Our most recent Business Brain event in London tackled the topic of women in business in the 21st century. Our guest speaker gave an insight into the history of women in the working world and, using her own career history, emphasised the importance of senior women speaking up and encouraged everyone present to consider the benefits of mentorship between women in business today.
Listeners were encouraged and challenged to play their part in tipping the gender balance in their own lives.
From Mary Wollstonecraft’s first cries for equality, through the Suffragette movement and into today’s executive suites, our speaker reminded us that women have been on a long journey to define their place in the world.
In the working world, much of the progress made has been relatively recent:
- 1980s: Xerox and IBM paved the way with corporate affinity groups and catalyst materials for career driven women.
- 1990s: Diversity and inclusion became topics of discussion and organisations sought to implement “best” practice in these areas.
- 2000s: The UN and G7 are working to make gender equality integral to their goals for developing countries and to the way they tackle issues.
Get up, stand up
Today, communities and businesses are benefiting from a global effort to recognize, develop and challenge what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Women in developing countries face considerable change as they fight for corporate gender equality and, as a result, are having to learn to ‘step up’ and project stronger executive presence.
In more economically developed regions, many women have some of the rights and privileges that women in developing countries are still fighting for. Given this, the discussion stressed the collective responsibility of these women, already in senior positions and centres of influence, to lead by example by continuing to push for progress.
A long way to go
Successful women in business have the power to influence positively the actions and behaviours of other women, but to do so they have to speak up. Our speaker focused on the next steps for those at the forefront of corporate equality: building a strong female presence within the higher ranks of corporate models.
The discussion focused on the clear financial benefit of nurturing female talent as evidenced by Grant Thornton’s 2015 report on the value of women in business, which found that gender diversified teams outperformed male-only executive groups by $655 billion in return on assets in 2014 in the US, UK and India.
Also highlighted was the lack of senior female role models. Having women in senior positions with the ability to influence and inspire those coming up behind them is vital if the next generation of working women are to have the skills and attributes they need to compete at the highest levels.
Learn to talk the talk
Taking practical steps to train managers and leaders to have powerful, actionable conversations with the women they manage and mentor is just as important as hiring women into top positions.
Being able to identify and effectively channel women’s talents and attributes means knowing them as individuals, and truly understanding their issues, concerns and aspirations.
Encouraging conversations between women in business, regardless of their position, will enable women to support each other’s growth and in turn will help encourage equality in the higher ranks of business.
Conversations about wage gaps, career trajectories and sexism aren’t always easy to have, but these discussions need to happen if women are to take control of the narrative of ‘women in the workplace’ and ensure it has a happy ending.