Monday, 21 November 2016

But most of all I'd like to thank...

For American readers - the term 'Award Season' summons images of movie stars doing the Oscar catwalk in the sunshine.  We do have a London version  - featuring celebrities freezing in flimsy dresses huddling under umbrellas bringing the traffic to a halt.

But for us lesser mortals, award season means one thing.  As winter kicks off, a few weeks of identikit ceremonies often in the same hotel.  Time was when it was the greatest buzz - getting invited,  getting dressed up, dancing until the lights come up, comparing hangovers. But as time marches on and the boardroom marches closer, it become an annual fashion obstacle course. Particularly if you're a woman...

You're 25 and you're an up-and-coming Account Manager being invited for the first time. The only decision you've got to make is to follow your mother's advice - legs or boobs but never both. You book a blow dry in Oxford Street after work.  You tweet through the awards ceremony, your agency wins an award, you hit the dance floor and close the bar at 2am.  You move to a club and stay until 4 leaving the award behind on the dance floor. You wake up for just long enough to call in with 'food poisoning" (you're still naive enough to think people will believe you).

You're 35 and you're a Board Director and leading the account in line to pick up a major award.  Your major client is the guest of honour at your table. But in your head you're still 29 and it's a rare night off from childcare.  You sneak a prosecco at the office before you leave. You risk bare legs after a major dose of St Tropez in the shower.  You team them with a sequinned skirt and your best heels.  You drink more than you meant to - thank God for Uber - and wake up after two hours sleep with your toddler jumping on your head and cat poo on the landing. You load up on espressos and head in on the train falling asleep on the shoulder of a stranger next to you. The caffeine gets you through a day of emails until you give in and do your Waitrose order.

You're 45 and you're the CEO.  Your agency is short-listed for UK agency of the year so you have no excuse not to go.  Your urge to win only just wins out on your desire to have a quiet dinner somewhere nice with your rarely seen husband.

Can you do 'desk to dinner'? Not for a black tie event.  It just doesn't work.  Nice earrings and a pair of heels won't cut it.  You'll look like you can't be bothered.  Should you wear a cocktail dress or a long dress? Can you get away with a tuxedo? In your mind you're channeling YSL but the mirror doesn't lie.

Peering through horrible lighting in the office loo, you realise you've left your favourite make up item at home and your hairspray threatens to set off the office fire alarm.  Arriving  at one of London's finest hotels (OK, The Grosvenor House again - it's London's largest ballroom) you
do the bag shuffle.  Do you leave your computer/Ipad/spare shoes/make-up in a bag in the cloakroom while you carry your tiny clutch into the ballroom? Of course you do. And you spend all evening worrying that someone will walk off with your laptop and post your confidential emails on Facebook.

A quick trip to the ladies to check your lipstick before you venture into the fray.  You're met with wall -to-wall glamorous 20-somethings who are wearing tiny dresses, towering heels and no tights.  Nothing is guaranteed to make you feel more like the mother of the bride.

You spot your guests at the drinks reception and gratefully cross the bar to find a glass of champagne.  You check to see what table you're on.  If it's too close to the back you're not important or you haven't coughed up enough sponsorship money.

Then the awards themselves.  In the last ten years these have expanded exponentially.  It is a an amazing money-tree as each category charges for entrance and also gets sponsored.  So they multiply with abandon.   You sneak a look at the list of entries and can't believe your eyes.  You mentally calculate what time it will end and wonder if you will catch the last train.  If you win, your entire table will erupt with hysterical arm waving, cheering and rush up on stage.  If you lose you can guarantee it will be the time you've brought the client the campaign was for . #Awkward.

To while away the long evening, everyone drinks. I hadn't realised how much until I went to one awards dinner  when I was pregnant  and by half way through the evening the only person sober enough to talk to was the waiter.

You're 55 and you're the Chairman.  You can gracefully turn down the invitation.

You're a man and you take your dinner jacket to office hoping you remembered to get it dry-cleaned last time you wore it.  At 6.30 you change your shirt, get dressed and splash on some aftershave. Repeat for next 25 years.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Secrets and Lies - will new laws help women end discrimination?

Bullock admits to regularly lying about her age

The news this week that a US court has made it legal for Hollywood actresses to block their age from public access is both new – and as old as the hills.

Will it make any difference?

