Lizzie Wood, account manager at Fourth Day PR
A couple of months ago, I went along to a networking event which talked about challenges facing women in the workplace. This included a discussion about how we can work together to get women, from all industries, into senior positions where they are influencing boardroom-level decisions.
There were some brilliant ideas floating around the room. But I was confused. Here we were, talking about how to harness all the possible tools at our disposable to make some positive change. Yet, the room had only women in it. Which means that 50% of the people who could help us enact that change were missing.
How can my male colleague understand the hurdles I might face as a woman in business if he’s not in the room when those conversations are taking place? Surely, it makes more sense if I say, ‘‘listen, there’s a great seminar/panel/networking event next week where they’re going to be talking about some really important issues for women and I think it would great if you came along to listen, contribute and see what you think.’’
It’s the same philosophy behind a speech Emma Watson made when launching the HeForShe campaign in 2014, when she called on everyone to be involved in the fight for gender equality.
Talking about a speech Hilary Clinton made in Beijing in 1995 concerning women’s rights, she observed that, ‘‘what stood out for me was that only 30 per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?’’
Some people are taking tangible action to address this and to use our male friends as ambassadors in leading change. Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, for example, does a great job of addressing this issue, talking to young men in schools, colleges and universities about why they should be feminists.
My colleagues Nikki and Xanthe went along to the Inspiring Women conference in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. Hosted by Management Today, the event featured a panel of three male ‘agents of change’ each of whom had made a significant contribution to supporting the advancement of women in their respective workplaces, which I think is a great step.
If it’s so simple then why aren’t more of us doing it? Well, maybe because there are circumstances where we do want it to be just women. If you are a youngish female starting your first job, there is something nice about having a one-to-one with your female boss who has been there and done it all before you. She is relatable.
You might feel this way about larger events too. As a fresh-faced 21-year-old graduate, I probably would have been quite intimidated by going to an event full of men at management level for example. (Although this may have more to do with age and experience than gender.) By this token, I’d also welcome some male-only events for underrepresented sectors – male primary school teachers and young men starting a career in PR for example.
I’m not saying we should be able to pick and choose which events we let men into, and which we don’t. But, for events where we’re sharing experiences and actively seeking an answer to the problem? We absolutely need to make sure we’re bringing along our male bosses, colleagues and friends to share the load and work together.
I would love to hear from anyone who agrees, disagrees, or has been thinking about this topic recently. Also, any guys who have an opinion about going along to more events advertised specifically for women. Drop me a line here or at [email protected] if you want to have a chat.