Lessons I learned the hard way through awards

Have you ever diminished good feedback after it’s come your way? A few weeks ago I received Commendation for ‘Women of Innovation’ prize as part of the Herald’s Global Game Changers Awards. After entering, I’d had coffee with my nominator who shared that I’d made a favourable impression on the judges. My first response was to doubt how stiff the competition actually was if I had stood out to them. I could see him looking at me, incredulous at this initial reaction – probably thinking ‘that’s the last award I’ll put you up for’. He then responded saying that ‘Women of Innovation’ had actually been one of the most hotly contested categories with nearly 100 applicants. Two things simultaneously went through my mind: ‘Wow – that makes me feel oddly better’ and ‘Why is it that women feel comfortable entering a ‘Women in…’ category but not the non-gender specific categories like ‘Best New Innovation’?

What does that mean about confidence levels amongst women but also the likelihood of them succeeding when they do enter mainstream categories? Confidence and perceived likely chances of success are interlinked. As anyone who has attended other industry based awards ceremonies can attest, women-led companies are rarely deemed the ‘winners’ by judges. Judging panels are often made up of white male experts who will have their own expectations as to what ‘great’ looks like. That doesn’t create the greatest confidence in a time-pressed professional woman about her likely chances of success. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ the saying goes and how motivated am I going to be to spend my time entering a competition if I’ve not seen someone who looks like me ever win?  Indeed, I was once asked to help in a start-up hack-athon for undergraduates, I noted all the female volunteers served as mentors throughout the 16 hour weekend to help guide the students – it was a time heavy commitment. The men on the other hand had volunteered to be the ‘judges’ which required just 2 hours of their time on the final day. Canny for them to save their time  – but it would have been better if the organisers had noticed this disparity from the start and balanced the decks.

A great reminder to:

  1. Don’t diminish any positive feedback you get – it sends the wrong message to the listener, but also to yourself.  
  2. Ensure your judging panels are balanced demographically so that women are as likely to win, and therefore future women are likely to enter a wider range of categories.

Why menstrual leave is anti-feminist

In the guise of ‘helping women’ some UK employers are following the lead of some Italian and Indian employers by allowing women to take time off during their menstrual cyclesWhile periods can be a real pain, leave of this type undermines women for several reasons.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it should be noted that both Italy and India have lower levels of female participation in the workforce. It reinforces the idea that biological determinism has a place in the workplace – something we’ve seen recently when Google employee wrote about how ‘different’ women were from men biologically – rendering them less able for the sciences. Taken to it’s extreme it reminds us of the times people questioned how female leaders would handle political problems at her time of the month – a variation which was seen most recently when Donald Trump accused Megan Kelly of ‘having blood coming out of her mouth, out of her wherever’ knowing that analogy would resonate with some who like to diminish women and reduce them to caricatures driven solely by their biology as other to the masculine ‘norm’. For women who suffer from reproductive issues such as endometriosis, medical leave is appropriate but lumping all women together also risks the same effects we’ve seen when hiring – uncertainty if they should hire or promote her as she ‘may get pregnant’. We have seen improvements on this, but menstrual leave would only exacerbate issues if an employer thinks a woman might take a day off each month simply for because she is a healthy woman.

Women have 1/3 the Pensions of men – £25k vs £74k – What’s yours?

Last week, I spent time with a friend who had worked a full professional life, but recently retired. When asking her about her travel plans, she admitted that while she would like to go abroad, she no longer had the money – her pension simply wasn’t enough for the life she’d envisioned for herself. She is not alone. The insurer Aegon found British women have pension savings of just £24,900 – far less than £73,600 men accumulate.

While there will be gender based disparities in pension provision globally, the UK’s gap is one of the largest gaps in Europe. Certainly, the new legal requirement for employers to set up pensions has been a boon. Now 69% of women in full-time employment have a pension – nearing the 70% rate of men. But women have to do much more to ensure they’ll have sufficient savings for the longer lives they lead on average, and the greater share of sharing responsibilities they shoulder. It’s not surprising a greater number of women live out their retirement in poverty than men – especially when they’ve prioritised their children and others first.