I have a pretty unusual name. It isn’t that unusual in Wales, actually, but it certainly causes a lot of confusion in day-to-day life. Think booking a restaurant table over the phone and trying to explain to the person the other end that yes, you are sure that your own name begins with two ‘Fs’.
The other sphere in which my name causes some confusion is in the world of business. In our line of work, we frequently have to engineer conversations and meetings with international organisations. This means that, more often than not, the people with whom I am engaging have never before encountered a ‘Ffion’. So what does this have to do with being a woman?
Nine times out of ten, the replies that I receive to my e-mails will be addressed to ‘Mr Rolph’. Since my Father is retired and has certainly never worked for this company, it is clear that most respondents have made the assumption that I am male. A quick Google search would tell them that ‘Ffion’ is in fact a “popular Welsh female name” (thanks, Wikipedia). Instead, most people (women included) tend to make the assumption that a person working in the world of business and technological innovation, is a man. It begs the question; why is ‘male’ the default setting?
The gender pay gap and lack of women in C-Suite positions is not news but it is still surprising that, in 2015, the pace of change seems painfully slow. Roughly 14% of the top jobs in S&P 500 Index companies are occupied by women, with no real increase in this figure over the last 4 years. This is despite the fact that Fortune 500 companies with high female representation on their boards significantly outperformed those companies with no female directors.
It is often the case that women adopt a different approach and possess a different set of professional tools versus male counterparts. The more diverse your workforce and leadership, the more diverse the pool of skills from which you can draw.
While there is plenty of talk about the need for change and examples of emerging initiatives such as the 30% club (which seeks to achieve 30% female board members in FTSE-100 companies by the end of 2015), the fact is that day-to-day perception and expectation is slow to change. When most people hear ‘CEO’, they immediately picture a man. I too am sometimes guilty of this.
In the same way that attention is being drawn to the importance of encouraging girls to participate in STEM subjects, we also need to make sure that girls are being encouraged to pursue positions of leadership and authority.
A great instance of leading-by-example is one of RIG’s client companies. Led by two women in their mid-twenties who formed a business from a technology developed while at school, the company today has 2 patented solutions which solve significant hearing and industrial noise challenges respectively. The company is already revenue generative and is today engaged in conversations with several multi-billion dollar organisations which are interested in pursuing the testing and, ultimately, licensing of their technology.
I sincerely hope that we continue to see a shift towards equality over the coming years. More women in business, technology, and leadership does not just benefit the women themselves; it benefits everyone around them.