Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Why Aren't There More Females CEOs in PR?

How encouraging that Aarti Shah's piece "Why Aren't There More Female CEOs In PR?" was the most popular long read on the Holmes Report in 2015. It's a great article and I hope its popularity is also a sign that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Why Aren't There More Female CEOs In PR?

Despite the high-profile gains for women in management positions across the PR industry, only 30% of global firms are run by women, according to last year's World PR Report, the definitive global study of PR industry size and trends.

The UK's new shared parental leave rules introduced in April 2015 were a big step forward. This followed the success of the model in Scandinavia.  It took a while to get started.  Even in Sweden, Dad's took time to adjust to the idea. But after four years, close to 90% of Swedish fathers were taking an average of seven weeks paternity leave. Anecdotal evidence suggests that UK PR firms are welcoming the change. Let's hope it will become the norm in due course.

But many of the world's largest agencies are headquartered in the US, and so must battle against the notoriously stingy US maternity leave rules.  I applaud H&K Strategies US move last year to lead the drive to decent maternity leaves.  My ex-colleague Mike Coates is their US CEO.  I've long known him as an early adopter of creative talent policies. You can read more here in his blog.

How the UK's new rules on parental leave work - BBC News

New rights allowing UK parents to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child have come into effect. Up to 50 weeks of leave - 37 weeks of which is paid - can be shared by parents if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

Aarti's comprehensive article is a good primer.  She looks beyond maternity leave topics to behaviour and unconscious bias. She talks in particular about the need to shift focus to improve gender balance in agency leadership teams.  Weber lead the pack with women taking two thirds of their leadership team seats. It's so important to get women 'in the room - making decisions' as Edelman's Gail Becker says in the article. This is key to encouraging those women to want the top job.  If they're kept outside, they are far less likely to stick around.  I agree with Tim Dyson whom she quotes saying;
“The glass ceiling doesn’t exist at the CEO level — it’s below that. There is an industry-wide issue of great talent not being recognized and that tends to happen around the VP-level. Women will notice it’s an all boys network at the top or there is a feeling they can’t control the work-life balance so often they will start their own agencies.”
Thank you Aarti for giving us all so much to think about.  I hope we see more on this topic - with more women making it to the top table - in 2016.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Smart, stylish and affordable - celebrate the new working year with a classic hat

The last of my family has been packed off back to their homes armed with left overs and new Christmas sweaters.  The dishwasher labours yet again through the last of the family holiday meals.  My thoughts are starting to turn to to the return to work.  Every year I soften the blow by browsing the sales.  Fashion columnists are all telling me to  'invest in a classic coat', but there's only one thing I'm searching for before the new work 'term' kicks off in earnest. And that's a great new hat.

I became a convert to hats a few years ago.  At the airport heading to Moscow in snowy November, I  realised  I had nothing to keep my head warm on arrival.  A Muscovite fur felt too Dr Zhivago, so I invested in a practical  plain cream beret.   I was completely converted to the idea of keeping warm, looking smart and and protecting my hair from a light drizzle or stiff breeze.

Of course this is not a new discovery.  Hats were de rigeur until about thirty years ago.  Who could imagine Jackie O without the trademark pillbox? But sometime in the mid 1970s they fell out of fashion.  The only headgear featuring in my childhood was my mother's Mrs T-style  headscarf worn  to protect a blow dry after the weekly trip to the salon.

I soon branched out to a fedora which had the same effect as sunglasses.  Almost everything looks better with it and you look instantly pulled together.  For a couple of years I admit to being something of an oddity.  But to my delight, over the past couple of years, hats have undergone a major resurgence.

Hats for all ages
I put this down to a mixture of  the popularity of Scandi-noir driven 'cosy chic' and  the Vintage trend.  Kate Moss has certainly been an influence.  Who doesn't envy her effortless rock chick look?

Whatever the cause, hats are back for women - and men - of all ages. After much experimentation I've settled on two styles for work.  Firstly - that beret.  Available in lots of colours to match different outfits, they are particularly good on windy days and are small enough to fit in your handbag.

Secondly a fedora (Mossy's favourite) - or it's smaller cousin the trilby. The primary difference here is the size of the brim and the height of the crown.  Try several variations to find the combination that suits your face shape and hair. There are huge amounts of different colours and types in the High Street and they won't cost a fortune. These won't fit in your bag and, like umbrellas, you need to remember to pick them up in restaurants.  But they win hands down in the impact stakes.