Women have lied about their age for generations.  Did Eve say: "Adam, before we go any further, I should tell you I’m actually 45"?  Sandra Bullock said "after a while you have forgotten how old you are because you have lied so many times".  TV talent shows clearly have some effect with Nicole Scherzinger (X-Factor), Paloma Faith (The Voice) and Anastacia (Strictly) all getting found out shaving years off their real age at the start of their careers.

Why? Presumably because they felt they couldn't admit to being their real age, and once they started, the deception is very hard to stop.   Ageing is tricky for women – and increasingly men - because it is inextricably linked with society’s perceptions of a loss of power and virility.

But is it the number that matters?  Or rather how you present yourself?    I can’t remember the last time that I read something saying women should consider themselves middle-aged at any age.  Far from it. This week UK Prime Minster Theresa May turned 60 declaring confidently that "60 is the new 40".

I touched on this issue in an early 2015 post. Since then it feels to me as
Daphne Self -  at 88 the world's oldest supermodel
though we've made strong progress, particularly in the historically youth-obsessed fashion world.  Models such as the stunning Daphne Self  stare out at us from giant billboards. Grey hair is now a positive fashion choice.  Catwalks have been featuring young models with dyed grey hair, celebrities have been throwing away the root touch-ups and going natural - and getting admiration and column inches.  Even Kate Moss and Rihanna have been experimenting.  It's early to tell whether we're giving up the blond ash highlights for good, but it's a positive trend.

And it's not just fashion. At 82 Mary Berry is in demand as never before.  Most recently she has been fought over as the crown jewel in the hotly contested decision to move the Bake Off to Channel 4.

So why did the Californian judge  pass this law? Why not simply continue to promote older role models?  I think it reflects how far we still have to go. We've made real headway, but at heart we're a society that seems incapable of avoiding age as a way of helping us to understand our place in the world.

I don't think this is just a female issue, although there's no doubt society is harsher on women ageing than on men. Fertility plays a role. Men go on being fertile for a long time and women don’t.  Take Sir Martin Sorrell. I saw him speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago. At 71, he's the UK's highest paid CEO and about to become a father for the fourth time. He's never looked better or more powerful.  No women could do that all at the same time. This was an invisible issue in the past, but now that more women are in top jobs we’re seeing the long standing attitudinal differences play out in discrimination. At least that’s what the Hollywood actresses felt.

I don't think it's realistic to pretend you can keep your age a secret anymore. Almost every day we  exchange our personal details for the digital platforms and convenience we love. We must  be happy that Facebook knows more about us than some of our close friends or we wouldn't keep using it. We live in a world where anyone with a few minutes can find out this stuff.

If I think about my age at all, I'm hopeful.  I was born in 1964 (so now you don't even have to look that up) and I have an excellent peer group. Michelle Obama, Diana Krall, and Fiona Bruce - all '64 babies like me.  And like me they can't do anything about it.  We can't go back and say "I'd like to be born in 1967 please - or 1975".  It's just a thing, and probably the least interesting thing about us. It's our destiny and along with these fabulous women I'm taking on my fifties with gusto.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Rewarding Outcomes: Why we need to widen the pay gap to deliver real equality in the workplace
The gender pay gap rarely seems to be out of the news. Theresa May provided extra impetus in her first speech as Prime Minister saying: "If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man".

The latest contribution to the debate was last week's publication of a major new piece of research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. demonstrated the ongoing reality of the problem. The report shows that the overall gender gap remains.

Slowest progress has been in  the most highly educated group where there has been little progress for twenty years.  The data also proves the popular assumption that women in part time roles get paid slightly less.  But the most dramatic finding was the impact of having children.  Here women pay the price:
"The crucial observation is that the gap opens up gradually after the first child arrives and continues to widen for many years after that point"

Once women return to work after having their first child, the gender pay gap starts to accelerate as each year passes - hitting a massive 33 per cent by the twelve year mark.

The analysis makes for uncomfortable reading.  It's easy to see why commentators reach for the 'equal pay' moniker in response.  But I think this is misleading.

The IFS research shows a significant drop off in employment rates for women after having their first child.  As we know, of those who return to work many choose part-time options. If you are happy to trade part-time convenience for a lower rate of pay,  that's fine.  But the current argument doing the rounds of social media seems to be that all part time jobs should be paid at the same rate as full time jobs.  And further that if this doesn't happen it's condemning women (who are the majority of part time workers) to the 'Mommy Track' by denying them the top jobs.

