It’s a wonderful time to be a woman in the UK; more of us than ever are going to university, 37.1% of women secured a place last year compared to 27.3% of men, and we’re showing our entrepreneurial spirit with a plethora of innovative start-ups.
We’re challenging the archaic notion that men make better leaders by taking the leap into business ownership earlier in life, despite the fact we’re less likely to secure funding. If this doesn’t demonstrate true grit, an attribute celebrated by speaker Angela Lee Duckworth in her TED talk “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance” (which has clocked over 14 million views), we don’t know what is.
We must acknowledge these achievements and celebrate how far we’ve come; after all, it was only in 1985 that The Equal Pay (Amendment) Act allowed women to earn the same as men for work of equal value. We deserve to give ourselves, and our gutsy predecessors, a congratulatory pat on the back.
But we also deserve way, way more.
All the fancy figures in the world don’t change the fact women remain underrepresented in nearly every area of the corporate world, particularly in sectors that are traditionally seen as “masculine”. According to one dispiriting article we found, men total 60 per cent of the workforce in the financial, web development and engineering sectors. Unfortunately, this gap is set to get even wider over the next decade.
As an award-winning web design and development agency, it’s deeply saddening to learn only 17% of employees in the UK technology sector are women. Our spirits sunk even further when we read the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies dropped sharply from 32 in 2017 to 24 in 2018 – that’s a staggering 25% decrease in just one year.
There’s plenty of debate surrounding the absence of women in top-level positions and these specific industries. If you look at research conducted by My Confidence Matters and the University of Glasgow, a worrying 75 per cent of women say they lack confidence in the workplace; so, perhaps our shaky self-esteem stops us from climbing the ladder?
Another argument is that business is more bias against women; particularly towards those who have taken a career break. In a shocking study conducted by the PwC, Women Returners and the 30% Club, two-thirds of women end up working below their potential when they return to work after a leave of absence.
How do we solve this predicament and bridge the divide?
One solution is to provide guidance to those starting out in their career, another is to make sure schemes exist that offer ongoing support to professional women. This can all be achieved through mentoring.
As well as boosting the confidence of our future leaders, mentors help less experienced individuals build networks, define goals and develop new skills. In times of self-doubt, they are the difference between giving up and giving it your all.
There’s a lot of support for mentorship schemes and many feel they’re integral to career progression. However, one study revealed only 54% of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors!
This research was backed up by our own. We asked the women of Twitter whether they had a mentor and if not, why? 62% of participants said they didn’t know where to look for support and 30% said their workplace didn’t offer mentorship.
The availability of mentorship schemes in the workplace is often a problem. Andy Lopata is a business networking strategist who speaks to corporate women’s networks all over the world, often on the topic of mentoring. Andy told us that while many companies have a mentoring programme, few are effective. “In my experience”, Andy said, “many schemes are underused and not well publicised. It’s left to women’s networks to run their own mentoring programmes, often much more successfully.
“However”, Andy continued, “company schemes are only one option. There’s nothing stopping individuals from finding mentors from their own network. Often they will be more appropriate as they are being specifically chosen for their skill-set, achievements and shared values, rather than being a volunteer the mentee has been paired with.”
Thankfully, more of these independent and women-led mentor-matchmaking schemes are being set up around the UK. We’ve collected a few of our favourites to help you find guidance.
Mob Happy is an inspiring peer-to-peer network for women agency owners (events are women focused and led but open to all genders).
The group’s aim is to support existing founders on their journey and motivate rising stars. Mastermind sessions are small and intimate, creating a safe place for participants to share both concerns and good news. It’s the perfect space for anyone who’s anxious about one-to-ones yet wants comprehensive support.
Find out more and reserve your space at www.mob-happy.com/events (this is a monthly event with Cambridge and London locations).
As mentioned earlier, there’s a pitiful amount of women working in the tech industry. That’s where DevelopHer comes in.
They capture the imagination of thousands of young developers with the slogan “elevating women in technology” – they promise to “develop careers, develop confidence and develop change.”
There are also more informal groups out there, such as the Geek Girl Meetup. They say their “ambition is to highlight female role models in the industry, create networks for knowledge exchange, mentoring and sharing ideas – and, of course, to have fun!” Sounds like our sort of squad. They hold regular events, with knowledgeable speakers, delicious monthly breakfast meetups and a yearly conference.
The Girls Network’s mission is “to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role models.” They understand that no girl’s future should be curbed by their background, gender or economic situation.
Through their hard work, they’re bolstering the spirits of thousands of young girls; 100 per cent of participants on the 2017 programme reported feeling more confident in themselves after mentorship.
Ah, the testosterone-heavy waters of the financial field – another area where women are seriously marginalised.
To counter this gender-divide, a group of extraordinary women created the WIBF exists (Women in Banking and Finance). They hold networking events, inspiring talks and offer six-month long development programmes to new-starters.
During a one-to-one session, a WIBF mentor helps an individual to identify priorities and options, work out skills and learning gaps, deal with challenging situations efficiently and develop confidence.
We hope this guide has been helpful. We’ll finish with a quote from Hilary Clinton (one of the grittiest, nastiest women around)…
“To all the little girls who are watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”