What M&S knows about women engineers that the Evening Standard could learn

34ROMA3103M&S ‘Leading Ladies’ campaign celebrates women of substance- the latest collection is aimed at the diverse women of modern Britain. While many faces are familiar, we like the introduction of Roma Agrawal. a structural engineer. Her impressive portfolio includes The Shard, London’s 87 storey skyscraper, Western Europe’s tallest building. Employed by WSP Group, she is currently involved in the remodelling of London Bridge. We are immediately impressed and intrigued by M&S’s choice to include a female engineer and curious about her background.

Agrawal grew up in India, with a father who was an electrical engineer, mother a computer designer, and sister an architect. She explained: “There’s less of a divide between girls’ and boys’ subjects in India than here. It’s normal there for girls to study science. I didn’t realise that a gender divide existed until I came to university at Oxford. I looked around the lecture theatre and there were about 10 girls in a class of 150. That’s when I thought this was kind of weird. We are designing things for society and if the people designing them only represent a small proportion of society we probably can’t deliver well.”

So why did Agrawal get involved with M&S? She wanted to highlight women engineers in the UK, currently standing at just 8%. She explained: “I loved that they had models and music stars alongside Doreen Lawrence and an engineer. It’s fantastic that M&S is reaching out to a whole new audience who might not have considered engineering before. It’s good for girls, and boys, to see engineers of all shapes, sizes and types doing amazing things, because anyone can do it. Even if you don’t like maths and physics.”

“As an engineer working to get more people, especially women, interested in maths, science and technical careers” Agrawal believes in the power of the media to attract strong talent and inspire the new generation of women to train in engineering.’” Unfortunately the media can also undermine great talent through it’s blatant sexism. An article written about Agrawal stated:

“This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down”.

We doubt a reference to her clothing and male genitalia would have featured if the subject was a male engineer. Agrawal, BA MSc CEng MIStructE MIET is an Associate Structural Engineer at WSP, responded, “I would like to thank the Evening Standard for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to raise the profile of engineering and women in leadership, but next time, let’s do it without the penis jokes”. We at Female Breadwinners like her style.

Without Maria Miller is there no room for outspoken women in Tory top seats?

Maria MillerWhen the position of Minister for Equalities and Women’s Minister was up for grabs following the resignation of Maria Miller from the cabinet last week, the big question in everyone’s mind was: Who would David Cameron choose to fill Miller’s shoes, especially with the election looming next year? There is a distinct lack of female representatives in Government with only 3 women running departments out of a possible 22. The Government is “out of touch with the reality of women’s lives and struggles” thinks Gloria de Piero, the Labour shadow minister for women and equalities. Cameron had better choose wisely to gain the confidence of women that government has our best interests at heart. A number of strong female candidates sprung to mind, notably those who champion women’s real issues.

Female Breadwinners also liked as potential candidates the independent-minded Priti Patel and Andrea Leadsom. Equally Anna Soubry, who has the reputation of ‘speaking her mind’ when she jokingly accused Cameron of giving her a role historically given to women. ’Boss, you do know what you’ve just done? You’ve given public health to the girl again’.

So who was it to be?….drum roll….Instead of those great candidates, we were introduced to Nicky Morgan. “She’s the classic blue-stocking, solid Tory, deeply deeply reliable and efficient. And she’ll be a very good minister” said a conservative insider. We are less convinced as Morgan’s voted against legalising gay marriage, so Cameron split the women’s and equalities ministerial posts, the latter passed to Sajid Javid. As a result of the mini-shuffle of the cabinet Andrea Leadsom was appointed as Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Is the only way women succeed in parliament when they maintain an air of caution and don’t have any radical opinions? ‘As whip, Morgan was forced to keep her head down – it’s in the nature of the job. As Economic Secretary, she’s been adept at toeing the Government line’ wrote The Guardian.

Will Morgan get the time to address women’s rights when the position is sidelined yet again with her other demanding role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury? Let’s hope she can juggle because we are counting on her.

Snickers Advert: Is keeping men hungry the answer to gender equality?

Australian Snickers Ad“Do you wanna hear a filthy word?…..” shouts the construction worker from the scaffolding to a passing woman. We at Female Breadwinners cringed before hearing the catcall, “…..Gender bias!”. We were not expecting that! The latest Australian advert for Snickers involves actors shouting non-sexist hoots, such as the one above, to passing women. The messages expressed are respectful, gender neutral and indeed empowering. One builder catcalls: “You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender neutral introductions, free from assumptions and expectations. You go girl!”.

On the surface the ad appears to have an anti-misogyny theme. Sadly not all is as it seems and the slogan, “You’re not you when you’re hungry” hits your screen leaving you feel cheated and somewhat deflated after a refreshing moment is compared to that of a hunger driven madness. You are left questioning whether it is sexist or entertaining, and it has evoked this mixed reaction globally. There has been an massive response on Twitter with tweets such as;

“Why do these men have to be starving in order to believe #women deserve respect?”

Another one asks:

“Tagline at the end of the #snickersaustralia advert is confusing. So, when men are full they go back to being sexist?”

The advert appears to be sexist to men and women both alike. By suggesting that the men ‘aren’t themselves’ implies they’re otherwise a group of misogynists. Additionally, no person should be subjected to any street harassment scenario. A Mars spokeswoman stated in a Australian newspaper, “We do not endorse any behaviour that offends women or accept derogatory comments towards anyone”.