It's hard to pity Kevin Roberts. The erstwhile Chairman of Saatchi left his job over his comments made at the end of July. His comments implied that women don't have the same ambition as men, and it doesn't matter that they're aren't may of them running advertising agencies. But by pushing him out, the harder discussion gets shut down.  And it needs to be had if we're going to see progress.

We need to face some facts.  Most top jobs require you to take responsibility for outcomes. Not processes, or inputs, or workstreams or pathways.  But results - results that can be measured and judged. And our society is moving away from incentivising these challenging roles effectively.

Public pressure over pay differentials between bosses and workers is hiding a difficult truth.  That it's increasingly much more attractive to be a Number 2 than a Number 1. There's a nationwide shortage of Headteachers with research last year showing 88% of teachers think top roles are less appealing than in 2010.  More and more GPs want to go part-time or retire early -  BMA/ICM research concluded that 17% of GP are considering going part-time, including 28% of those who currently work full-time. Any headhunter will tell you that filling top roles is harder than it's ever been.

All cite increased pressure on decision making with public pressure and criticism ready to undo careers at a moment's notice. For many people - men or women - it's just not worth it. Number 2 roles bring almost all the same benefit and virtually none of the downside.  And if that doesn't appeal, many think if they have to work so hard and take a lot of risk, they're better off working for themselves. According to Start Up Britain, start ups have increased by nearly 30 per cent in the past five years.

This is diminishing talent pipelines - particularly amongst women. We need to incentivise these roles better, so that it is worth taking them. Being in the public eye has never been less attractive.

There can't be a better example that the role of UK Prime Minister. The UK media love to use the Prime Minister's salary as a benchmark for top salaries - implying that it is the ultimate top job and
that anyone earning more than this is shockingly overpaid.  The salary for this top role is £142,500.  In comparison, the Speaker of the House of Commons receives slightly more £142,826.  The PM has to take responsibility for 64 million people and the fifth largest economy in the world. John Bercow, the current Speaker, has to keep order amongst 650 MPs.  I know which option I'd go for.

In the past decade I've been in the top job and in the senior management team.  I know the difference first hand. When you're in the top job, you own the outcome.  Alone. That's why they call it 'the loneliness of leadership'.  You're never away from the worry.  But it's virtually impossible to worry part-time about full-time outcomes.   If you think you're going to have to choose between laying off staff or selling a division of your business, you can't say "I'll get back to worrying about that on Tuesday morning".
And it's the same in the public sector.  As a patient, it feels like no one individual actually 'owns' your outcome - your health.  Instead, it feels like everyone owns a bit of the process.  Many of the people delivering their bit of your healthcare process are doing so part-time. That's great for providing job options that fit around families, but is the patient actually better or worse off?

Wrapping these issues up in a drumbeat about equal pay isn't helpful.  Instead organisations need to recognize that men and women need to see real incentives to take the top roles. Incentives and rewards that will allow women to view these roles as more realistic options for them to return to work full-time.  That in turn will deepen the talent pool available which has to improve long term outcomes whether for shareholders, schoolchildren or patients.

Monday, 25 July 2016

May's Way - The UK's new Premier is bringing a fresh perspective on leadership

Few expected Theresa May to become Prime Minister.  She always had the ambition, reportedly telling her friends when at Oxford as an undergraduate that she wanted the top job.  But she didn't look likely to succeed Cameron. Painted as a rather dull detail freak with no social skills, during her leadership campaign she described herself directly saying:
"I know I’m not a showy politician. I don’t tour the television studios. I don’t gossip about people over lunch. I don’t go drinking in Parliament’s bars. I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve. I just get on with the job in front of me".
But her first few weeks have shown her to be a creative problem solver, with a clear vision and an appetite for controversy and risk taking. I've underestimated her, and if her first few weeks are anything to go by I think she'll turn out to be a very interesting role model for women leaders.
The odds were against her. But hers is a story of gritty determination, luck and holding her nerve.

Even those leading the Leave campaign expected Britain to vote to stay.  Among those rare people who foresaw the outcome, I doubt whether many would have predicted May in Number 10.  Instead, as the reality of actually voting for Brexit sank in, there was a widespread assumption that the electorally successful Boris would succeed.

