By Claire Mason, Founder and CEO Man Bites Dog
Society has failed to acknowledge a quiet revolution. For the last decade women have outnumbered men in many high-status professions.
We’ve celebrated 100 years of the women’s vote, we have the powerful legacy of the #MeToo movement, and yet we have witnessed the shocking results of mandatory Gender Pay Gap reporting, with four in ten private companies reporting wider gaps than 12 months ago.
These are just symptoms of a much bigger issue at play: the ‘Gender Say Gap’ – the invisibility of women and other diverse groups in business and in public life. The absence of women’s voices, ideas and insights is the elephant in every room: from the newsroom, where women write and feature in just a fraction of the news; to female underrepresentation in the Boardroom where we are still not achieving the modest target of 30% women on boards. In the conference room male speakers continue to outnumber women 4-1 and male panelists outnumber women 2-1.
But times are changing, slowly. Public figures like London Mayor Sadiq Khan has refused to participate in manels (all male panel debates) and it’s great to see the momentum behind the BBC’s 50:50 campaign as a call for more women speakers.
This really matters. Because women can’t be what we can’t see. Just one in ten high school children can name a famous woman working in technology. And when it comes to investment in women, the shocking report from the British Business Bank, Diversity VC, and the British Venture Capital Association revealed earlier this year that for every £1 of venture capital (VC) investment in the UK, all-female founder teams get less than 1p, whereas all-male founder teams get 89p. And 83% of deals that UK VCs are making have no women at all on the founding teams.
Is all of this because we don’t exist or because of the Gender Say Gap?
Talent shortages will be compounded if young women can’t see their future in the professions that shape our society and protect our planet. We need a diversity of ideas – and women and other diverse groups are a critical part of that equation. Our invisibility translates into women being less than one in five of the technologists shaping our world and less than one in ten of its leaders. It’s the same in science, engineering and the built environment.
Business leaders have a tremendous opportunity to unleash the power of diverse thinkers and speakers for the benefit of their organisation and society. But women also need to step forward and embrace opportunity if we’re to make a step change in women’s visibility.
What can organisations do to close the Gender Say Gap?
The first step is measuring the Gender Say Gap and championing change within your organisation.
- Audit your Gender Say Gap – Assess your organisation’s brand, marketing and PR footprint to compare the diversity of your public profile with the diversity of your workforce, customer base and geographic footprint. Examine your corporate profile. Benchmark your Gender Say Gap and diversity ratios against competitors and aspirational peers to reinforce your opportunity to be a leader not a laggard, and encourage other organisations to do the same.
- Be bold with your goals – Set business and brand targets to narrow your Gender Say Gap, and ensure your diversity agenda is sponsored at the highest level. For example, Accenture has set the goal of a gender balanced workforce by 2025 with women accounting for 25% of Managing Directors by the same date.
- Create an expert development programme to unleash new speakers and thinkers – Create a development programme to build the confidence and capability of experts from a range of diverse groups and inspire them to step forward as brand ambassadors. Such a programmes can help you identify the root causes of your Gender Say Gap and train the next generation of thinkers and spokespeople.
- Move marketers into the spotlight – There are many senior women within marketing, public relations and business development functions whose capabilities as expert spokespeople are often overlooked. Next time you need a talented expert – consider a member of your own behind-the-scenes team.
- Say no to all-male panels – ‘manels’ – Use your influence to disrupt panels and conference agendas that lack diversity – and proactively offer spokespeople from diverse groups within your business to restore the balance.
How can women help as individuals?
Acknowledge your own power to make a change to build your own career and provide a positive role model for the next generation.
- Build your profile: Take your personal brand as seriously as you take your job – use media, social media and networks to increase your visibility by sharing your insights. Consider how you can collaborate across your organisation to build your profile for mutual benefit.
- Grow your capability: Make public speaking and media training part of your personal development. Say yes to public speaking and panel opportunities – even when you feel out of your depth.
- Multiply opportunities: For every platform you are given by the media or conference organisers, pay it forward by recommending another female expert.
Organisations and the expert women that power them have a tremendous opportunity to bring about major change in the face and voice of business today and tomorrow. Let’s work together to make diverse thinkers and speakers more visible and close the Gender Say Gap.
Claire is Founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog, the strategic ideas company. They work with intelligent firms in technology, professional and financial services to turn their expertise into competitive advantage through powerful thought leadership. Find out more at www.manbitesdog.com