Happy business people clapping in the conference room, IT Pro Day

The phrase ‘women in business’ must be cancelled

Happy business people clapping in the conference room

This year, the number Fortune 500 listed businesses that are run by women hit a record high of 41. While this was referred to as a “milestone moment”, when you look at the data, that is just 8.1% of the companies listed. 

Women remain underrepresented in both senior leadership roles and historically male-dominated industries, such as technology and engineering. This imbalance cannot be addressed without shattering the glass ceiling women face in the workplace as a result of unconscious gender bias, including: being passed over for projects due to perceptions about availability; being penalised in recruitment searches in favour of childless, geographically-mobile candidates; and discretionary performance reviews that do not make allowances for employees individual circumstances.

This is why I believe the phrase ‘women in business’ patronises and demotes, rather than promotes, females in the workforce by reinforcing the conscious, and unconscious, biases prevalent in the corporate world.

Why is the phrase problematic?

Using the term ‘women in business’, whether playfully or seriously, perpetuates gender stereotypes and detracts from employee competency by focusing on gender, instead of attributes. The phrase itself is symptomatic of the hidden sexism and invisible barriers women face at work. It also subconsciously undermines a woman’s contribution to an organisation by implicitly suggesting that they are being granted guest access to an exclusively male space, instead of co-owning it.

Neologisms, such as girl boss, mom-preneur and She-E-O are all examples of infantilising language,  employed colloquially, which undermine a female leader’s authority instead of tackling the implicit gender coding in titles such as CEO and boss.

Workplaces for everyone

According to Michelle P King, author of The Fix, women do not look like the ideal worker and cannot behave like the ideal worker. So, they are passed over for promotions, paid less, and pushed out of the workplace, not because they lack skills, experience or mindset, but because they aren’t male. Gender equality is not about women, or about men – it is about creating workplaces that work for everyone.

This begins with the language used in the workplace. Gender neutral options are widely available for titles and roles, and should be claimed: CEO, boss, businessperson and salesperson are all examples of inclusive descriptors. As language becomes more inclusive, it will enable individuals of all genders to envision themselves in these roles.

Without proactively altering the language we use in the workplace, we cannot dismantle the deep-rooted gender bias rife across all industries and make them more accessible for women to enter.

Cancelling the term ‘women in business’ is the first step toward breaking down gendered discrimination on all rungs of the corporate ladder.

About the author

Amy Martin has held multiple PR roles in the consumer and technology sectors, curating and managing successful PR campaigns on behalf of recognised brand names. She is currently Head of UK Public Relations at Nextbase, the largest Dash Cam brand in the world – holding an 80% market share in the UK by volume, as well as significant market shares in the USA and Europe. Amy is a passionate advocate for equal opportunities for women in the workplace and creating a progressive, inclusive approach to support female progression in the technology sphere.

Inspirational Woman: Martha Lane Fox | Co-Founder of Lucky Voice Private Karaoke

Martha LaneMost interviews for “Inspirational Women”, start from the premise that role models, mentors and sponsors have been key in achieving success. It is interesting to see how differently women speak of this. This interview happened before Martha was made Digital Tzar and more recently a member of the House of Lords.

Martha co-founded lastminute.com in 1998, floated the business in 2000, and remained on the board until the Company was purchased by Sabre Holdings in 2005 for £577m. Prior to stepping down Martha acted as Group Managing Director where she was actively involved in all aspects of the business development from securing new investment to running the day to day business across all its 12 international markets. Martha is currently a Patron of CAMFED www.camfed.org, and co-founder of Lucky Voice Private Karaoke. Martha supports the group Reprieve, which aims to get prisoners off death row. She was recently quoted as saying to believe in not enough talented women on boards and in business, was both sexist and patronizing.

Martha's Role Models

Interestingly Martha doesn't think that role models are so important as the good and supportive network which you gather round you. One role model

"My parents together. They were supportive and allowed me to do what ever I wanted. They were totally supportive of us children, and in themselves were inspiring people."