Ironically May probably has Michael Gove - someone whom she has publicly fallen out with - to thank for her escalation.  Had it not been for his Brutus moment with Boris and the subsequent collapse of his own  leadership bid, no doubt Boris would now be chairing his first cabinet meetings and wrestling with the comings and goings of Larry the Downing Street cat.

To my slight surprise, watching May settle into the top job has been a lesson in what good female leadership looks like.  She had a plan.  Which made a change.  No one up until that point appeared to have a plan for anything - least of all the fabled Brexit. But not May.  She was able to roll out a new cabinet in just 48 hours.  And it was a cabinet that had a lot of thought applied.  A lot more than anyone can generate in two days. I had a vision of May sitting through endless meetings over the past few years working out her Fantasy Cabinet.  You can just imagine her doodling a secret mind map and plotting.

Most controversially, she put Boris in as Foreign Secretary to almost universal astonishment not least from Boris himself. But lest he should rub his hands with glee and think he had real power, she had thought ahead.  She stayed in control by restructuring the role to remove oversight of International Trade.  And what's more she's turned Chevening - the grace-and-favour house that goes with the job - into a time share, forcing him to bunk up with his other two hard-core Brexiteers David Davies and Liam Fox. The Guardian has helpfully posted some handy guidelines for the new house-sharers.

But she's exacting a high price for those stately home weekends, pushing all three men into the front line as they have to work out how to extract the UK from Europe.  How's that for accountability? She pours additional pressure onto them at every turn by helpfully reinforcing in her first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQ) and any other time she gets a chance that 'Brexit means Brexit' and the British people have made it very clear that migration controls are their priority.   Davies and Fox must be loving that.  I doubt whether the reward of every third weekend at Chevening makes up for the prospect of the horrendous negotiations with Juncker and his merry men that they must trudge through.  Meanwhile she doesn't ignore the details.  Osborne has been unceremoniously downgraded from his two-story riverside pad  to a tiny office next to the photocopier. And what of  her opponent in the leadership race - the hitherto unknown Andrea Leadsom?  She who destroyed her own hopes by telling a Times journalist that May's lack of children made her unsuitable for the top job.  After that, most people would have cast Leadsom into the political wilderness.  But May is clever.  Instead she put her in the cabinet where she can keep an eye on her.  But it's agriculture. That must have made Andrea jump for joy.

Now May is installed, it seems as though she was always destined for the job.  She's taken control seamlessly, bringing some semblance of calm into the political maelstrom. First stop was Scotland to see Nichola Sturgeon.  When asked how they had got on, May said that there were plenty of things they could do together even though they  don't agree on everything.  This is a female leadership preference - focus immediately on what can be done even if the person on the other side of the table is threatening imminent divorce.  She delivered a barn-stoming performance at her first PMQ last week Theresa May takes on Jeremy Corbyn at her first PMQs

Again it felt as though she'd written those comments over the past few years, just waiting for the opportunity to deliver them.  The relish with which she taunted the hapless Jeremy Corbyn showed she's not above a bit of political derision.

We saw her again later that day giving a press conference with Angela Merkel.  We don't know much of what the two women discussed but I bet it was something like this:
"We're leaving Europe.  That's what the people want.  You know how this works Angela - you have the same problems in your neck of the woods.  So let's agree to take our time, be sensible, make sure we minimise any instability.  OK?"  
For Angela, the news that Britain is leaving Germany alone with France as the only large player in Europe with any money has only made a bad year worse. She seemed happy to agree to a delay to signing Article 50.  Perhaps in the hope that May is someone she can work with.  Anything Merkel can do to soften the impact of Brexit is worth some public nice words.

Much has already been written about May's fashion sense.  I have written before about female leaders being judged disproportionately by their appearance.  Many cry 'unfair' but May doesn't seem to have any issue with this.  Rather she appears to embrace it. Her decision to 'wear' her cleavage to Osborne's budget can't have been an accident.  Sitting beside him, she must have known it would have prolonged airtime during the long budget speech.

She has been known to favour Vivienne Westwood tartans and those famous animal print shoes.  Her Comms head, Katie Perrior says her wardrobe is May's way of expressing her personality. The outfit she chose for her first PMQ  was Lagarde-esque.  May claims to love clothes and asked for a subscription to Vogue as her luxury item when she appeared on Desert Island Discs. She seems to welcome the catwalk that being PM offers and will embrace it.

