Visit certain websites these days and you’d be forgiven for thinking that being a woman is completely crap. Endless articles about how tough it is to juggle the demands of womanhood, how we work harder and are paid less than men, and how certain industries are entirely devoid of women make for downright depressing reading.
While I recognise that there is a long, long way to go until we reach true gender equality (I’ve even wanged on about how unfair the dating world is here) sometimes it’s nice to look on the bright side.
Yesterday I went to a talk by Rachel Pashley from J Walter Thompson, a communications company that’s undertaking a huge amount of research into women as leaders across the world.
Their findings, Rachel says, have been endlessly surprising.
Did you know, for example, that research shows women make better spies than men? That army battalions including female soldiers tend to be more successful? Or that hedge funds run by women are generally more profitable?
Obviously it’s a sign of my own ingrained prejudices, but I was really surprised by all of the above – to be honest, I’d got the impression that there hardly are any female spies, soldiers or hedge fund managers. But, what the JWT research highlights is that actually, instead of lamenting the lack of women in high-powered jobs or certain fields such as science and engineering, we should actually be paying more attention to the women that are already there (and smashing it, FYI).
We also need to focus more on what women can actually bring to businesses, instead of moaning about the unfairness of it all. The research shows that business profits increase when there are more women at the top, and countries with more women in government do better economically. Hardly surprising really, given that women control the majority of consumer spending. If money talks, then surely highlighting this ‘female capital’, as JWT have dubbed it, is the way to persuade companies to adopt more female-friendly policies.
Perhaps the best part of Rachel’s talk was when she demolished the notion that women have to ‘act like men’ in order to get ahead in their careers. Attributes such as innovation, ambition and the ability to take the initiative may be seen as ‘masculine’ but in fact, the research shows, women already have these in droves, alongside the empathetic, nurturing qualities we’re generally associated with.
The stereotypes of working women, such as the hard-nosed bitch (The Devil Wears Prada) or harried mother (I Don’t Know How She Does It) also need to be quashed, says Rachel, as these don’t match up to reality. Being a mother, for example, has actually been shown to make you much more productive and focused at work, and rather than dulling women’s ambition, actually sharpens it.
I find this message so much more inspiring and encouraging than reading endless reports about how rubbish my prospects are as a woman, or how, once I have kids, my career will be basically screwed. Present people with a bleak picture of the opportunities ahead of them, and they’ll give up. But if you give them inspiring stories of those who’ve succeeded and a true sense of their own worth, then the sky’s the limit.