In my professional life, I get quite involved in industry forums (fora?). Today, for me, was quite a big day. I had set up a workshop for my peers around the industry – roughly one per company, plus a few guest speakers – to discuss a professional issue. All up, there were around 30 of us. I was facilitating the session from the front.
After about half an hour, when I’d started to relax as the discussion got going, I suddenly noticed something. I was the only woman in the room. While I often have the experience of being the only woman in a meeting, generally the total number of people in that case is in the single digits.
It’s ironic. Two years ago, when I took on my current role, I had a few old codgers congratulate me, and comment how women were taking over the profession. At that stage there were four of us in that group. Now the other three have moved on (one is now a CEO, the others have different roles), and I’m the only one left.
Ten, even five years ago, that sudden realisation would have given me stage fright. Now I have the confidence to be quietly amused. But I bet none of the men in the room have ever been close to being the single representative of their gender in a business context. They would find it extraordinarily confronting, if they had.
All those people who confidently say that gender equality at the top of companies is a matter of time? Take a closer look. It’s not going to happen without serious cultural change. This isn’t about helping women manage families. To get serious representation of women at the top of companies, the culture of large organisations needs to genuinely include women.