26 Sep 2011

Observation .....Where are the women?

When I was a child I changed what I wanted to be when I grew up on a weekly basis. I was often told that it wouldn’t be possible. I couldn’t be a ballerina because I was too tall, I couldn’t be a singer because I was tone deaf, I couldn’t be an astronaut because I got travel sick just going to my Granny's on the bus. There were lots of things I couldn’t do because I was rubbish at them but no-one, absolutely no-one ever told me that I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl.

I worked for an airline for eleven years in a predominantly female environment where no-one cared about my gender. Seniority was based on rank and experience. It wasn't until I left that environment at the age of 31 that I noticed some people treated me differently because I was female. It’s rare, but it does happen.

Last year I had a phone call from a guy who was organising an event and looking for speakers. The conversation was going well until he said “we don’t have a woman so I thought of you.” Really?! “You don’t want me for my brains, my sparkling conversation or my wit; you’re only inviting me so there is a token woman on the panel?”....I could say I politely declined but to be honest, I was far from polite. Was this a one off? No, in the last year it's happened twice.

I put it down to the individuals being idiots rather than a reflection of the bigger picture as the majority of men I meet don’t live in the 1950’s. However can you remember the last time you read a feature in an industry magazine entitled “Men in Digital” or “Men in Advertising”? No, I can’t think of a time either so why do it for women?

When following large events and conferences on Twitter I frequently see other women question “Where are the female panellists?”. The answer appears to be that they are often not there or greatly outnumbered by men. Why is that? Are women backwards at coming forward? Is ratio a factor depending on industry? Are women not invited to speak at higher profile events or do we decline the offer due to a lack of confidence? I’m genuinely interested to find out.

I consider myself to be what I call an “Equalist". I believe people should be judged on their ability, not their gender, race, religion or what school they went to, and the vast majority of people I meet share the same values. We all joke about “typical man” or “typical woman” which is pretty harmless (let’s face it, if there was such a thing as “typical” the divorce rate would be a lot lower) but for future generations we need more positive role models, male and female.

I was cautious about writing this post as there’s a chance some will consider it anti-men or think that I’m going to take to burning my bra in the street. If you’ve met me you’ll know there’s no chance of that and talking to my female peers has convinced me to publish this post. I’m writing this because there are lots of seriously talented, hardworking, intelligent women who represent a whole generation of little girls who grew up believing hard work and ability were more important than gender. I’d pay to hear those women talk, sharing their knowledge with the business community and sharing the stage with their equally inspiring male counterparts. So, the next time you attend a big conference with an all-male panel please ask the organiser where the women are? I seriously doubt they are all washing their hair.


  1. Yup. I agree Annie. I grew up in an environment that was surrounded with very strong and capable women. Because of that, I grew up with no real assumption of any real male dominance in the workplace. It just didn't occur to me.

    When I left being a musician behind and started being in business, boy did that change!

    The norm is still the norm - men are still the dominant players in business. It's getting better, but we're still a long way from being on an equal footing.

    Now the question is: what do we do about it? Which are the bits that we can do and which are bits that women will have to make a choice about?

  2. I'd love it if we could have a sensible conversation about this without labels like 'sexist' or 'feminist' being applied. I recently spoke at an event with five other speakers: three men and three women (inc me). It was a pretty evenly mixed audience too. Nobody mentioned anything about this - which I think is great. It shows that no one thought it was out of the ordinary. The event was a Business Banter breakfast on the subject of social media. Perhaps new industries are where equality is possible?

  3. Hi, it's good to know that there are some events when it isn't an issue but I had the opposite experience at Social Media week. It's also a big issue world-wide. I've written about it here:

  4. Very, VERY well put Annie!

    Social media, in particular, should be a level playing field, a meritocracy.

    There absolutely ARE some amazingly talented women in our field and, like you, I would pay to see some of them speak.

    The other issue is there also women, and men, who really don't have any cheese on their social wotsits who stand up and speak - which give us all a bad name, or worse, are actually listened to and thought of as 'expert'.

    Here's to the talented women, and men, of social media working together, without exclusion, to further our industry and get a better balance!

  5. Hi Annie,

    I am 100% with you.

    I would however recommend that you take a look at this talk by Erin O'Brien ( @coolaunterin ) titled "Where have all the women gone?"
    This is taken from a psychology background, and what is it that causes the gender imbalance in software development.


  6. Thanks for all the comments and links, great to hear others opinion on this!