I'd like to see her with a softer more modern hairstyle.  Grey hair can be amazing as Lagarde has shown, but currently May's hair doesn't move and reminds me of the Maggie Thatcher helmet. A bit 1980s.

She could usefully give her new Foreign Secretary some style tips.  He appears to favour the 'I found this on the floor - quick shake - that will do' school of dressing. With a Savile Row make over and a decent haircut, Boris could make a real impact. He's got all the raw material - big brain, international pedigree, great engagement skills.  It's just that too often they don't connect in the right order.  But if he can sort that out, he might surprise us all yet.

But for the foreseeable future, it's all going to be about Theresa May. And my hunch is that we'll learn a lot from her about how to lead. For starters: Step into the leadership limelight with confidence. Have a plan. Know what you're going to do. Be clear from the outset who's on your team, what's expected of them and hold them accountable.  State your goals. Clearly.  Don't shy away from controversial choices.  Engage with other senior women as early as you can and get working on problems you can solve avoiding unnecessary posturing over things you probably can't.  Know what suits you, stick to it and don't forget every time you go to work you've got an opportunity to use yourself to reinforce your values and priorities.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

All Hail Neato - Boardroom here we come. Will domestic robots finally set women free?

Robots could be the unlikely weapon not just putting women in the Boardroom but keeping them there.  The shortage of a good pipeline of women for senior roles is well documented. Research suggests this is in part due to the time and energy-sapping demands facing women to manage domestic life as well as their careers.  Fewer women than ever describe themselves as housewives, but almost no men claim this territory. The time-consuming nature of domestic tasks stretches the capacity and patience of most couples.

Some men are Domestic Gods but research shows that the balance of these tasks are still done by women. The wealthy have always known the solution to escaping domestic servitude is staff. And today they still hire a support team of nannies, cleaners and housekeepers.  But that’s beyond most budgets.

Source ShopperVista
The great hope for everyone else was the dream of technology.  The web helps. The UK is second only to China in our enthusiasm for online grocery shopping.  It's a real boon for working parents.  But we’re still depressed by our dirty homes and guilty about microwave dinners. And this does nothing for our enthusiasm at work.

It feels like a frustrating lack of progress. Since the 1960s brought us affordable washing machines, we've believed that freedom from domestic chores was just around the corner. During the 1970s scientists turned their attention to our food, introducing frozen meals and space aged mashed potatoes. I remember my mother buying her first dishwasher in the mid-1970s.  A transformation.  After that we thought it would be a hop, skip and a jump to guilt-free careers. But somewhere in the last ten years it all started to slow down.  In fact we appeared to go backwards.  Agas – first invented in the 1920s – became the most desirable kitchen item and as expensive as a family car. Hi-tech and fast was out.  Slow and ethically sourced was in. Fast food – demonized by the health lobby - took a back seat in popular culture.  Media encouraged us to cook healthy family meals from scratch and eat together at least five days a week. Anything less suggested negligent parenting.

I’m a strong believer in the family eating good food together. My solution was a weekly cooking and freezing bonanza to allow me to give the family home-cooked meals and still work a full day in a demanding job.  They did eat a lot of stew, but you can’t have everything.

But three years ago came the game-changer.  Just as my domestic nest emptied – I bought my first robot.  Meet Neato the robot vacuum cleaner.  It was love at first sight and has remained so. This is one of those rare moments when you know that you will never go back.  A daily clean is a piece of cake with no supervision.  It can even cope with the drifts of my black Labrador’s hair.

I think this is the start of a real revolution.  A robot chef already exists and will be launched in 2017.  At $15,000 it’s going to be a while before we all have one. Robot lawnmowers are becoming more commonplace and affordable. It’s taken  sixty years but finally we might be able to dedicate less energy to running our homes and more to building our careers.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Boys Have It - What the Brexit debate can teach us about Boardroom success

Tory Mums Sam and Sarah at the Opening of Parliament in 2010

The forthcoming EU referendum might seem to have little to with winning influence in the Boardroom.  But this week's revelations of a spectacular catfight between two of the UK's leading political players has highlighted a key issues that holds many women back.

