Saturday, 13 September 2014

Boardroom Dandies: Why women need to up their fashion spend to compete for the top jobs

I celebrated the end of Summer by starting the autumn travel season - kicking off with my first visit to Heathrow's new Terminal 2.  I was struck by the global nature of travel - this brand  new terminal is slickly laid out to a pattern determined by those who design flat-pack airport terminals from Barcelona to Beijing. Do you think there is an app to do this? Instinctively I knew which way to go and which retail experiences to expect along the way. But kicking against the predictable, I was delighted to see a small branch of John Lewis bravely bucking the identikit trend and felt a small patriotic stir.  Perhaps we'll see these pop up alongside the branches of Mont Blanc and Starbucks that fill terminals the world over.  Spreading the John Lewis modern British vibe around the globe can't be a bad thing.  And you never know when you're going to need a good value cashmere sweater in a hurry.

Catching up on the weekend papers on the plane I came across a fascinating statistic.  Men spend more on clothes than women.

I was surprised but looking more closely the statistics reveal some insight which I recognize.  Men outspend women in their early twenties which I put down largely to boy bands and  Harry Styles in
Copyright The Financial Times
particular.  Maybe he actually accounts for this spending statistic personally. By their late twenties women have retaken the lead only to lose it again during their thirties. I assume this is the influence of getting established on the career ladder - then having babies - vomit stained YSL anyone? As the little darlings gain independence we rediscover our retail spending power, and thanks no doubt to a good dose of post children investment dressing, we're back on top by our forties.  However, from then on in the men have the upper hand all the way to retirement.

This rather depressed me but I cheered myself up with the accompanying shoe spending statistics which show women spending more on their feet than men at every age except the early twenties. Why the early twenties? Are those stats driven by incredibly expensive trainers? As the mother of one in this group who refuses to own more than one item of footwear at one time and literally wears them until they fall apart - who are these expensively shod young men?


But back to those dapper silver foxes.  Why are they packing such a sartorial punch? I thought about the contents of my wardrobe and admit that it is worth a lot more than in was in my thirties.  But is that because I'm still working? I still spend the majority of my clothes budget on clothes for work rather than leisure - and so do the men.  All those men dominating Britain's boardrooms aren't going to work naked.  One of the beneficiaries of a male bias in the boardroom is a healthy business for the world's finest tailors.  Yes you can get a Timothy Everest suit at Marks and Spencers.  But as twenty years of expensive lunches begin to make themselves visible, every middle-aged man knows that the secret of having it all is a very good tailor, handmade shirts if they can afford it and a well cut suit.  Long before we discovered Roland Mouret and Spanx they had that problem cracked.

So come on ladies, we owe it to the fashion industry to get ourselves to the Boardroom in greater numbers.  More female spending power, boosting the bottom line of British fashion (why not?) must be a legitimate goal.  And we should indulge ourselves.  That Savile Row tailor will set your male director back a couple of big ones. That's a lot of lovely dresses.  And even designer shoes.

Monday, 18 August 2014

We can do this on our own terms
I am so pleased that Claire Murphy took me out for lunch a year or so ago and shared her idea to create a women's mentoring project under the PR Week umbrella. It's been a great project - she gathered a group of some great mentors and matched them with high potential women looking for mentoring.  I've been very fortunate to work with a wonderful mentee and I've learned a lot from hearing her perspective and priorities. It's a great scheme and I hope it continues.  Here's a short video interview I did last week talking about it.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

It's official - you really do love us for our brains

Belle of the ball: Carol Vorderman is joined by two male models as she showcases's latest range
Source ISME, published Daily Mail
I confess I have always found Carol Vorderman irritating.  I feel bad about this - she is after all a world class maths genius and by any standards a successful role model for women. But my dark heart found those Christmas adverts for ISME made me want to throw things at the set. I'm sure you remember la
Vorderman  'smouldering' as I think the taboloid jargon has it. She posed with men young enough to be her sons in skin tight dresses, saying in accompanying interviews that her figure is a 'Ten Ton Tessie'.  Right.  Bring on the support girlfriend.  But last week I had an epiphany.  I agreed with her. Well it's August, no real news, a two week heatwave, I might put this down to temporary summer madness. 