This video got our attention here at Female Breadwinners. So the question we are left with is: If the way to a man’s heart in through his stomach, are hungry men the only ones that believe in equality?

Check out the video and let us know what you think?


Like Aretha Says: ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T! – 5 Ways to Get More Respect as a Woman Manager

women managerRespect is elusive for many managers, though especially those who lack leadership skills, rule by fear, or aim to please team members versus putting the company’s best interests first. However, there are also plenty of managers who truly deserve respect but struggle to get it. In our work at Female Breadwinners, we find women managers are faced with difficult challenges in this regard- including employees who find them unreasonable or allow bias to creep into their judgements.

A wonderful article in Forbes recently covered the ways managers can get more respect at their workplace. We would like to focus on those points which are more essential for women managers.

Be Kind and Direct -

While most women managers do manage to convey kindness in their communication, it’s important to balance that with being direct. Over relying on kindness can increase the risk of being perceived as a pushover. Most employees just want their manager to tell them the truth about their performance or their future prospects. Managers who can be direct but kind with their employees will earn both respect and gratitude.

Develop a sense of humour -

Levity is a great tension breaker and the sign of a savvy leader. People can be made to feel at ease with sharp wit that is professional and relates to the job. Women managers can use humour to better connect with their employees.

Praise publicly, punish privately -

Praise and recognition are two tenets of good management and gaining the respect of your staff. While it is important to show genuine appreciation publicly, one must be careful to never humiliate someone by giving negative feedback in public. Such criticism can set off a chain reaction of mistrust and fear on the team that will be difficult to overcome. On the other hand, constructive private feedback demonstrates that you have their best interests at heart.

Be mindful of your image -

If what you do and what you say are not reflected in your lifestyle, you are bound to lose big on respect from your employees and clients. This is a particular challenge for women as younger women find it hard to be taken seriously and older women often tend to get written off too. Women managers need to put in that extra effort to build up a reputation which establishes themselves as good leaders and be extra alert about it being tarnished.

Believe in yourself -

Sometimes, confidence is half the battle in succeeding. Confidence, poise and professionalism are a magnet for any team. It is important to remain equipoised in any situation- irrespective of the challenges being faced. However, don’t confuse tenacity with being myopic or stubborn; you can follow your instincts while remaining flexible according to events that unfold.

Publisher Calls Biology Blogger an ‘Urban Whore’ for Asking for Payment


danielle-lee2No matter how frequently we report on sexism in the workplace, we are still often surprised by the audacity of those who discriminate even in the most mundane situations. In one such shocking incident, biologist and science blogger Dr. Danielle N. Lee was called ‘an urban whore’ when she inquired about compensation from the journal Biology Online. What BO didn’t count on was the social media arsenal someone like Dr. Lee has at her disposal.

Dr. Lee wrote for the Scientific American blog network for over two years under the name DNLee, focusing on “urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences.” She was approached by Biology Online to write a series of monthly articles under her blog name – the Urban Scientist. When she inquired about compensation, Biology Online, explained that their guest bloggers were expected to write “for exposure”. When Dr. Lee politely declined this request, Biology Online insulted her by replying, “Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

Dr. Lee posted screencaps of the exchange to her blog on the Scientific American site along with a video aimed at Biology Online on Youtube. What is even more surprising is that Scientific American removed her blog post about the incident claiming it was too personal and nothing to do with science. Since Scientific American allows numerous other authors to post personal stories on their website, their silencing of a African American woman seems to reflect a troubling contradiction towards diversity in the sciences.

The Daily Dot re-reported Dr Lee’s original post-, after it had been removed. They quoted her as saying, “It wasn’t just that he called me a whore – he juxtaposed it against my professional being: Are you urban scientist or an urban whore? Completely dismissing me as a scientist, a science communicator (whom he sought for my particular expertise), and someone who could offer something meaningful to his brand. What? Now, I’m so immoral and wrong to inquire about compensation?”

At Female Breadwinners, we wholeheartedly support Dr. Lee’s stance. We can’t help but suspect that would not have been the responses from Biology Online or Scientific American had the blogger been someone from a ‘more traditional background’.

Why Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Culture is Killing Us

leanin_2506122bAs you can imagine, the recent article in the Washington Post :’Recline, Don’t Lean In: Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg‘ caught our eye. As an organisation that helps women and men ‘lean in’ to workplace gender equality, we recognise that ‘leaning in’ is de rigour for any aspiring professional. However, it’s a hollow victory if we only achieve equality of exhaustion.

The article by Rosa Brooks, a foreign policy expert, explains the dangers of continuously leaning in: ‘We’ve created a world in which ubiquity is valued above all. If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague. But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased…Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home.’

Brooks continue: ‘Men today do more housework and childcare than men in their fathers’ generation, but ..as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity. They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.’

While ubiquity hurts women, men are not escaping the ill effects either. I spoke at a corporate event last week where the main topic became how the ‘Always On’ culture is a key reason for the departure of both women and men. I think the difference is that women have to be more honest and prioritise their families, whereas men are more reluctant to publicly admit to their exhaustion. But this comes with a heavy cost for us all.

As Brooks explains: ‘Henry Ford didn’t advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight hours. As Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” humans can only take so much for so long. When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions.’

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