David Cameron was reportedly angry and hurt when his close friend and political ally Michael Gove announced he would split from the official government position to become a leading voice of the 'leave' camp. But it's not their drama that's hit the headlines - rather that featuring their wives.  Both are high profile women in their own right. At a party in February, the PM's wife Samantha Cameron and Mrs Gove exchanged four letter insults over the issue.  Mrs Gove responded later in print under her professional name Sarah Vine.   A well-known national journalist, she penned a 'more in sadness than in anger' piece putting her point of view defending her husband's decision. 

Close friends
Political arguments aren't unusual. What makes the Cam/Vine spat  noteworthy is that the two families - and the two women - have been close friends for many years.  They've shared holidays and were neighbours in West London before the Cameron's moved to Downing Street. Both their daughters attend the same London school and Ms Vine is the godmother of one of the Cameron's daughters. Since the incident in February there has apparently been no contact between them.
You might expect the two men to be distant.  But they seem to have put the issue to one side and continued their ongoing friendship. Infact in the last couple of weeks Gove supporting Cameron unequivocally over the Cameron family taxation row thrown up by the Panama Papers.
Video: Michael Gove - Criticisms of David Cameron are politically motivated -

Why such different reactions? The media seem amazed that the women are taking this so seriously.  I'm not remotely surprised.  It's one of the key differences between men and women and one that I think really advantages men in their career progression.

Emma Gleadhill
These differences between the sexes seem to start early. Helen Rumbelow explored this in an excellent article in this week's Times. It featured an interview with Emma Gleadhill who teaches and speaks about adolescent mental health issues.  Her lectures and courses are informed by her background - most recently spending six years as the deputy head of Godolphin and Latymer - a leading London girls'
school. Rumbelow quotes Gleadhill in the article: 

"Whether “it’s nature or nurture” is up in the air, but girls do arrive at adolescence ready to make their friendships the heart and soul of their life. “All teenagers are heavily invested in fitting in with their peer group...this occurs as they transfer some of the intense childhood bond with their parents to their friends. However, boys typically arrange their friendships around a “third element” such as sport or music. Girls have shared interests too, but the friendship is the “currency”.
 “So trading secrets about who you think is not very nice, analysing other people’s behaviour, will be part of the way in which girls bond. It is very interesting the way people focus on girls as bitches. Boys are equally capable of having competitive rivalries, nastinesses and put-downs, but in terms of their intense relationships there is also that third element, which takes the heat out of that personal connection.”

High stakes
Betrayal of trust is a make or break issue for both sexes.  But for men, that trust typically isn't tied up in issues.  They naturally separate the act from the actor. They can fight and argue and utterly fail to reach consensus.  And then go happily to the pub and have a great evening.  It never ocurs to them that disagreements might threaten their relationship.  It can actually be bonding.  But women often  find it extremely difficult to separate the issues from the individuals that hold them. They vest much of their social currency directly in their group of friends.  Belonging is everything. Nothing must threaten that and this leads to conformity and agreement to maintain this.  Suppressing disagreement can easily become a habit.

I recognize this.  I think it started around the time  I moved to secondary school aged 12. I went to an all-girls boarding school and my friendship group immediately became a replacement for my family.
But even girls in mixed-sex schools living at home tend to do this by their mid-teens. As we leave education and start our adult lives most of us deepen these relationships further and so reinforce this behaviour learned in childhood. Once we hit the workplace this ingrained desire to maintain the harmony that comes from a tightly knit group takes over.  It manifests as avoidance of conflict and confrontation.  But sometimes issues need to be surfaced and avoiding them can lead to deeply suppressed anger which holds us back. I can often hear the voice in my head saying "this issue just isn't getting resolved.  I should say something".  Then my 'teenage girl' voice says "if you confront this you will be seen as negative and aggressive".  It's a daily tension for most women and not just at work.  But if you want to progress your career into senior management you have to find ways to let that inner voice out on issues that matter to the organisation.  If you consistently suppress it, you won't be seen as a future leader.

Maybe this is one of those things - like childbirth - which is just hardwired into the X and Y chromosomes.  But I think we can overcome nature by nurturing new skills.

Ask open questions
Something that works well for both sexes is asking open questions. If you find yourself  in a meeting feeling that familiar sense of frustration that comes with feeling that no one is addressing the underlying problem at hand, don't seeth silently.  Try asking the project leader questions like "what are you most confident about with this project and what most worries you? When they tell you what worries them, ask them a supplementary question like "how do you think we should tackle that issue? What do you need from me/us to help you to mitigate that risk? And then follow up with a question about expectations and results " how do you think we should measure the work? "

All these questions need to start with words like "How" or "Why do think" .. or "What if?" It doesn't matter whether you are the boss, peer or subordinate in this discussion.  Well-phrased and crucially open questions encourage honest non judgemental discussion about solving problems. They help to prevent confrontational behaviour by separating the action from the actor. And they have the additional benefit of airing key issues collaboratively that are holding up progress and helping  to move things forward. 

