Being ‘Bold For Change’: women who break the business mould

The third wave of feminism is well and truly washing over the UK, growing in magnitude every day. The Women’s March earlier this year, a worldwide expression of female discontent, promises to be a trigger for further proclamations of female empowerment and resistance to casual misogyny. Just this weekend, Annie Lennox led the March For Women, accompanied by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, to shine a light on inequality faced by women around the world.

Today, International Women’s Day (IWD) reminds us to take time to celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women through the ages. The theme for this year is ’Be Bold For Change’, encouraging us to abandon our complacency and be brave enough to tackle sexism head on. In its broad message, IWD reminds us that striving for gender parity goes beyond fighting every day ‘locker room talk’; government and organisations ought to be feeling the heat too, driving both legislative and cultural changes to make the working world a more equal place.

Globally, only 50 per cent of women of working age are in the UK labour force, compared to 77 per cent of men. The gender pay gap has been well-publicised, with the Government pushing organisations to publish gender pay figures from 2018. Meanwhile one of our clients, executive search firm Korn Ferry’s recent research has revealed a wider problem: there are fewer women in higher paying industries, meaning women are struggling to access high-paid jobs in the first place.

Despite ongoing obstacles, there are a plethora of shining examples of women throughout history who have driven innovation and positive change in the workplace. To celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s worth recognising the women who have been ‘bold for change’ in the workplace…

  • Anita Roddick: Roddick founded British cosmetics company, ‘The Body Shop’ in 1976. Throughout her career, Roddick was a fierce environmental campaigner and human rights activist. Roddick channelled her energy into encouraging organisations to be ‘bold for change’ and adopt a moral form of leadership in order to drive societal change.
  • Iris Lapinski: A U.K. entrepreneur, Lapinski founded Apps for Good in 2010. Through learning programmes, Apps for Good allows young people to create their own apps. Her courses now have more than 17,000 students in the UK and she is looking to expand. Lapinski not only breaks the mould herself as a woman in tech, but has provided a platform for other youngsters to develop essential tech skills at a time when they are most in need.
  • Heather Bowman: An inspiration for women in STEM worldwide, Bowman is the founder of disruptive tech start-up ‘Dot Laboratories’, based in the USA. Dot Laboratories develops women’s health diagnostics: its affordable hormone tests are empowering women worldwide by enabling early diagnosis or hormone-related diseases.
  • Martha Lane-Fox: A serial entrepreneur, Lane-Fox co-founded Lastminute.com in the dotcom boom of the early noughties. Passionate about getting more women into tech, Lane-Fox started up the Dot Everyone project, and was also appointed by the Government in 2010 to be its digital champion. This role, and Martha’s recommendations, led to the creation of the Government Digital Service, and she has played an instrumental role in the drive towards digital in public services.

Individuals can play their part in breaking the mould, but what can organisations learn from International Women’s Day? Simply, they should be bold enough to put gender equality high on the agenda, ensuring they are offering sufficient training to women, creating more opportunities for women to work in higher-paid roles part-time, and making it a priority to place women on boards. As an innovative industry at the forefront of change, communications can play a role in showcasing best practice in equal gender opportunities.

And bit by bit, organisations are making the necessary steps towards gender equality. Vodafone, for example, announced this month that it will actively recruit women on career breaks, making it easier to return to work after having children. And earlier this week, the male-dominated Football Association announced that more women will be appointed to its board as part of proposed reforms. However, it goes without saying that these initiatives, while extremely valuable, are a drop in a wider ocean of gender issues.  Looking forward, normalising these initiatives will be key, so they can one day be viewed as standard practice rather than ‘bold.’

Jessica in our Corporate Business Communications team.