xrematon

February 11, 2013

Half the sky

The Futures Company, where I worked for almost a decade, releases extended articles on a regular basis. I had the good fortune to be involved in the early stage development of Women 2020 released in December 2012.

Now the final polished piece has come out, it’s great to have the opportunity to have a proper read through – which I highly recommend (albeit from a rather biased perspective)! It contains many interesting points and wide-ranging examples. Here are three things that caught my attention:

  1. If one charts the changes in women’s lives over the past half century, it is clear opportunities and experiences have changed radically. More women have got educated, up to higher levels and have entered the workplace. However, in some countries, there is a tension between women’s progress in terms of their role as economic agents, and the social and cultural role they are still expected to maintain. Interestingly, there are examples of where technology can help women play within the rules: in Nigeria, working women can have mobile phone conversations with male business colleagues. It would be otherwise unacceptable to meet these male colleagues alone in a face to face meeting.
  2. There is still much progress to be made before it can be said women have made it to the top.  To quote Sheryl Sandberg as cited in the report: ‘Of the 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C level jobs and board seats, tops out at 15, 16%.’ However, it’s not just about the numbers – it’s also about corrosive attitudes. The characteristics usually associated with leadership are seen as typically male, and when women exhibit these traits, they make women unlikeable. As described in a recent HBS article, a woman runs the risk of being seen as ‘abrasive instead of assertive, arrogant instead of self-confident, and self-promoting instead of entrepreneurial.’
  3. We need to rethink the model of how careers progress when it comes to women if they have children. Rather than assuming that having a career means a neat straight upwards projectory, it becomes messier stairstepping – or what I would describe as ‘intermittent flatlining’. A woman will put things on hold whilst they are on maternity leave, and take it slower whilst her children are young, and pick up the pace again when they are older. This should mean things get interesting in the forties and fifties as oppose to the thirties.

As I haven’t yet left my thirties, it gives me hope yet!

Women2020

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