Happy hunting.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Was Life Really Better in the 1970s? The good, bad and downright ugly
Every day we read that our children will be the first generation to be less successful than their parents.  We're told hard work and  good qualifications  won't be enough to secure them good jobs  and a roof over their heads anywhere within commuting distance of London.

1970s food groups
Their conclusion? Life was better in the 1970s and we won't see its like again.  I wish someone had told us that at the time.  Born in the mid-sixties I spent much of the '70s thinking- is this it?   My parents had missed the note telling them to entertain my brother and I.  The internet was still twenty years away.  We had three television channels. Choice was so limited that there was a non-ironic kids show called "Why don't you switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?". For any of you unlucky enough to have missed this cultural wonder, here's a clip. Most days my mother told us to go and  'play in the garden'.  If we grumbled, she explained the boredom would encourage our creativity.  Something had to.

The Clangers
There were rays of light such as the gentle world of The Clangers.  Inspired by the moon landing, the series kicked off in 1969 and became a favourite. It was my tea time treat - watched with a jammy dodger.

Last week I was catching up with a school friend.  We were reflecting on how these childhood influences have affected us. After a successful career and with two children growing up, she's just taken three science A levels.  Impressive. And particularly because our friendship was  forged in the bottom O level maths stream.  We were both so bad at maths that when I scraped through my exam my parents were delirious. We were also banished from the lab where our peers were studying chemistry and physics. Aged 13 science became a strange land.
So I have spent the past 30 years believing I was just useless at maths and science. Somehow I've run multi-million pound budgets and my eldest child is an accomplished scientist with a Masters in Engineering.  I put this down to luck and my husband's C-grade in A level maths.

So how on earth did my friend manage to pull off this amazing academic coup? Simple she told me.  We were taught badly. This time she benefited from a supportive group of mature students battling to beat their childhood hang-ups. She experienced modern teaching methods - and she blossomed.  Now she's pursuing a new career.

But school did have a big upside.  We were taught to believe we should go out into the world and build careers.  That nothing should stop us (apart presumably from good science qualifications).  And I took that idea and ran with it.

And just as I don't think the 1970s were the perfect past everyone wants us to believe, I don't believe the future is bleak for our children either. For one thing, the Clangers have been brought back after 45 years by the wonderful Michael Palin.  For those of you who remember the adventures of tiny clanger and the soup dragon - you'll love this.

We were encouraged to build careers but had so few options to choose from.  Medicine was out due to my appalling science record and that left lawyer,  journalist or teacher.  Or PR as I later discovered.

But all that has changed. The  concept of today's youngsters as a 'lost generation' is a myth. They will be able to build their own careers in a way that would have been unthinkable for us.  The most valuable growth jobs tomorrow are jobs most of us haven't heard of yet.  And if they want to feel superior, they can even raid the You Tube archives for 70s television clips.  And send a prayer to the inventors of the internet.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hot Feminist - Why George is our new role model

How great is this? Clooney thrilled to be marrying Alpha Amal
He's spent the last twenty years being praised for being the world's ultimate Alpha Male, so it's good to see George Clooney emerging as strong voice for women in the driving seat. Clearly thrilled to be  married to Alpha Amal, he is happy to tell anyone who will listen how much he admires her work and how she is far more intelligent than him.  Earlier this year he was even interviewed on Women's Hour.  In a cosy interview with Jenny Murray,  he sounded as one with the sisterhood as he explained how his production company, Smokehouse Pictures,  is run by 'smart, strong women'. He's supportive of raising awareness of the gender pay gap - citing revelations about pay disparity in Hollywood as 'the only good thing that came of the Sony leak'.

Ageing naturally?
Further evidence of George's commitment to gender equality were his comments in the interview about the ageing process. He predictably denied any unnatural interventions saying that surgery actually made men look older and advocating an accepting approach to ageing.  Very convenient if you happen to be one of the world's most attractive men for whom grey hair is actually enhancing, but terrifying for most of us for whom the thought of facing the world with grey hair, VPLs and unwaxed legs is right up there with dreaming you're giving a speech naked.

