British industry is missing out because of gender inequality

When we limit the opportunities for strong, intelligent and passionate women to lead our businesses, we are all losing out.

The first International Women’s Day was in 1911 – 106 years ago. Back then the fight was on for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained and hold public office, as well as to end discrimination. Today we are on our second female prime minister and in the US a woman fighting the feminist cause (not that much has changed in a century) won the popular vote and would have taken the highest office, were it not for the (masculine, quasi-misogynistic) system failing her. 

Every day we read about hugely talented female entrepreneurs launching new start-ups, but too often the reverberations are within a women-only echo chamber. Today, as a man, I would like to pro-actively celebrate and draw attention to some of these talented women. 

Take Anna Jones who left Hearst in October to co-found AllBright, an investment company with the purpose of funding female-led companies, or Sarah Wood of Unruly who challenges the dismal representation of women leading tech companies. Another great woman, Rose Lewis, pioneered one of the first accelerators, launching Collider in 2012 to help mad-tech start-ups break into the mainstream. June Angelides left a high-powered role at Silicon Valley Bank to launch Mums in Tech, a start-up that equips mums with coding and confidence skills for their re-entry into the workplace.

If those early trailblazers could see these examples, no doubt they would be proud. But a hundred years on, has enough changed? We have not come nearly far enough.

The plain truth is, it’s not just women who are missing out. When we limit the opportunities for strong, intelligent and passionate women to lead our businesses, or to pursue their own vision with investment that is largely dished out by men (only 10% of global investor money has gone to female-led start-ups), or to sit on the boards that shape the future of our industry, we are all losing out. 

Anyone who thinks women are somehow less capable, less strong or less skilled than men has been cruising through life with a very selective eye on their surroundings. I can’t imagine there is a man out there today who would discourage his daughter from following her passion for maths, engineering or science, yet there are still great swathes of men who would not consider a woman capable of running their business.

The new normal we live in is defined by constant change. I believe that women are better equipped to navigate that change than male business leaders who have grown up with stability. By definition, women face more adversity in the workplace and are pioneers in relationship building and leveraging empathy to empower talent. Working mums have had to navigate huge change in raising children while juggling work priorities. These are all invaluable skills for managing change. 

The stage is set for a tide of budding female entrepreneurs to join those above. To quote Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn this week: "Digital could be the greatest equaliser."

In recent months, we have seen a wide body of evidence showing that the more female entrepreneurs we have, the faster the economy grows.

A report by NatWest showed that female entrepreneurs contributed £3.15bn to the UK economy in 2015. In Manchester alone women were responsible for creating an additional 3,300 jobs. Furthermore, Cambridge entrepreneur Sherry Coutu revealed just this week that UK women-led companies are growing much faster than the norm, at 28% YOY. 

Having grown up in the digital industry since 2001, I am proud to say that versus the rest of the advertising sector, there is both a volume and variety of female leadership role models. At Havas Media Group all of our specialist digital divisions are led by talented women: Jess Rowntree at Socialyse, Suzie Rafla at Ecselis, Patricia Lopez at Mobext and Charlie Glyn at Affiperf – plus each of these areas witnessed double digit growth in 2016. 

Constant change requires different leadership models. Most businesses are content with low single digit growth; this is at least in part due to businesses failing to change quickly enough and employees being less engaged than ever. It is female entrepreneurs who are leading the charge in solving these problems. 

Most of the best coaches and mentors I know are women (Maria Fay and Sally Henderson to name just two) – they naturally focus more on personal growth, feelings and vulnerability as tools for success. Kathleen Saxton recently founded Psyched alongside Ben McKie, combining psychology, mental health and wellness therapy to support today’s leaders. Would a man have launched this alone? The world is crying out for strong women to solve the problems that have emanated from decades of all-male leadership teams where status and profit were the key drivers of success and a lack of empathy for both customer and employee has led to a lack of trust. 

A compelling body of evidence for more women in leadership roles, don’t you think? So why do we still have a business community that prejudices against women? 

There are too many pockets of industry where those making decisions around the table remain almost completely male, pale and stale. Last week I attended an Up Group Digital Leaders dinner put on for entrepreneurs, NED’s and investors, and was positively surprised to witness an almost even split between men and women. It will be no surprise that The Up Group, Europe’s leading digital executive search and networking business, is run by a fantastic female entrepreneur, Clare Johnston. 

If those charged with seeking out the fastest growth in the market (whether that be product, proposition or people) recognise the transformative power of female leadership, then why do most big businesses still not? Historically non-exec directors have been almost entirely men over the age of 60, but I’m delighted to see progressive enterprises appointing more women to these roles. To mention a few, Roisin Donnelly, formerly leading marketing at P&G, is working with Just Eat & Bourne Leisure; Jacqueline de Rojas, president of Tech UK, is an NED for Rightmove. Closer to home, I was delighted to retain Julia Jordan’s unique leadership skills in a NED role at Havas, rather than see her retire completely. 

Women can’t and shouldn’t have to do this on their own. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange – my rallying cry is for men to take note and analyse whether they are hindering or helping this movement. To paraphrase Ghandi, let’s be the change we want to see – become a manbassador on International Women’s Day. 

Diversity is the word of the moment, but for good reason. To paraphrase Nancy Kline (Time to Think), diversity "frees the mind from assumption that the dominant group is superior and that it should therefore have power over others".  It’s time for those in that dominant group to open their eyes and recognise that as long as we fail women, every part of British industry is missing a transformative opportunity for growth.

Paul Frampton is chief executive of Havas Media Group

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