“Outdream Yourself” — Womenomics, Role Models and Boardroom Politics

Glass Ceilings

Women in business have traditionally experienced considerable challenges progressing beyond a certain level. The glass ceiling is a well-known and discussed phenomenon where women are understood to face invisible barriers that make it difficult for them to advance beyond a certain point in their careers. While women represent 50% of the workforce at lower levels, at boardroom level, it is unusual to find many women in the top seats at the table (in fact, at the time of writing this, there are just six female Chief Executives in the FTSE 100).


The Gender Pay Gap

The recent gender pay gap legislation has brought issues related to pay to the forefront of business, and rightly so, as the median aggregate gap for full-time workers is still 13.7%. There are many reasons for this, namely unequal caring responsibilities, a divided labour market, men taking up most senior roles and of course, we still have outright discrimination in the workplace.


Womenomics Defined

Now, I appreciate, as a man, I cannot ever fully comprehend or comment on how it feels to be a woman in the workplace. Neither, do I pretend to. However, I am married to an inspirational female entrepreneur and, together, we both want to live in a world where opportunities for our children (we have a daughter and a son) are never limited by gender. Subsequently, when my wife and I came across the concept of ‘Womenomics in business’, I wanted to investigate it a little further, particularly as three female role models I discuss in this article, have all had a profound impact on my life. Womenomics It is a concept that Claire Shipman and Katty Kay termed for what they see as an upcoming paradigm shift in the way individuals and companies approach work, due to an increase in the value of women in the workforce. Primarily, their research highlights the rise in value that female management brings to companies.


Is the value of women in boardrooms improving?

So, the question is, are things changing or improving? I believe they are *but slowly). Companies are finally realising the significant value women offer at boardroom level. The 2017 appointment of Emma Walmsley as CEO at GSK, the world’s seventh-largest pharmaceutical company is an excellent example of how the tables are beginning to turn at the highest echelons of business. This traction coincides with increased levels of female participation within firms across the spectrum. In some countries, such as Norway, legal quotas for the numbers of women required in the boardroom have been set, and companies are obliged to find ways to achieve these. The law states that public companies must have a minimum of 40% female non-executive directors. However, while some successes have been made, there is still a lack of female role models, which is believed to be discouraging to women. Businesses are subsequently affected because insufficient female numbers in the boardroom have proven to significantly reduce new female applications, which drastically reduces the talent pool for that company.


MBA Challenges 

One of the challenges has been getting women into business schools to take MBAs or executive MBA programmes. A study by the Financial Times on Executive MBA rankings discovered that in the top EMBA courses, women only accounted for 28% of participants. This is a problem not just for women, but also for MBA programmes, which need diversity in classrooms to inspire critical thought. Business schools believe that one barrier is a lack of female role models at senior levels, and to overcome this, they feature women heavily in their marketing.


Lack of Women studying Stem subjects

To attract the growing female market, schools are also starting to design programmes that fit better around the needs of women. However, I think these changes need to happen right at the grassroots level. For example, there are significantly fewer women studying Stem subjects compared to men, which has resulted in women accounting for only 14.4% of all people working in Stem in the UK (well short of the country’s goal of 30%).


Appropriate Role Models 

Again, one way to encourage a higher uptake is to use more appropriate role models that tackle Stem male stereotypes. As much as I love Brian Cox (and I really do love his work), we need to expose our children to female pioneers that inspire our children to dream bigger, at an earlier age, so uptake in stem related subjects can improve. For example, how many young girls are taught about women such as Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, Barbara McClintock, Geneticist or Roberta Bondar, Astronaut Neurologist? Ginni joined IBM as a system engineer and progressed to CEO, leading IBM into cloud computing, analytics, and the commercialisation of IBM Watson along the way. Barbara is the only woman to have received, by herself, a Nobel Prize for Medicine and Roberta was Canada’s first female astronaut and the world’s first astronaut-neurologist.


Fewer Women studying Economics or Politics

The problems are not just confounded to stem related subjects either. One of the first autobiographies I ever read was “Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia (2002).” by Ingrid Betancourt, a female Colombian politician who wrote about her experiences in the impeachment process against Colombian President E. Samper. Her book, coupled with the performance work and writings of female Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist, Coco Fusco, inspired me to study an MA in South American Politics and Performance Art. Both these women are role models who inspired me to study politics, so I have no doubt they could also be role models for others too. I highlight these examples because when it comes to economics and politics, again, there are fewer women than men enrolling on these courses. The FT cited in an article in April 2018 titled “Where are all the female economists?” that only a third of undergraduate economics students in the UK are women, despite 57 per cent of total undergraduates being female. The article suggests this is likely due to an image problem. For example, Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) remains the only woman awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, but how many of our children at school know about her work?