She was writing about a story which was picked up widely in the media saying that men now preferred 'brainy' women.  Vorderman explained that .."the research published  in the American Socialogical Review analysed US marriage statistics between 1950 and 2000, and found that marriages in which the wife is more intelligent than the husband are no more likely to fail than if the balance is the other way round. Men have learnt to live with women who are cleverer than they are – and about time, too".

Does this mean that finally men find us more attractive for our personalities and brilliant insight than more prosaic merits? Hmm.  I'd like to believe that but if you read the paper carefully it says that as women's education continues to increase faster than men's (a very well documented trend across the developed world) more marriages consist of women who have more years of education that their partners - up to nearly a third from 20 per cent in the early 1970s. Which makes sense if you think about it.

Education is certainly the key.  LV did a great piece of research last summer which showed that women made up nearly half of primary breadwinners in their household. And the women in the survey put this progress down to better education: 
Women are much more likely to apply to university than men, UCAS figures show.
Source: The Daily Telegraph
Looking at the key reasons why these women believe they’ve been more successful in their earnings than their partners, the majority put it down to “education, education, education”. Reflecting the tendency for girls to outperform boys at all levels of education, over half (54%) of female breadwinners claim to have better GCSE and A-Level results than their partners, while 47% also have a superior university degree. Almost two thirds (60%) believe that these achievements have been extremely helpful in securing them high-flying jobs and aiding their progression up the career ladder.

According to figures released last week by the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), a third more women than men applied for university entrance in 2014and the gap is widening year on year.

Women having real confidence that they don't need to trade between looking good and being bright to have a stable long term partnership is great news.  We should champion this with young women.  Thanks Carol - hat's off to you.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Boards need Women more than Women need Boards: If you want us, you need to woo us

Boards need women more than women need Boards
courtesy ManMen Facebook
Most recent writing on women and Boards - including my own - has focussed on the problems of getting women admitted to the Boardroom.  We have examined the inequalities - on why women are kept disproportionately out of the boardroom and how this situation can be levelled.  But I think we're about to see the tables turning.  Last week Glencore, the last remaining FTSE company with no women directors, announced that they have appointed  Patrice Merrin.  This was declared 'historic' by Business Secretary Vince Cable and ushers in a new period when I predict women will be in the driving seat. We are finally moving into a real economy for Boards - where public companies must woo the highest performing people whether male of female. Ironically women may be much harder to persuade than the establishment thinks.

Many women do want a seat on a FTSE Board and I'm delighted that solid progress has been made since the Davies report was issued in 2011.  But shareholders should be wary of assuming that this progress will lead inexorably to a flood of high quality women candidates.

Source: GEMUK Adult Population Survey 2002-2011
Plc Boards do not offer the appeal they once did.  Years of tightening transparency rules bringing with them a round of grinding process and the relentless demands of capital markets have sent people running to more attractive options.  Many of these involve entrepreneurship of varying types from kitchen table businesses to high level private equity. In fact women are leading the charge - between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for an unprecedented 80% of the new self employed in the UK.

 This inevitably leaves the pool of candidates for non-execs for plcs shallower.

My personal experience reflects this dilemma. In the two plus years since I left the corporate world and started my own business many opportunities have come my way.  But by far the easiest to turn down was the approach to become a non-exec for a FTSE 250 company.  It required a heavy workload, combined with the inflexibility of having to be at meetings in person, in a fixed location booked a year in advance. In an age when entrepreneurs can run billion dollar businesses from a laptop from anywhere in the world, it felt like a lock in with far more disadvantages than benefits. This kind of inflexibility is putting off candidates.  The alternatives - opportunities that allow us to embrace the freedom brought by the digital world are far more attractive. Disruptive technology suits us - we can provide top quality support and insight whilst managing families. Why should we give this up to pander to people who just want to protect the status quo?

Getting women on to boards of plcs is rightly seen as a priority.  There is now a lot of research showing that women on Boards generally add substantial shareholder value.  I greatly admire Heather McGregor in her various incarnations, and as a very successful head hunter she must be focussed the difficulty of persuading female executives to do these roles.  But her recent Times article instructed women to make sacrifices to build networks that will get you recommended for Boards, saying that Patrice Merrin wouldn't have been appointed if she'd been 'under a hedge'.  Clearly visibility is important.  But the implication that women should sacrifice family life to build networks in the hope of hooking a Board seat feels outdated to me.

