This is a guest blog post from Claire who is the CEO at Man Bites Dog, the strategic ideas company that helps knowledge-rich businesses share their expertise.
Gender equality is having a moment. One hundred years after women were granted the vote, we have finally seen the statue of a woman join the 11 men in Parliament Square. We have heard women speak out against sexual harassment with the #MeToo movement and we have tried to measure our inequality of worth and opportunity by reporting the Gender Pay Gap.
But this is not equality. One statue is not enough. There is a much bigger issue at play. There’s an absence of women’s ideas and voices in society.
We’re calling it the “Gender Say Gap”
Awareness is a first step but if we want to close the gap we need to address the root of the problem: the lack of female voices, ideas and insights at every level of business and society. As an industry that both uses and informs representations and that relies heavily on women’s talent and expertise, digital has a key role to play.
Where are all the women?
In the UK, women have outnumbered men in highly-skilled professions. So why aren’t we hearing more from those experts? Is it a confidence issue? Do women not like to stand out? Do men have more to say that is worth listening to?
In the boardroom: women remain painfully underrepresented at senior level. We still haven’t reached the modest 30% target for women on FTSE 100 boards and we’re leading just a fifth of small businesses.
Women are leading only a 5th of small businesses
In both corporate and start-up life we are painfully aware of the dangers of “speaking while female”. Countless studies show that we’re more likely to be interrupted, be perceived as less competent for “talking too much” and have our ideas appropriated.
This is a reality that I witness every day in my job. Brilliant women are happy to give time to their organisation and share their professional insights to deliver amazing projects for their clients. However, when it comes to fronting their ideas they shy away from public light. They give up the credit and recognition that come with it.
Bridging the Gender Say Gap is a necessity
It is not just critical for reputation enhancing at a time where it seems like ‘the right thing to do’ — we are missing out on huge opportunities. In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, organisations cannot afford to ignore innovative ideas. And our future is in question. Humanity is facing existential challenges: from mitigating climate change and geopolitical conflict, to how we ensure artificial intelligence delivers a brighter future, not a more unequal one. These are big questions. And they deserve big answers.
We need to hear from a diversity of voices — and that means all of us, from every walk of life. We need an inclusive diversity of ideas — and digital women are part of the equation.
The absence of women as thinkers and speakers for their organisations has to be called out and addressed. The supply of brilliant women is there: we are the experts in the room. The demand from companies, government and media is there: organisations want your ideas and would be justifiably proud to have you represent them.
What can you do about it?
We are seeing some action to ensure better representation of women in the boardroom. Some companies are publicly committing to have women sit on par with men in their editing room and organisations like Accenture are flying the flag with a commitment to a gender-balanced workforce by 2025.
But the very first step you can take directly is calling out the Gender Say Gap within your own organisations.
You can carry out a diagnosis based on staff audits or diversity statistics can help benchmark where a company stands. Asking some key questions will contribute to paint a full picture. How do you inspire women to step forward as spokespeople and leaders? What are you currently doing and what more could you do?
Ideally this would result in bespoke programmes to train the next generation of thinkers. Law firm CMS’ Athena project is an exciting example of what companies can do to train high potential women in managing their public profile — and give them the confidence to speak out.
Could we see more of those initiatives everywhere? Let’s not waste this opportunity to make our female leaders more visible in every room. If we want to create a milestone for gender equality, not just a moment, we need a surge of female voices to redress the balance.