It's very hard to feel like you can take on the boardroom boys club if you're not feeling confident in the way you look.   Self-confidence is a huge part of success.  And I'm certainly muddled about whether my urge to avoid the seven signs of ageing (really - only seven??) is fatally at odds with my equally strong desire to see women treated equally.

Since the seventies we've been presented with the idea that we can't be supportive of gender equality and looking good at the same time.  Most of us associate feminism with role models like Germaine Greer and Erica Jong.  Interviewed recently for the launch of her new book 'Fear of Dying', Jong was angry about the progress on gender equality since her classic 'Fear of Flying' was published over forty years ago.  She described it as a constant battle saying "we have made a third of a revolution, a half of a revolution. I really believe feminism is like democracy -- when you stop fighting for it, it slips away".
Greer still fighting.. Huffingtonpost

Greer is also keeping herself angry - swearing liberally several times in a particularly punchy
interview with Kirsty Wark on last week's Newsnight about why Greer has been de-listed by her old Cambridge college because they don't like her controversial views on transgender politics. 

At least you know where you are with these two.  You can rely on them to celebrate the traditional feminist values of anger, a casual attitude to underwear and a general air that women who celebrate their femininity are letting down the sisterhood.

We owe them a huge debt.  Their hardcore attitudes raised awareness of women's inequality and provided the foundation for the widespread acceptance that women should be entitled to the same rights and rewards as men.  I'm a strong supporter of their legacy but truth be told I've never been very comfortable with the anger. Amazingly, even high achiever Amal was subjected to criticism by the feminist lobby - for changing her name to Clooney. Like many women, I'd like to support the ideas but dial back the anger and make the best of myself without feeling guilty.

Wife of Bath for the 21st Century 

Polly Vernon - a 21st Century Wife of Bath?   EveningStandard

Searching for a middle ground, journalist Polly Vernon's recent book with the great title 'Hot Feminist' - caught my eye. Central to her  argument is that you can be a feminist and be interested in clothes and make up.  It was destroyed in the Guardian - in a lengthy and brutal review Helen Lewis said "What you cannot do is rewrite feminism into a sloppy self-help movement whose main aim is to make you feel better about your thighs". Louise Carpenter in the Telegraph was kinder, describing Vernon as the 'wife of Bath for the 21st Century', concluding that Vernon loves women and is rooting for them - citing Madeline Albright's famous comment that 'there is a special place in Hell for women that don't help other women'.

Judging by Amal's emergence as a fashion icon I doubt she suffers from wardrobe nightmares or sports a drawerful of Spanx.  But for those of us dealing with the day-to-day realities of succeeding in a male dominated workplace  anything that makes us feel better about wobbly thighs gets my vote.  It's a a stretch to celebrate cellulite as a feminist act and I'm happy to leave most of the anger to others.  Instead we can be thankful to our mothers for burning their bras and relieved that we don't have to - celebrating instead that the finest minds in the fashion industry have turned their attention to jeans with artfully placed pockets and clever dyes that make us look pounds lighter delivering a great confidence boost at the same time.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Regal Role Model - Is the Queen the ultimate Alpha Female?

Solitary Splendour               Annie Leibovitz
Watching footage this week of the landmark longevity of the Queen's reign, I found myself congratulating her and thinking how much I respect her. I'm not particularly royalist, so I rather surprised myself by how strongly I felt she deserved thanks and gratitude.

What is it about her that has made her so successful for so long and does she have anything to teach us about how to be successful as a senior public woman? I think she does.

Not many of us are born into leadership.  But apart from that, the more I thought about it, the more I think she models many of the traits I have identified as important for long term sustainable leadership for women.

She knows what she likes, what suits her and what is practical.  And she sticks to it.  A dress is a practical option for most senior women - and she has to spend quite a bit of time outside looking at parades, planting trees and suchlike so a matching coat is a must-have.  And it covers your arms.   According to the delightful children's book The Queen's Knickers, she has pairs for every occasion - corgi patterned ones for relaxing at home, union jack ones for state events and many more.  She has picked her hairstyle and she's consistent.  Mind you, she needs to be.  Having your face on a coin makes seeing those embarrassing pictures of you pop up in your FB timeline look easy. 