If plcs choose not to hire good women it is their shareholders who will lose out. As in much of recent history, there would seem to be a clear divergence of interests between the directors and owners of plcs. There is no incentive for incompetent men to hire capable women. The only way change will be effected is either by the introduction of quotas which I firmly disagree with or by shareholders being active in the same way that they have done recently on issues such as as executive pay.  This I would like to see.

Come and find us.  We're here, we're not difficult to find, but do offer us the kinds of roles that suit the way we work and deliver value.  Don't make us become ersatz men.  Let us bring our skills and abilities but on our terms.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fallen Idols - Kirstie gives feminism a kick in the teeth

Kirstie, Paxman and Holly Paxter, founder of feminist blog, Vagenda - Daily Express

Kirstie, Kirstie, Kirstie*.  How could you let me down this way? First Nigella** - the queen of 'having it all' fell to earth. Now you are found wanting.  You - the woman who could buy the most unpromising property for a song whilst learning how to make a stained glass table decoration - and all before putting the kids to bed. 

Truly it hurts me to say this, but I found myself shouting at the TV watching you on Newsnight being interviewed by Paxman of all people,  seriously defending the idea that women should prioritize having babies over going to university. As I have said myself elsewhere in this blog, I am all for having children reasonably young.  But even I have never suggested you should breed before going to university.   

Further education is the place to widen your horizons and make yourself employable.  We live in a global knowledge economy and if you don't acquire skills to make you employable you could find yourself have to rely on your husband or partner to survive.  That might be fine if you have family money behind you (step forward Kirstie's Daddy - Baronet Hindlip).. But how many of us start in life with an aristocrat up our sleeve in case of emergencies? A UK Government research study last year showed that not only do graduates earn significantly more over their lifetimes - women do so far more than men - over a quarter of a million pounds for women versus 170,000 for men.  And given that the average UK house price has now broken through  the 250,000 pound barrier those extra lifetime earnings could make a lot of difference.

When I was 17 and filling in university application forms, my feminist headmistress was horrified when two girls in our year said they had no plans to go to university. "Never rely on a man" she uttered dramatically.  She wasn't advocating the single life, rather urging all of us to ensure we could look after ourselves if we wanted to.  
Emma getting her degree and thinking about house prices..

Apart from anything else, further education is a great place to meet a potential partner.  I did - and at the very least it will widen your social group.   To be fair, Kirstie wasn't saying never go to university, just that you should go later after having children. It is often said that university is wasted on the young but it is much easier to go at 18 than at 28 or 38.  I really admire mature students but watching both my children going through university reminds me that the system is set up to suit younger students. Taking time out later whilst possible is much harder and often involves much greater risk and sacrifice.
 * For my non UK readers, Kirstie Allsopp - the British queen of property buying and retro homemaking -  is a real aristocrat - her father is the 6th Baron Hindlipp so she is entitled to use the title The Honourable Kirstie Alsopp.  And in a bizarre twist, she is also related to interior design aristocracy - her cousin is Cath Kidston. 
** And even my non UK readers are probably familiar with "Nigella" Lawson - in another coincidence also the daughter of a Baron - in this case Baron Lawson of Blaby - and so also entitled to call herself The Honourable.  In his case - this is a life peerage not an inherited title unlike Baron Hindlipp - although the title was only created in 1886 which is positively brand new - the oldest ones go back to the middle ages. 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Boardroom Breakthrough at Last?

Women now make up over twenty per cent of the membership of Britain's Boards - almost doubling in the three years since the UK Government commissioned Andrew Davies' original report.  The report references the creation of a new industry - supporting senior women into senior roles and trying to develop a stronger pipeline of candidates - one of main reasons why so few women make it into the top jobs.  This is all to be celebrated, but we are still making slow progress on the international stage.

Another new  report out from Grant Thornton looks in detail at women's role in business worldwide and provides interesting insight.  It shows that some of the BRICS markets lead the world in their share of senior women - for example over 60 per cent of CFOs in China are women.  The authors state:

"Some progress has been made at the
EU-wide level since 2004 (17%), but
European businesses are amongst the most
likely globally to have no women at all in
their senior teams (38%), led by Denmark
(71%), Germany (67%) and Switzerland
(64%). This drops to 29% across North
America, but both Canada (22%) and
the United States (23%) have seen no
significant increase in the number of
women holding top jobs over the
past decade".

