-vote-out campaigning Democrat even conceding that, whether you love her or hate her, Palin has completely changed the dynamics of the campaign and brought some amazing energy to the Republicans. 

It seems as if American’s liberals don’t know what has hit them. Can you be a liberal and not support the female candidate?  Is this the equivalent to not supporting Obama and thus being regarded as a racist?   

Is the selection of Palin a smart move and one which will tip Middle America; is she a candidate who can indeed mop up the votes of women of all colours and politics?

Well, we’ll know after 4th November and one thing is clear: after that date, the White House will have either a black man or a white woman in one of the two top jobs for the first time in American history.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, the Equal Opportunities Commission published their 2008 report entitled “Sex and Power”, which examines and surveys the number of women in positions of power and influence.  The depressing news, that there are now fewer women in these roles than there were when the EOC first commenced their survey in 2003 made headlines around the world, and this comment from CEO Nicola Brewer was repeated everywhere:

““We always speak of a glass ceiling. These figures reveal that in some cases it appears to be made of reinforced concrete. We need radical change to support those who are doing great work and help those who want to work better and release talent.

“The Commission’s report argues that today’s findings are not just a women’s issue but are a powerful symptom of a wider failure. The report asks in what other ways are old-fashioned, inflexible ways of working preventing Britain from tapping into talent.”

The EOC have given permission to other websites to share their snail image banner, so here it is:


They’ve used the snail motif throughout the report as an emblem of the verrrrrrrrrry slow pace of change which is currently predicted by these numbers, for example:

  • A snail could crawl the entire length of the Great Wall of China in 212 years, just slightly longer than the 200 years it will take for women to be equally represented in the British Parliament.
  • A snail could crawl nine times round the M25 in the 55 years that it will take women to achieve equality in the judiciary and –
  • It could also crawl from Land’s End to John O’Groats and halfway back again in the 73 years it will take for equal numbers of women to reach the top of the FTSE 100 companies.

Non UK dwellers should note that the M25 referenced above is a 117 mile/188 kms motorway which encircles London … just for context. Disheartening context.

You can download the PDF of the full report from the EOC website link above, and it’s an interesting read, but not one which is going to cheer anyone who really cares about gender issues. As I said at the start – depressing.

Finally, because I am determined to end on a more positive note, I can report that we are going great guns with the production of the GAC video, as we move into the final few weeks of filming.  We are scheduled to complete the filmed interviews by the end of September, and will then edit the footage into our finished film in early October, prior to releasing it in the middle of that month.  I’ll write a little more about who and where we’ve been filming next time.