University Political Pay Gaps

Meanwhile, the Economist recently featured a poll that found the gender pay gap among British adults with a university degree, and an interest in politics, to be a whopping 37 per cent. (The Economist, July 2019). The interest gap in politics and economics seems to start in childhood, and then widen with age and education. Subsequently, we need more female role models to be highlighted and studied at an earlier stage, to inspire and encourage women to follow a path into economics or political studies.


The Good News

The good news is that many organisations are springing up to help women advance in business. For example, ‘Women in Marketing aims to empower women in this field. Other similar organisations focused on developing the next generation of female talent and advancing the role of women in leadership include ‘ShesBack’ which helps organisations access the potential of women returning to work after a career break, ‘PowerWomen’ and the Women in Business Network’ (among many others). These organisations seek to help women gain new business opportunities by helping them to build stronger networks. This also helps increase the exposure of younger generations of women to suitable role models that will inspire them on their journey.


Brands Promoting Women in Leadership 

The North Face is one International retailer who is taking significant strides forward in terms of inspiring generations of young women. One of its recent campaigns specifically focused on encouraging more women to get into outdoor adventuring. The campaign, titled “She Moves Mountains”, was explicitly aimed to inspire young female explorers. This was achieved by focusing on female role models that have reached the pinnacle in the adventure industry – such as rock climbers and ultra-marathon runners. One of the aims has been to ensure that the brand includes women more effectively than in the past.

Moreover, The North Face brand understands that women are consumers who want to spend money on outdoor kit too, and are subsequently focusing more on design for women than they ever have in the past. Also, the campaign supported women directors with $25,000 grants to help elevate more women into the film directing profession. As such, the whole focus of the brand is morphing to become more inclusive, while simultaneously recognising that females are also significant consumers. By inspiring more women with female role models, the North Face brand knows they will secure increased female consumer spending on its products.


A Strategic Business Imperative

The North Face is committed to promoting women in leadership as being a strategic and visible business imperative, and these are just some examples of how “Womenomics” is affecting the way firms are starting to change their approach to business. However, companies still need to push further for real transformation.


The Female CEO

Currently, we have just six female CEOs in the FTSE 100, and those six earn only 4.2% of the total pay awarded to FTSE 100 CEOs – highlighting that there is still a gender pay gap, even at the top levels of business. When we compare this to the Fortune 500, only 6.4% of Fortune 500 corporations have female CEOs. The good news is that we are starting to see a steady increase in these percentages. In the past eight years, 32 women have been named CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that’s over 50% of the total number since 1972 when Katherine Graham was the first female to be named CEO for a Fortune 500 company at the Washington Post. This positive movement shows that the theory of Womenomics in business is, at least, improving, but still far too slowly in my opinion.


My Womenomics Conclusion

There is no doubt that there is a long way to go until we achieve real equality in the workplace, but all the signs that genuine transformation is starting to take place are there (albeit slowly). In education, in boardrooms, and as consumers, we need to see the value women bring to the workplace highlighted more frequently. Female role models need to be more visible too. After all, these role models are not just empowering to women, but also men! One of my inspirations is Chrissy Wellington, a four-time Ironman World Champion and yet when I mention her, very few people know who she is. And yet, if I say the name, Alistair Brownlee, well, you get my point. The fact is, businesses who embrace Womenomics will benefit from extraordinary changes that can have a significant impact on overall performance. A report in the Journal of Corporate Finance supports this by highlighting that companies with women in their boardrooms performed better than those without.


Outdream Yourself

There are likely many elements to a discussion such as this that I have missed in this post. However, for those unfamiliar with the term ‘Womenomics’, I hope it is now a term that will become more prominent. Businesses need to appreciate the benefits associated with diversifying its boardrooms, but also understand that the word “talent” is genderless. I want my children to be uninhibited in life by the goals they set themselves – whatever they may be. I hope that when my daughter is old enough to take her first steps into the unknown world of business, that she feels she can achieve whatever she wants to achieve, without limits.

 As my wife regularly says to my daughter “Outdream yourself”.


What do you think? What women have had a profound impact on your life? I would love to know.


Nick Day | Managing Director

JGA Recruitment Group

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 01727 800 377


Books Highlighted in the post:

  1. Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia (2002) by Ingrid Betancourt
  2. Books by Coco Fusco
  3. A life without limits by Chrissy Wellington