Key Events in Your Career

The most surprising was from a recent event for Reprieve. www.reprieve.org.uk.

"One of my best friends, Shauneen Lambe, was the founder of Reprieve and involved in human rights and criminal justice. I was so impressed. I have always been really interested in the penal system, but have always hated the idea of having my wings clipped, and it stems from the idea that how you treat people comes back to you, that you are sending into a spiral how you treat people. One of the prisoners, facing a bleak outcome, spoke so movingly and with great humility. It never ceases to amaze the strength of the human spirit and how overwhelming people can be in adversity."

What was the most challenging event in your life?

The most challenging event in my life was learning to walk again. "My body flew across the desert and landed on a rock," she had been thrown out of a jeep in Morocco, landing on her right side, smashing her pelvis in six places, and almost destroying one of her legs. Worst of all, lying on the desert ground, she was suffering from massive internal bleeding. "I don't remember any of what happened next, but the doctors said there were bits of bone and blood floating around inside me. The danger was that they would spread to my brain." She says if she hadn't had the money from the sale of dotcom, to buy the best medical treatment and supporters carers, she would not have survived.

"It was difficult, and I could only proceed slowly, day by day, setting small goals constantly so I could see that I was making progress. Of course overall, the love and support of family and friends.  I think overwhelmingly what came through was never take for granted the love and support of family and friends.  How lucky you are."

The event which produced the most learning

The events or occasion which produced the most learning again and again; that people in terrible situations can do amazing work. The work that CAMFED are doing in African schools, where they are getting uniforms, transport, mentors. These women are living in African villages with AIDS and economic problems, yet they manage to get a university degree. They are extraordinary. Camfed is dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women.

"When people say it cannot be done, they only mean it has never been done before." Angeline Mugwendere, supported by Camfed through school and now the national director of the Zimbabwe programme. Educating girls and women helps individuals. It also unlocks energies which drive social and economic development.

Did you ever feel it was harder or easier as a woman?

"It would be churlish to say that I've had problems as a woman. It is harder. Some people seem not to live in the 21st century. I have been very lucky. However there was one occasion. When Brent Hoberman and I were going to set up lastminute.com we went to see our first Venture Capitalist. I was very nervous and we did the presentation, then he looked at me and said: "What happens if you get pregnant?" I was completely confused, as I hadn't expected such a question. I have to say that not all VCs were like that. And now that I am Non Executive Director of Marks and Spencer, these are dynamic modern companies. The last thing we want is tokenism, we want broader working practices, more flexible working. But the top women in the city still are few by comparison with the men."

Looking back is there anything you wish you'd done differently or better?

"Loads, but I don't look back much. I'm sure I've made mistakes, hiring people, firing people, on deals on a personal level, but I think its important to make mistakes and learn from them. Learn daily in life and try to do better."

Any serendipity?

"Setting up lastminute and selling at the right time. I believe strongly in the importance of the support network, but I am also aggressive in going out there and looking for people, getting Alan Leighton for the chair for 3 years."

What are your core values?

"A strong social conscience. An awareness that you are connected into the world around you and feed that back."

Advice to young people starting up their own business:

Total love and devotion to your family. Take inspiration from them. Be disruptive: challenge authority. Not just taking people’s expectations so that you, young women don't need to feel that they have to be any particular way.

It is very important to be optimistic, but also self-aware. Constantly positive, but don't be blind. Delegate. You need to recognise that you are probably not the best person to do everything. Get great people around you. Also absolutely crucial, I had an absolute obsession with the cash, real cash flow not the multi-million turnover, but the cash, money in the bank, really critical.

Martha Lane Fox. Youngest member of the House of Lords. Baroness Lane- Fox of Soho CBE. You can read her blog here, especially about the Ability net awards, featuring Dame Steve Shirley, another amazing incredible woman. http://marthalanefoxblog.wordpress.com/

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