Raving Feminist Hypocrite or an Action-Oriented Realist?
I’m partial to a bit of a healthy debate and I enjoy the role of devil’s advocate and in recent times I’ve found myself engaging in a healthy internal dialogue around how to move gender equality forward without being an all out hypocrite.
It started in 2015 at my then employer, PR agency Golin. My friend and MD Bibi Hilton invited me and other senior women in the team, to the Management Today, Inspiring Women Conference. I scoffed into my keyboard. Really? Do we seriously need our own conference in the 21st century? Time for a spot of self-talk, “c'mon Fordham, this is a nice gesture from your employer, a learned business woman indeed, go along and see.”
Needless to say I loved it. Kate Bassett and editor at the time Matthew Gwyther hosted and presided over a day full of humility, humour, intelligence and a sense that we were part of a positive movement. A world away from being patronised.
I was delighted to see men on stage, in the audience and behind the scenes as I’m a bit militant about gender equality actually involving all parties. I’m also militant about empathy for the societal changes that men are navigating, equal and opposite to the current female journey. We’re all humans afterall and we should all be on the same side.
A powerful panel at the end of the day also persuaded me of the necessity of boardroom quotas in sectors like banking if we are ever to move the needle at anything other than a snail’s pace. There are myriad reasons as to why intuitively I am opposed to ‘mandated change’ but I do now reluctantly accept that quotas are a necessary part of expediting progress in sectors that would otherwise take a century or more to reach equity.
A more recent internal debate has focused on the merits of women’s development programmes. I am totally committed to developing inclusive cultures, where individuals can be their true glorious selves as a bedrock of diversity in organisations. So, creating more divisions, highlighting differences not commonalities definitely appears counter-intuitive. However, my experience in recent years and months has taught me a few things;
· Yes naturally there are differences between how men and women work, learn, emote and communicate
· There is a time and a place for creating safe, single sex spaces to share experiences and drive solutions
· Men can also benefit from their own tailored development programmes e.g. for male leaders/line managers managing women through maternity leave or a return to work, how to achieve greater worklife balance, stress management strategies (male suicide rates paint a vivid picture of the stark need here)
· And, there will be wonderful and vital opportunities to bring men and women together to learn, develop and drive positive change as a united team.
I am privileged and honoured therefore to be collaborating with the brilliant Gillian Jones-Williams of Emerge on a women’s development programme called RISE along with five other brilliant women. Watch this space...
Finally, a look at the growth of single sex clubs and workspaces that have come on the scene in 2017/2018. The Allbright is an ambitious, young business; a women’s investment fund, a stellar leadership academy and a women’s club in London (with two more coming). As I launched my consulting business in Spring, with a focus on gender and diversity, I thought, hmm this club could be interesting for me. I hesitated too long and the founder memberships were snapped up. However, there are more being released now ahead of the 2nd London club opening next Spring and I’m sitting bolt upright this time.
The Allbright was at the centre of a media debate last month when founders Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow OBE, announced a round of funding and, the appointment of Allan Leighton (formerly CEO of Asda), as their first Non-Executive Chairman. As an organisation that seeks to empower and develop smart women, why can they not have a man to help achieve that vision? Afterall men work in the club and are welcome to attend if not become members.
So, I think we can all agree sadly that there’s still have a whacking great gap between the sexes. There is however huge momentum and appetite for change right now and a wave of activism, boom. But, whilst such a chasm still exists, I am comfortable enough to divide and conquer on occasions, as long as the over-arching theme remains, together we stand, divided we fall.