89? Me? Just another day at the office  BBC
Keeping on Working
She is 89.  And she's working every day, apparently completely on top of the job.  She has to see the Prime Minister every week to understand and respond to the issues of the day as well as considering the finer points of banquet small talk and whether she can talk Philip out of upsetting the visiting dignitaries.   She's a fine example of keeping on working and if I have as much energy as she does at her age I will be thrilled.

She promised herself to the nation all those years ago and that does go a bit beyond the corporate governance rules about protecting the public interest. But she has to prioritize the demands of the job over the family which is very familiar.

Handling People Problems
Unlike most of us in the corporate world, she doesn't have to worry about being replaced.  But this is a relatively new benefit for her.  Most of her ancestors had to worry about pretenders around every corner who might raise an army and storm into London to take their throne by force.  Much worse that worrying about being censored by the Board or lambasted on Twitter.

St George's Hall after the fire
Her team (they call the Royal Family the Firm) is her family.  And she has had more problems with them than most CEOs could stomach.  Divorces (three in one year out of four children), affairs, tabloid scandals - remember the toe-sucking? - bereavement,  her home burning down (well nearly).  OK she has a selection of homes, but this one had been around for a thousand years...And all she said, demonstrating great understatement - about it was:
"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure... it has turned out to be an 'Annus Horribilis'".
Now that's getting on with it.

Spouse as supporter
Philip is a trailing spouse.  He's dedicated his life to making her successful.  OK he didn't stretch to childcare but all those courtiers have to do something.

Hilarity at the Highland Games.  Who knew?  The Mirror
Work life balance
She's always pursued hobbies outside work.  Corgis, horses and summer holidays watching caber tossing.  Not many people's choice for a relaxing summer break, but each to their own. 

Congratulations Ma'am.  We salute you as a role model we can all learn from.

Long may she reign.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Boardroom Blues - paying the hidden price of success
Just as we thought we had finally cracked the Glass Ceiling, it seems that life on the other side might be making us sick. New academic research  reported by Anna Maxted in this weeks Times shows growing levels of burnout among senior women.  Experts explained  that women in their forties are most susceptible with growing numbers experiencing a form of extreme stress which in medical terms is heading towards depression. "Women are trying to forge ahead professionally, they have children, elderly parents and they're trying to hold it all together".

Perfectionism can clearly be toxic to health and happiness.  As more women take on senior roles, more 'Alpha Females' are emerging and it's doing us real harm.  These are typically senior high achieving women who want to be perfect in all aspects of their lives - well-rounded children, a partner who is her soulmate plus a chic home, a wardrobe to create envy amongst her friends and all that on less that six hours sleep a night.

We have always had a tendency to be our own harshest critics so why is this getting worse?  I think we're victims of our own success.  Ironically now that being the prime breadwinner is becoming much more the norm, women are now under pressure to earn the sort of high salaries that fund private school fees, three holdiays a year and a house in London or the Home Counties.

According to Family and Childcare Trust, childcare costs have risen by a third in five years pushing many families into one parent caring for children rather than work to pay for childcare  Living costs for the squeezed middle classes are rising at a breathtaking speed and it is increasingly these women on the other side of the Glass Ceiling who are feeling the full force of the pressure to meet those expectations for their families.
The chief chillaxer shows how it done   DailyMail
Part of the problem is our desire to put ourselves under insane amounts of pressure.  Alpha female tendencies plus a healthy dose of female guilt are not things our male counterparts suffer from.  Because men don't worry much about these issues, they use most of their emotional energy to deliver results at work then 'chillax' at the weekends with their families.

Another, less discussed issue is how men whose wives are now the primary breadwinners handle the emotional dynamic of playing supporter. Less naturally the nurturers, they may well find their wife owning the pressure of keeping up the house, fees and family expectations is very disempowering.  It's bad enough that they don't earn more money, now they are not responsible for the long term welfare of their families. That's a big shift.

Men and women can - thankfully - now both be primary breadwinners or primary carers pretty interchangeably.  But in lots of other ways the sexes are not the same.  They handle stress differently and men whose wives are the primary breadwinner need to be able to empathise not just transfer how they would feel in the same position.  More should be done to build support networks for men who are the primary carers and this should include this kind of education and honest discussion.

We should continue to monitor our own perfectionist tendencies to avoid self-destructive behaviour.  Perhaps we should all have our own checklists - don't sweat the small stuff and decide with your partner what are the trade-offs you're prepared to make for example are you happy to put your children in different schools if it takes some of the financial pressure off you?

