Busy but bold women unite…Online

savvy woman on internetThe Internet is changing the way women talk about their experiences and increasingly their rights. While IT has historically been thought of as a male sphere, it is increasingly being used as a way for women to advocate and share ideas. As most women now hold down jobs outside the home, we increasingly use the social media and video clips to keep up with the zeitgeist; and this shift has not gone unnoticed. The recent Guardian article: 8 Ways digital is empowering women, highlights how social media, videos and online campaigns are putting women’s rights on the public forum.

The Representation Project and other advocacy groups use social media hashtags such as #notbuyingit, #changetheratio, #banbossy and #Mediawelike in their campaign to challenge gender stereotypes. Business woman and savvy communicator, Oprah Winfrey sent a tweet to her 21 million followers which generated massive support for The Girl Effect. ‘We are enough. We matter. We are NOT invisible. Girls around the world are having their say. This is the moment to listen. #GirlDeclaration’. Amazingly this simple tweet virally generated a massive following.

Video campaigns such as Jackson Katz’s YouTube video ‘Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue’  are clearly powerful. The message focused on the role boys and men have in ending gender based violence. Considering it features no dancing cats or naked celebrities, the clip has been phenomenally successful with over 1,216,000 views.

Online platforms and petitions such as Pinkstinks, Daughters of Eve, and No More Page Three tackle issues ranging from gender media stereotyping, female genital mutilation and glamour modelling. Clearly if you have an issue worth highlighting; online is increasingly the way to go for savvy women.

Pretty or Pretty Brilliant? Encouraging Girls towards Science

Inspire her mind :Verizon Commercial 2014 As a little girl I was repeatedly told by my mother that ‘maths were beyond we Doyles’. A ‘fact’ I believed for many years until I decided to knock my fear of maths on it’s head by choosing to use quantitative analysis for my PhD rather than qualitative. And surpise, suprise, I made it.  But clearly I wasn’t alone in receiving a few unhelpful messages from an early age.  A powerful new advert by Verizon, suggests we are putting off girls from pursuing sciences from a young age with subliminal social cues – cues that most women can recognise from their short video with Makers, an online publisher of women’s video stories.

The advert, narrated by Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani, follows a girl’s development from toddler to teenager. Through out the video the parents make comments like ‘Don’t get your dress dirty’, whilst the girl explores nature, playing with sea creatures and plants; and ‘be careful with that, why don’t you hand that to your bother?’, when a young girl and her older brother build a rocket together. What’s unsettling is how recognisable these seemingly well-intentioned pieces of advice are.

The young heroine shows an interest in STEM subjects from a young age. She demonstrates curiosity about nature to the completion of an expansive solar system hanging from her bedroom ceiling to which her mother chides: ‘…this project has gotten out of control’. The stark reality is that somewhere along the line our girls move away from STEM subjects. 66% of 9-10 year old girls say they like science and maths but later, women make up only 18% of college engineering majors- the disappointing truth highlighted in an story we did on What M&S knows about women engineers that the Evening Standard could learn.

Sadly, the advert ends with the teenage girl standing in front of a glass display case, a poster advertising a science fair directly in front of her. Unfortunately her attention isn’t on the poster but the application of her pink lipstick. Powerful imagery. By this point, she has given up on worms, woodlice and wonder. There is nothing wrong with telling daughters they are pretty if you focus the majority of comments on how ‘pretty brilliant’ they are as well!

Why ‘Flawed’ men outlast ‘Aggressive’ Women: It’s in the language

power poseAggressive. Aloof. A real bitch. There are a litany of derogatory words we use to characterise female leaders. Men are given more ‘wiggle room’ in terms of the behaviours we expect or sanction, but women have less latitude. As discussed in the recent Huffington blog post: This is how we talk about female leaders (Hint: It’s not pretty) , Nic Subtirelu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University assessed the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) 450 million words of text from magazines, newspapers, fiction and academic text from the last two decades for gender difference in language.

Dismally, women were labelled ’pushy’ twice as frequently as men despite the fact men are mentioned nearly twice as frequently as women overall in the COCA. Subtirelu found men were more likely to be describe as “condescending”; a term which can only be applied to those who are or believe they are in power.  On the other hand, pushy is comparable to being obnoxiously forward or self-assertive. The article details what we see everyday: Hillary Clinton being described as shrill, aloof, ruthless, icy, angry and frumpy; Angela Merkel as ruthless and frumpy.

Jill Abramson was described as pushy, stubborn, brusque and condescending by the media following her untimely removal as the first female executive editor of The New York Times. Her high profile removal was a mirror to that of Amanda Bennett, who was described similarly several years before when editor of the high profile Philadelphia Inquirer. She was ousted after just 3 years in 2006. In a recent opinion piece “Pushed off the Glass Cliff” in the Washington Post, she noted the only thing that had changed in the 7 years between Abramson and her own departure was: ‘Women now feel not only resentful, but also finally, entitled. Entitled to lead…to be paid equally. Entitled to be flawed… and to be fired, but also entitled to point out the obvious fact: Men with even more spectacular and difficult flaws than ours get not only longer tenures but also softer and more dignified landings.’