Progress such as this is to be celebrated certainly. But in some areas progress is stubbornly slow. We can be our own worst enemies - our desires to conform to some ideal shape and look are alive and kicking.  Magazine pictures are still routinely airbrushed and my Facebook feed has daily offers of foods I should avoid to lose weight instantly - providing I buy diet pills or rare berries. And the extraordinary popularity of the Daily Mail  "Sidebar of Shame"  - all evidence of our obsession with perfectly presented bodies. even this deeply wired habit has new energy to defeat it. Writers, bloggers and celebrities are fighting back. I first noticed this in 2011 when Caitlin Moran published "How to be a Woman" in which she asked: "What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be". I loved this item  in feminist blog Vagenda whose Twitter followers suggested alternative headlines.  And in the US last week a bill was introduced to curb overzealous photoshopping and teenage singer Lorde found pictures of herself at a gig photoshopped to remove her acne. She tweeted it along with the orginal and a reminder to her fans that 'flaws are OK'.

View image on Twitter
She might only be 17 - but we should all take her advice.  And if we do, we can probably use some of that wasted emotional energy to carry a few more of us into top jobs.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Conquering cosmetic Everest- no hold luggage required


 If like me you recoil in horror at the idea of checking luggage, your personal Everest is getting the cosmetic products you need for any business trip longer than a few days into a cabin bag.

But I can report that it is possible.  Long after I'd cracked the clothing conundrum, and way after I worked out that cashmere is the key to smart, comfortable travelling, I have finally just about cracked the cosmetics.

 Unless you look like a supermodel or are under 25, in which case I very much doubt you're reading this blog, then you're not going to want to spend a week in meetings 'au naturel'.  Jet lag needs concealing, late nights and red eyes will plague you even if you avoid dinners, drinks and the mini bar. It takes travel planning to a whole new level, but the satisfaction you will gain from pulling it off is worth the effort.  And once you've cracked it you never need to worry about it again.

The Bag
This is a key item.  You need something that will get through security checks (Heathrow is one of the toughest so a good place to start) but won't collapse every second trip. After a lot of experimentation and failures I discovered Muji's range of bags.  I use the larger one and have so far been fine (maybe twenty trips).

Bath and Shower
No need to take anything.  Even budget hotels these days provide reasonable bubbles and OK moisturiser to slap on all over to cope with all that dehydration.

Shampoo and Conditioner
This used to be where I gave in a took a hold bag.  One day I realised that the way to deal with this is to go to the the pharmacy air-side and buy a small shampoo, mousse and conditioner.  I take a tiny pot of serum (John Frieda is good but most brands make them now) in the bag with me as it lasts for ages. They don't cost much and I use them and leave them at the hotel.

Make up

There are so many great multi-purpose products on the market now.  I take Garnier BB cream and an under eye roller as I find it less chalky that Touche Eclat and a fraction of the price. Then a bronzer (I recommend Guerlain Bronzer - very subtle and you can buy small travel ones in duty free which last for ever and come with a tiny brush.  Powder blusher (again no need to put in the liquid bag) Bobby Brown eyeliner gel (in a pot, no one seems to think its a liquid) with its own applicator brush.  Mascara.  Any eyeshadow compact (the Bobby Brown travel one is excellent), one lipstick for day, one gloss for evening and some applicator brushes. Done.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream.  Am astonishing product and good for everything - lip salve, emergency high density hand cream for flights, cuticle cream, eyebrow smoother.  And it helps insect bites.  A travel-sized Dr Hauschka Rose Cream.  It is very concentrated - one tiny tube lasts me two weeks. A No 7 serum if like me travelling makes your skin visibly age.

Buy the atomisers from the in flight travel catalogues.  I travel with two - usually Chanel No 5 (dinners) and Tom Ford Violet Blonde (daytime).

If I've obeyed all my own rules I will have room for a pot of colour and one topcoat. Essie's are great. But I have recently discovered Essie do a whitener pen which goes on like a felt tip and looks like intense buffing.  Take a glass nail file and a buffer and you'll look very groomed.

Two travel sized toothpastes should last a week brushing twice a day. Superdrug does the best range. 

You'll probably be inside in meetings all the time but for that rare breakfast meeting in the sunshine take a tiny tube of the highest factor you can buy.  I have found a good Neutrogena one in a tiny tube  (in the US admittedly) which is Factor 70. Ultrasun do small high factor ones as well.

Once you've done a long business trip without hold luggage you'll never look back.