The Female Economy

I read Lady Geek’s recent blog post about the ‘Female Economy’ with interest, about how women represent the biggest market opportunity in the world. With female income totalling $13 trillion, this figure is larger than the GDP of China and India combined!

female economy

This got me thinking about how this is relevant to women in the workplace, women on the board and more specifically women in technology. What these figures show, and what this article in the FT also highlights, is that women have a huge amount of purchasing power and this could be a way of helping us out of the recession. With women representing such a big proportion of society and controlling so much consumer spending, how can companies afford not to have women on their teams and management? How are predominantly male teams going to be able to relate to their customer base effectively and understand its needs? The simple answer is: they can’t. Ultimately it’s going to be the forward thinking companies that employ and promote plenty of women that will have the edge when it comes to boosting sales, keeping customers happy and staying ahead of the competition.

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Equal Pay Day

A date for your diaries – 30th October is equal pay day, as I found from the new blog by the Fawcett Society. It’s not just a day to highlight the gender pay gap, it’s the day when effectively women in the UK get their last pay cheque of the year. And no, unfortunately we aren’t getting two months off to start Christmas early. It’s because the gender pay gap of over 17% is equivalent to men being paid for the whole year, and women only getting paid up until the end of October. Shocking statistic isn’t it?

If you want to get involved, go to the Equal Pay Day blog equalpayday@wordpress.com and see what you can do.

Women of the board

As we reported back in August, some research was released showing that having women on the board could have a negative effect on the bottom line. The survey of 2000 companies in the USA showed a correlation between firms with more female board members and lower profitability and lower market value.

But a report launched today is entitled “women improve boardroom effectiveness” – it’s amazing how different research on the same subject can come up with such conflicting results! Boardroom consultancy IDDAS interviewed a fifth of women on boards of FTSE 100 companies to quiz them about their success.

The report’s findings are not too surprising and highlight all the main attributes of successful women that I would expect – that women are good at teamwork, non-confrontational, less ego-driven and so rare at this level that they excel under the spotlight. It also said that characteristics of successful women directors include energy, courage, resilience and social intelligence.

It’s nice to see some more positive research – it seems like we’ve had our fair share of negative PR lately! I think that other qualities it’s important for successful women to have are confidence, political savvy, strong negotiation skills and the ability to network. From your experiences, do you agree? For some top tips on political savvy you can see our white paper – just click here.

More paternity leave in store?

Could this be the step forward that we need?

The FT reported this morning that the government has backed more flexible parental leave, allowing women who return to work after six months to transfer the remaining maternity leave to their partners. This means instead of the mere two weeks leave that men are now entitled to, they will instead be able to take up to six months – three paid and another three unpaid. This would also apply to gay couples.

This is somewhat of a breakthrough. At W-Tech, one member of the audience came out with a statement and her shock and frank words summed up the current situation. She said: “I’ve been living in Sweden since 2003 – how much time do guys here get for paternity leave? Is it two weeks or something? In Sweden a guy can take up to one and a half years – there’s no discussion about who’s at home with the kids, you both are.”

This seems like a major step forward in the battle for equality – but as always, the war is not yet won. Many businesses are not happy about the changes due to the ‘administrative nightmare’ that it could cause them. And there is still speculation as to how many men would take advantage of the leave. But regardless, this news is definitely a step in the right direction and gives some very real hope for the future.

What do you think? Will we move towards a world where men and women will share the family responsibilities? Or will the women that reach the top continue to be the ones who have made the big sacrifices? Would you be happy to give some of your leave to your partner? Or are the gender roles that we’re in now just so long established that this move just isn’t enough?

Time to leave the City?

There have been some pretty disappointing statistics in the press over the past week when it comes to equality and the gender pay gap – especially in the finance sector. A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that women with full time roles in the City earn 55% less than their male counterparts – that’s almost double the 28% gender pay gap for the UK in general. Not only that, when it came to bonuses, the report found that men within finance received five times the performance related pay of women, taking home over £14,000 compared to under £3000 for females.

It is obviously unacceptable to have such discrepancies based on gender. But should we be surprised? It’s general knowledge that there is a gender pay gap, especially in the competitive arena that is the City. The important issue is how we deal with it. A piece in the Telegraph by Tracy Corrigan suggests that women should “give the City a miss”. She says “the disparity of earnings and the working conditions that make it so hard to combine motherhood and career advancement will continue to persuade many to take their skills elsewhere…Rather than trying to fix the City, or struggling to meet its harrowing demands, perhaps it is better to pursue other options.”

She has some valid points – a high flying career in the City is not easy, especially with family responsibilities. But is giving up really the best option? Yes it’s a difficult career, but surely women should have the option of pursuing it without facing huge levels of discrimination, if they want to? And if we tell women to give up, isn’t that effectively showing the City that the current situation is acceptable? This situation isn’t easy to change but if we keep persevering we will hopefully be able to make a difference, slowly but surely.

Input into research on recruiting women & minorities into IT departments

Rachel Dines at Forrester Research, an independent research company, is currently looking for input into a research report on recruiting women and minorities into IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) departments – networking, storage, databases, helpdesk, telecoms etc. She’s interested in talking to individuals who manage people working in those areas and who are happy to share their ideas on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in their teams.

The report is about best practices for recruiting and developing more diversity in infrastructure and operations departments around the world. E.g. why is I&O the least diverse department in most IT departments?

If you have any experience with this, please contact Rachel directly by the middle of September 2009:
Rachel Dines
Researcher – Infrastructure & Operations, Forrester Research, 400 Technology Square, Cambridge MA 02139
001 617 613 6081 or rdines@forrester.com
@RachelDines
http://www.forrester.com/rb/analyst/rachel_dines

Thanks so much!

Do women damage the bottom line?

I recently came across an article that I read with interest – as it goes against much of the research and most of the opinions that I’ve come across!

According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, having more women on a board can improve governance as women are better at monitoring and more likely to attend meetings. However it also says there is a correlation between firms with more female board members and low profitability, which “suggests in well-governed companies, governance could have a negative effect.”

So basically this research shows that because women are more efficient in their work, organisations are suffering? Surely this signals that corporate governance needs to be re-assessed, not that women damage profitability! Besides, research from McKinsey actually shows the opposite – that the companies with more women at board level actually perform better financially.

It’s always disappointing to read pieces like this which just seem to add to the struggle for diversity. Of course we can’t generalise too much but on the whole, women do bring different skills to the table and organisations genuinely do benefit from having more diverse teams – not only in gender – but in age, race, background and so on. Let’s hope that the business world recognises this and doesn’t pay too much attention to this report!