We can't wait around to get this right.  If women are going to successfully consolidate the tremendous gains we have made to secure senior roles then we need to adjust or we'll find ourselves the victims of our own success.  This really is doable - we just need to be self aware and take care of ourselves.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Are your vocals frying your career progression?
Vocal fry expert Kardashian
Just when you thought there were no barriers left to storming into the boardroom, something new has come along to block our progress.  How we speak.

I was tipped off by a Naomi Wolf article on the subject in this week's Guardian reporting on the latest trend to cross the Atlantic  - Vocal Fry.  Not a new form of nose-to-tail eating as I thought, but rather that glottal growl you'll recogize from a thousand next gen reality shows. If you need a prompt, take a look at this video for a quick primer.  If you're over 40, this might feel alien and you might be smugly watching it thinking 'I would never talk like that - so I'm OK'. But you would be wrong. That's just the start of the issues we have with our voices and speech that are getting in the way of our career progression - often without us even realising.

If you're serious about getting on, you need to consider whether you're building gravitas.  Lots of data shows that this is the magic ingredient to getting others to take you seriously.  Clothes and body language are part of creating gravitas and much has been written about the ways in which you can enhance these.  But your voice can betray you - according to research last year into executive speeches in the US, the sound of the speakers voices matters twice as much as the content. 

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I did a bit of 'reading out loud' competitively.  There was actually  a school reading aloud prize.  I flunked at most forms of organised sport so I think I was encouraged by my parents in this endeavour as a consolation, one step up from winning the class 'good egg'* prize.  It was useful training but sadly, speaking clearly and slowing down by counting one at a comma and two at a full stop, whilst excellent for winning school prizes, isn't enough to generate Boardroom gravitas. 

So what you should steer clear of?

Uptalk.  This is that thoroughly modern habit of ending your sentences with an upward lilt.  Like Australians.  But now we all do it. Scientists have shown that it makes us sound as though we don't really have an opinion and this undermines our credibility.
The Loose Women ladies lay into actor Russell Crowe and guest Joan Rivers calls him a 's**t' on live TV
Even Joan Rivers was removed from UK TV show for swearing

Jargon.  In my experience tech companies have their own language, as does the pharmaceutical industry. Jargon is fine in small doses but you have to be able to express yourself clearly in mixed company.

Swearing.  Try to avoid swearing unless you're really sure you're among friends. It can feel macho and fun but is undermining and unflattering.  It is a disaster in cross-cultural groups and can be easily taken out of context. 

Neologisms.  Newly coined words or expressions that may be in the process of entering common use.  They're not a modern idea - Shakespeare is probably the prime culprit.  Presumably when people first started saying "there's a method in my my madness" (Hamlet) it sounded weird and pretentious.  The early seventeenth century equivalent of 'my bad'. This is not an area to be an early adopter if you want to be taken seriously.  Oddly, apparently 'my bad' first appeared in a Shakespeare sonnet. Who knew?

In the US where vocal fry seems to have started, commentators have observed that for the peer group - other young women - this mode of speech is seen as credible and authoritative.  Well, it's a point of view, but until those are the people making Board appointments it's better to avoid strange creakiness in your speech to make yourself understood.

Of course there's a time and a place for everything. Like most women, I can shift personalities several times a day depending on who I'm with and this probably extends to my voice.  I do a lot of work with Americans and when I'm with them I find my sentence structure slightly changing to reflect what I'm hearing.  Although I don't say trash or sidewalk. Drinks with girlfriends would find us all talking in much higher voices and saying things like "Really?? And what did you say?".  But for meetings I try to use short words, clear summaries.

I don't always succeed.  I naturally talk very fast which is often unhelpful particularly if I'm talking to a group of people that don't have English as their first language.  I slow down once they start waving desperately at the back but it's not a useful habit.

I would recommend listening to yourself talking as well as asking close friends for feedback on how you sound when you're in a business environment. If you're really struggling there are coaches that can help but I think most of us just need to increase our self awareness and remind ourselves that our voices are as much a part of our armoury as our grooming.

*for any readers unfamiliar with early twentieth century English idioms, this has nothing to do with food but refers to a pleasant and reliable person