Meritocracy needs to be our default setting if we are to accelerate change in gender equality

Sue Frogley
'Let Girls Learn' Global Conversation
We need to remove bias towards gender, background, or ethnicity (Source: Getty)

Just last weekend, I overheard a conversation between a young girl and her mother that reaffirmed to me the importance of today.

The girl, who was perhaps six or seven years old, was playing around with the buttons on a pedestrian crossing when she suddenly spun round and looked up at her mum.

“Why do we have to wait for the green man,” she asked curiously “couldn’t it be called the green lady instead?”

As we all know, this International Women’s Day falls on the centenary anniversary year when the suffragette movement won the right for women to vote. That initial right to vote was limited to the relatively wealthy and educated but it was still a great step forwards for women.

And, although we have moved on since that momentous day, it is still taking too long.

I can still recall the day my mother told me that that her salary was rejected by the mortgage company my parents were applying to because women were expected to give up work and have children. Ironically, she worked for the Liberal party (as it was known then) and earned more than my Dad.

For me, when I was started out in business, my inspiration was Margaret Thatcher. Not for her politics I might add, but because she showed that it could be done. A woman – the daughter of a grocer – could rise to the very top and become Prime Minister.

Since then, we have had some inspiring female leaders over the years from all walks of life – Sheryl Sandberg, Anita Roddick, Mary Quant, JK Rowling, Jessica Ennis, Helen Mirren spring immediately to mind – but in reality we are still very light when it comes to female leaders.

According to recent research by management consultants McKinsey, women still make up only around a third of non-executive directors and 15 per cent of executive roles.

This continuing gender imbalance is particularly noticeable in the industry that’s reshaping the world in which we live, technology. Even amongst our own tech-savvy and engaged employees, a survey we ran showed that the vast majority of both men and women perceive tech to be the preserve of men.

According to a study of 2,000 students by PWC, only three per cent of female respondents said a career in technology would be their first choice, with over a quarter saying they’ve been put off because tech is too male dominated.

Shamefully, at this year’s CES – the Oscars of the tech world – it was all too evident as there was not a single female keynote speaker. In what is supposed to be one of the more enlightened industries this is simply unacceptable.

At Publicis Media, we are taking action to address this issue with the launch of our own Women in Tech (WiT) initiative. This company-wide programme will celebrate, inspire and above all empower our women with the tech knowledge and confidence needed to reach the very top.

More widely, I feel it is the responsibility on this current generation of leaders, from across all industry sectors, to accelerate change in the workplace to help drive towards a day where there is opportunity and inclusivity for all.

As a society we need to arrive at a place where our default setting is based on meritocracy alone, rather than any bias based on gender, background, or ethnicity.

Why? Well, I believe greater diversity is not only the right thing to do but it will also stimulate growth and longer-term value creation for all businesses. And, who is going to argue with that?

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