So next time you hear that teenage girl's voice in your head - ignore it. And feel the satisfaction of seeing problems start to get resolved.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

"With my independence I thee wed"

The Queen's grand-daughter, Zara Phillips, has announced that she is finally becoming Mrs Mike Tindall.  After five years of marriage and one child, she has decided to leave her royal nomenclature behind.  Given that she is a successful women in her own right, it is particularly surprising news.  Her reasons aren't known, but it's an interesting decision and one that bucks the trend.
The numbers of brides keeping their maiden name is rising dramatically. According to research done by Facebook of their UK users, nearly 90% of the over sixties changed their name but that drops to only 62% in brides in their twenties. Perhaps this is not just a feminist act, but also a reflection of how much we now use our names as our personal brands as we increasingly curate and share our lives online. We've become masters of telling our own stories - with ourselves at the centre.  For those of us who changed names before Facebook came along - no problem.  But many of us use our names as our tags online, so if we've established a strong social presence with one name, the price of giving that up and confusing or losing your followers might be unacceptably high. 
When I tied the knot in 1990 the trend for keeping your own name was just gaining momentum.  When I told my then boss that I had got engaged, he asked me if I was planning to change my name.  I told him I was. Although I hadn't gone as far as practising my new signature, it had never seriously occurred to me not to change my name.  As luck would have it, my passport was due to run out just before our planned honeymoon so it seemed as though the fates were conspiring to encourage me to head into married life with a shiny new name to match my new passport. Keeping one name for work and another for everything else seemed complicated and likely to cause major confusion.  Horrified, he said I was betraying the sisterhood and giving up my hard won independence.   I was taken aback but went ahead and changed my name anyway.  Today I might have double -barrelled - Greenway-Costerton/Costerton-Greenway? Or even meshed - Costerway? Greenton? Is that really any less complicated?
Perhaps it just depend how silly it sounds.  Shawn Knowles-Carter (Mr Beyonce) sounds pretty good.  But although I love both Chris O' Dowd and Dawn Porter, I still haven't got used to Dawn O Porter.

Friday, 19 February 2016

White House Women - can the Presidential Election provide a spotlight for change?

As the US Presidential primaries get underway, much of the discussion has been about  the Trump phenomenon - and whether Bernie Sanders can 'do an Obama' and steal a march on Democrat front-runner Hilary Clinton.

There's been far less discussion of the historic opportunity of the first woman in the White House and the momentum it could provide to deliver real progress on gender equality in the US.  I hope that's about to change.

I can't think of a better platform to discuss the real issues that face women aspiring to leadership positions in society.

It's not just Hillary herself who raises interesting issues of female leadership and influence.  Many may not realise that the vice-chair of her campaign  is also a woman who is the topic of debate in her own right.

Huma Abedin has worked for Hillary for twenty years - since she was a 19 year old college student. Like her boss she has had to endure being publicly let down by her high profile political husband - in her case former congressman and failed New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. In common with many women she is now the major bread winner and she now has to provide for her - probably unemployable - husband - and their son.  Her solution is to 'lean in' and allow the world to see her life play out.  It's a risky gamble, but as Hillary discovered, there are votes in standing by your man.

Film Shows Clinton Aide's Own Struggle With Anthony Weiner Scandal

Hillary has demonstrated calm leadership in the face of bitter criticism - and not just of her husband's judgement.  Time and time again she has been pilloried for her choice of clothes, her hair, her 'blue- stockinged' attitude, her money and her choices of friends. But she has mastered the art of gliding through it all with grace and dignity.

There was an interesting piece in this week's FT looking at how she handled defeat in new Hampshire.  She was not expected to lose - and certainly not by such a large margin. A less experienced leader might have shown surprise, sadness or regret.  But Hillary knows better.

