Invisible Women

Last month, I attended a local business conference. I elected to take part in a session about leadership. Our male facilitator asked us to suggest individuals – dead or alive – who we considered inspirational leaders. Our group came up with a group which included Hitler, Gandhi, Richard Branson, Churchill and Princess Diana. A mixed group came up with no female leaders except Princess Di. Hitler apart (the chap who suggested him later quietly nominated his own wife!) I wouldn’t question the inclusion of any of these, but where were the women?

Somewhat later in the session, I’m ashamed to say, I came up with Angelina Jolie, Martha Lane Fox ( and Catherine Bigelow (film director).  I’m not sure everyone in the room knew who the last two were. There were so many women leaders we could have cited. The following, in addition to the three mentioned already, would be on my list – Judi Dench, Valerie Amos, Rosalind Franklin, Gurinder Chadha, Katharine Viner, Michelle Obama, Francesca Martinez, Marie Curie, Margaret Thatcher, Helena Kennedy, Madonna, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Malala Yousafzai, Anita Roddick, J.K. Rowling, Rosa Parks, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Caroline Lucas, Halle Berry, Nicola Sturgeon, Venus and Serena Williams, Jude Kelly, Lisa Jardine and so on.

3 weeks ago, I attended a packed meeting in my town to discuss the future of our main performance venue which is under threat of demolition. It’s a long story I won’t bore you with here. Emotions are running high – 7,000 people in a town of under 30,000 have signed a petition about it. The audience was roughly 50/50, male to female. Two-thirds of the way through an intense 2-hour session, not one woman had asked a question or spoken from the floor. Eventually, two women – one my companion – asked questions. I came with 3 questions, all of which were addressed by others early on, but I find it hard to believe no other women present had questions or points to make. What stopped them? I witnessed this kind of behaviour at the CIPD annual conference too and have seen it at local CIPD events – it’s just less noticeable because HR is so female dominated.

I am currently the only non-staff female trustee of a local community education organisation. We are advertising for more trustees and I have included a statement encouraging women and members of ethnic minority groups to apply. Increasingly, I find myself favouring quotas. We women have got to help ourselves and each other to be more confident, take a more prominent part in public life and get recognition for our efforts.

We may have got the vote in 1928, and the film ‘Suffragette’ tells us just how hard won that was. Sisters (and brothers) we still have a long way to go.

Meanwhile, I wish you a more equal 2016.