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International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day, three City academics share their thoughts on the challenges for women in business, politics and the media.
by Ben

Increasing Women's representation on corporate boards

nullBy Dr. Ruth Sealy, Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences

Change to increase women's empowerment is a key tenet of International Women's Day (IWD). For my research that means women's economic and business empowerment. I have worked on the issue of increasing women's representation on corporate boards since 2007. With colleagues at my previous institution, that meant producing regular monitoring reports on the demographic composition of FTSE listed companies and working closely with two government departments (Vince Cable at Business, Innovation & Skills and Maria Miller at Government Equalities Office) to shape the UK's policy towards increasing women on boards.

There is currently a push from the EU to introduce mandated gender quotas on corporate boards and the UK's response to that has been based on our work. Working with Lord Davies' Committee and multiple stakeholders (FTSE Chairmen and CEOs, the Executive Search Firms, the Financial Reporting Council, the Institutional Investors, and the media), the research has shaped and monitored the "Voluntary Business-Led Approach" that has made substantial progress over the past 3 years towards the target of 25% female representation. The UK's approach is now being watched by other similar economies as a potential alternative to mandated gender quotas.

Promoting diversity in political leadership

nullBy Professor Jo Silvester, Faculty of Management, Cass Business School

Despite significant advancements in the number of women in senior leadership roles, the fact remains we have only ever had one female Prime Minister in the UK. Why?

In 1882 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in Familiar Studies of Men and Books: "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary." 

For most politicians little has changed. There is still negligible preparation for political roles or support once elected: in politics a Darwinian process exists that assumes the fittest will survive and rise to positions of power. This process favours men. Research shows women are far less likely than their male colleagues to gain access to 'inside knowledge'. This political manoeuvring means that women are squeezed out at every level of political leadership.

How do we change it?

Over the years I have collected data from over 2,500 national and local politicians, their political colleagues and appointed officials across all UK political parties. While the values held by members of different political parties vary, the competencies they identify as important for performing political work do not. 

These competencies include leadership (being able to inspire others and communicate a clear vision); analytical skills (the ability to understand and prioritise complex information); representing people (engaging with and representing the needs of different communities); relating to others (being seen as approachable, empathic and trustworthy); and, perhaps not surprisingly, resilience (the ability to withstand criticism and cope with the pressure and demands of a 24/7 role). 

These results demonstrate that political leaders - just like other leaders - need to develop a range of skills and abilities to lead with competence.

If I were Prime Minister for a day I would inspire change by ensuring politicians were selected on the basis of what they do, rather than who they know.

Where are the female experts in broadcasting?

nullBy Lis Howell, Department of Journalism, School of Arts and Social Sciences

It's easy to think of this in terms of the difficult lives of women victims and women in terrible conditions, particularly overseas, but there are problems in well-to-do middle class, educated Britain - strangely enough in a field where most people think there is plenty of female representation.

Because we have a few high profile women newsreaders and journalists like Julie Etchingham, Sophie Raworth, Fiona Bruce, Kay Birley and Alex Crawford, the audience perceives that women are well represented in TV and radio. A Daily Telegraph feature just before Christmas was even entitled "Women rule the airwaves." Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Quantitative analysis by City University London shows that when it comes to women interviewed as experts on TV and radio news, they are outnumbered 4-1 by men. Women reporters and correspondents are outnumbered by 3.5 men to one woman. And overall there are twice as many men interviewed as women. Even presenters are outnumbered by 1.5 men to one woman. Journalists argue that when they choose interviewees they are just representing society. 

They say that not enough women hold powerful positions and therefore they cannot expect to be interviewed. But when you look at our top politicians across all the two main parties, men only outnumber women by 2 -1. Expert court witness agencies supply only 50% more men than women. So what is wrong with TV and radio? Why are women experts, interviewed on TV and radio news, outnumbered 80% to 20%? Why aren't women seen in a more realistic ratio to men?

My research shows that women who consider themselves experts are also very anxious about seeming pushy or being criticised. They aren't often asked to appear by journalists with traditional ideas of the expert as a man in a suit, and when women are asked, they often say no. This crisis of confidence means that women don't appear as role models and the whole sorry cycle goes on.

On April 4th a conference at City will be looking at the feelings behind the facts and asking news editors, academics, politicians and others, why women experts don't have their rightful role on TV and radio news.

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