 How Hillary Clinton crafted a kind of victory out of defeat -

I've always thought she gives off an old school feminist vibe. I'd like to see her champion women in her campaign. But it needs to feel fresh and relevant. Humour has worked well for her. I loved the 'texting' campaign as did many people and it made me see her in a different light.  Less the slightly earnest survivor - more the pithy modern female leader.  It started in 2012 but has kept on going - recently even featuring Abedin's unfortunate spouse.

Hillary of course already knows the gritty reality.  She needs plenty of strong support to win the nomination and avoid a last minute inside dash from Bernie Sanders.  She needs to play to her advantages as much as she can. 

Sarah Palin  Getty Images
Over with the Republicans, I'd largely forgotten about Sarah Palin - the professional 'hockey mom'. But she's back looking like she'd never been away.  This time she's trying to persuade us to put Donald Trump in the oval office. Her fashion choices have always attracted criticism and that continues.  One British fashion journalist rather unkindly described the leather jacket she was wearing on the stump as 'looking like she'd climbed inside her handbag'.   She attracts plenty of attention for her controversial views as well her eccentric style. I wish she'd killed Trump's campaign stone dead by turning up to cheer-lead for him. But I fear that those voters who find Trump's proposition appealing are likely to warm to her nationlistic, family-first jargon.

Better advice for women in powerful jobs comes from another US political leader - this time a fictional one, VEEP Selena Mayer. Played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the character finally becomes president in Series 4. VEEP has been described by Washington insiders as a very realistic picture of life in the top job. It comes from the same writing stable as The Thick of It which satirised the Blair years in Downing Street.  The writers created the term 'omnishambles' for the show - which became so popular with political types that it entered the Oxford Dictionary in 2012.   Selena has to juggle constant firefighting, a complete loss of personal space and having to rise above a group of argumentative, point-scoring, almost exclusively male advisers to get anything sensible done. Ring any bells?

What can we take from this Presidential show as it plays out that  through the Spring and Summer?

If you're a women leader, your fashion choices are going to be scrutinized - and criticised by all and sundry.  It's unfair and irrelevant but it will happen anyway. You need a very clear narrative.  It needs to speak directly and powerfully to women as well as men - right across the age ranges if you're going to win.

And finally you need self belief, tenacity and and incredibly thick skin.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Why Aren't There More Females CEOs in PR?

How encouraging that Aarti Shah's piece "Why Aren't There More Female CEOs In PR?" was the most popular long read on the Holmes Report in 2015. It's a great article and I hope its popularity is also a sign that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Why Aren't There More Female CEOs In PR?

Despite the high-profile gains for women in management positions across the PR industry, only 30% of global firms are run by women, according to last year's World PR Report, the definitive global study of PR industry size and trends.

The UK's new shared parental leave rules introduced in April 2015 were a big step forward. This followed the success of the model in Scandinavia.  It took a while to get started.  Even in Sweden, Dad's took time to adjust to the idea. But after four years, close to 90% of Swedish fathers were taking an average of seven weeks paternity leave. Anecdotal evidence suggests that UK PR firms are welcoming the change. Let's hope it will become the norm in due course.

But many of the world's largest agencies are headquartered in the US, and so must battle against the notoriously stingy US maternity leave rules.  I applaud H&K Strategies US move last year to lead the drive to decent maternity leaves.  My ex-colleague Mike Coates is their US CEO.  I've long known him as an early adopter of creative talent policies. You can read more here in his blog.

How the UK's new rules on parental leave work - BBC News

New rights allowing UK parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child have come into effect. Up to 50 weeks of leave - 37 weeks of which is paid - can be shared by parents if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

Aarti's comprehensive article is a good primer.  She looks beyond maternity leave topics to behaviour and unconscious bias. She talks in particular about the need to shift focus to improve gender balance in agency leadership teams.  Weber lead the pack with women taking two thirds of their leadership team seats. It's so important to get women 'in the room - making decisions' as Edelman's Gail Becker says in the article. This is key to encouraging those women to want the top job.  If they're kept outside, they are far less likely to stick around.  I agree with Tim Dyson whom she quotes saying;
“The glass ceiling doesn’t exist at the CEO level — it’s below that. There is an industry-wide issue of great talent not being recognized and that tends to happen around the VP-level. Women will notice it’s an all boys network at the top or there is a feeling they can’t control the work-life balance so often they will start their own agencies.”
Thank you Aarti for giving us all so much to think about.  I hope we see more on this topic - with more women making it to the top table - in 2016.