Nora Ephron once said one of the things she wouldn’t miss when she was dead was “panels on Women in Film”. However, I bet when she went to her first industry event, as I did last week, that she was thrilled too. For a bit, at least.
I think the point Ephron was making was that after 50 plus years of success, she got a teeny bit dispirited that ‘Women in Film’ remained a thing. Women are shit kickingly good at something. Lets gather them all on a stage (cage) and look at them. Oh bore off.
WeAreTheCity’s Rising Stars event last Wednesday—an event which champions and recognises women across a variety of business sectors who are building the female leadership pipeline—was anything but dull and there were lots of examples of women of all ages and ethnicities doing new things to level the playing field. Women from construction, education, communications, finance and many more industries, gave examples of what they were doing to drive equal pay, equal opportunities and lift other women in their places of work. The energy levels were high and it is essential that they remain so. Because it’s a sad fact but men still outearn women doing the same jobs across a number of industries. Oh bore off. But it's true.
I hate to burst the party balloons but actually WeAreTheCity didn’t shy away from the hard truths. Several sectors still have a hell of a long way to go, not least my own—PR and communications. I hate to appear to shoot the messenger because I was thrilled to be among the winners, but recruitment agency Kaizo announced that despite making up 66% of the PR and communications workforce, only 20% of women make it to managing director to level, compared to 30% of men, and when they get there they are paid significantly less. It’s woeful stuff and it got me thinking—what do I want to tell my own girls (aged nine and six) when it comes to similar events that celebrate women in business? Surely, within the next decade, it would be a start to say they no longer exist, and gender should be a non-issue, and we can all just focus on leaders and what they are worth?
Many of the clients I serve in are in the publishing sector. There wasn’t a single shortlisted nominee from publishing represented among the 200 female leaders at WeAreTheCity. Why? TV, film and newspapers were all there. It seems curious that commercial publishing, that employs some of the cleverest and most impressive female leaders you will ever meet, and lots of them, didn’t get involved. Is there a disconnect in being seen as creative, bookish and business-minded, I wonder? Are these traits viewed as mutually exclusive? They shouldn’t be, and if that’s the case, that culture isn’t going to help female leaders talk money and earn what they are worth.
The Publishers Weekly Survey of 2018 reported that, in commercial publishing, men still outearn women doing the same job. “Change comes slow to publishing”, surveys and articles intone over and over again. This is—to capture the spirit of Ephron again—horseshit. Quicken up, people! If other creative industries like TV can do it, if banking, construction and even the defence sector—not known for catching on fast where gender is concerned—can move with the times, then surely so can publishing. Sky, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Army—all these companies and institutions gave evidence of putting their money where their mouths are with initiatives that drive women into leadership positions and pay them equally. Publishing should do the same.
When a 14-year-old female cadet took to the stage and announced her intention to become the first female c.e.o. in the armed services, she had a steely glint in her eye that Nora would have approved of. As the celebrations reached a high, someone near me whispered: “The defence table is getting very rowdy.” Bloody good, I thought. I wish they’d come and disrupt PR and communications.
Esther Harris is a co-founder of Bookollective and WeAreTheCity Rising Star 2019.