Incredibly, despite his own evidence, Subtirelu stated in his blog ‘Linguistic Pulse’, he was ‘suspicious of the possibility that these descriptions had an element of gender bias to them’. Why do the media insist on using condescending and gender biased words to describe inspiring, strong females? And how low do we have to sink if the researchers themselves can’t see the biased writing on the wall?


Taking a tip from Anglicans? Cameron reshuffles 1/3 of cabinet to make way for women

conservative reshuffle 2014Upon hearing the news that the Anglican Church would allow female bishops for the first time in history, practising Christian, Prime Minister David Cameron, described the news as a “great day for the Church and for equality”.

Clearly Cameron was feeling a bit of ‘divine inspiration’ as this week his own reshuffle led to the stepping down of Conservative stalwarts such as William Hague and Ken Clarke to make room for a round of female MP’s. This reshuffle is being seen by many as an attempt to sway female voters, since it’s just 10 months away from a new election.

As reported by the Guardian: ‘Tory sources have made clear that Cameron wants the “old lags” to move on to make way for women and younger men who will be promoted on the second day of the reshuffle on Tuesday’.

Today the Huffington Post UK  announced the promotion of Nicky Morgan as new education secretary; Liz Truss as new environment secretary; Esther McVey, the new employment minister; Anna Soubry was promoted to minister of state at Ministry of Defence; Priti Patel Exchequer secretary to the Treasury; and Baroness Stowell as the new House of Lords leader. In addition, Claire Perry is now Junior minister at the transport department; Amber Rudd Junior minister at Department of Energy and Climate Change. This should take Cameron close to his target of ensuring that a third of his ministers are women.

Not suprisingly, the backlash has been immediate. Quick to find gendered fault in refreshing the cabinet with new people over those who have held positions of power for 30-40 years, one senior Tory warned of tokenism: “This really is the worst form of tokenistic gesture politics,” one senior figure said. “Merit is out of the window.” No question then of how ‘meritocratic’ it ever was to have the majority of serving Conservative MP’s be white males?

Turning ‘aggressive’ into tenacious and other ways to banter with your boss

equality sign_2Much of our work includes one to one sessions with senior men on the benefits they’d personally gain if they played a more active role in improving gender balance at the top.  Recently I spent time with ‘Gary’, a C-suite executive in a multinational company. Gary insisted he had no issues promoting women but that ‘Roberta’, ‘the only woman on his team ready for the next step – was a bit too aggressive.’

Language often hides bias. I looked at him wide-eyed and innocently asked: ‘what, has she hit someone on the team?’ He looked puzzled and said it was nothing like that. When I asked him to explain her behaviours he said: ‘Well, you know, when she has a point she wants to make, she sticks with it’. I replied ‘Oh, so you mean she’s tenacious?’ He shook his head and said ‘Not exactly, she just fights her corner when she believes in something’. To which I said ‘oh, so you mean she’s passionate?’ He then smiled and realised I was pointing out that often the language we use for women is much harsher than for men demonstrating the same behaviours. We might describe a ‘Robert’ as ‘living by his convictions’ or being ‘compelling’.

The truth is Roberta may or may not be a great leadership choice. Her ‘style’ certainly put off Gary and it may do other people. The difference is that we need to be mindful of our choice of language when describing people. If we notice ourselves and others describing the same behaviours in men and women; but with different language, that’s a clear sign we may be  relying on bias and our gendered expectations as to how men and women should act.

Ask yourself and colleagues: How would you describe her if she were a man?



How Sweet it is: Working Mums Grew ‘Green and Blacks’

working motherMany of Female Breadwinner’s clients, despite working to improve their gender diversity, find maternity leave to be a big challenge. Interestingly, the progressive men, often those whose wives work as well, notice that working mothers are some of the most conscientious employees. They don’t have time to waste and are incredibly efficient. A coaching client recently explained: ‘I was considered high-potential before I had children, but I’m actually more productive since I’ve had my second son. I just don’t have the hours to be anything else. The irony is that I know I’m no longer considered a rising star!’

Forward thinking employers recognise it’s well worth the effort to retain a long time employee now on maternity leave. Josephine Fairley, Co-founder of the rapidly growing Green and Blacks, points out the advantages in the misleadingly entitled Telegraph article Maternity leave is a nightmare for employers. Fairley explained: “…In my experience, female employees make up for lost time in the wee small hours to get a job done, if that’s what it takes (and without being asked). I had two fantastic single mothers working for me, Cluny and Gail, when I was running Green & Black’s – and my absolute understanding of the tugs on their time turned out to be repaid hundredfold in loyalty, over the years. I’d like to propose to any employer of mothers out there that a shift in attitude might very well deliver the same willingness and fealty.”

If taken up by men more equitably, we anticipate shared parental leave from April 2015 will make young women less suspect as potential employees.

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