'This generation is different'; Frances-White says women will take trade's top jobs

'This generation is different'; Frances-White says women will take trade's top jobs

Almost 200 people attended the first official Conduit event as host Deborah Frances-White spoke of how soon the industry’s top jobs will “routinely” be taken by women as this generation smashes the glass ceiling.

The author, creator and host of "The Guilty Feminist” podcast held the attention of almost 200 women from across all levels and sections of the industry for the Conduit collective’s inaugural event at the h Club in London’s Covent Garden on Wednesday evening (24th April).

The venture was launched by A M Heath in March, spearheaded by agent Zoe King, to such enthusiasm that the original event sold out in an hour and a new venue had to be found. King said at the time that the collective was "formed in the spirit of generating space for conversations we want it to be easier for women... to talk to one another, whether that is straightforwardly social, or a chance to discuss industry experiences, concerns, ambitions and ideas".

In Frances-White’s 40-minute address, which interspersed comedy with motivational tips, she lamented the fact that the industry was dominated by women up until the very senior roles which are generally taken up by men as recently reflected in the industry's gender pay gap reports, which suggested there was little progess in this area. Out of 14 firms where the 2017 median average gap already favoured men, half saw that gap widen in the 2018 figures. 

The comedian told the 180-odd attendees: “I have met one or two men in publishing… but they’re always the boss. With publishing, it’s like how over 90% of the sum total in the history of the world, the meals cooked all over the world are cooked by women. Whenever there’s a top job, a chef job, it’s a Gordon Ramsey, a Jamie Oliver… or Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. They will jump out and say, ‘Now the job is posh and out there and well-paid, I’ll be doing that, thank you’.

“I think it’s the same with publishing. And I’ve actually talked to women in publishing about this and they say 'we don’t know where they come from'. All the way up, there’s no one, and then you get to the c.e.o. And it’s a man, how does that happen? I think it must be some kind of two-sided wardrobe that as soon as this role becomes available a man says ‘I’ll be taking that. I’ve never come from publishing but I’ve worked in TV and I’m sure it’s the same.’ It must be what happens, it’s the only explanation for it."

She added: “It’s weird there are glass ceilings even in industries which are almost 100% women, how has that happened? I’m sure that’s going to break now because this generation is different. I do feel like by the time the young millennials and then the Generation Z-ers come up there, these roles will be routinely taken by women. I think that absolutely is changing but it is down to you to become women who include themselves.”

Frances-White urged attendees to promote inclusion through reaching out to help and include others, and discussed how to take ownership of ability as well as effectively handling any gaps in knowledge.

She said: “Women anticipate that they need 100% of the skills on a job spec before they go for a role whereas men anticipate they need 50% and that they’ll learn on the job. And the conclusion that’s always made is that women should be more like men, women should be more confident. And I think ‘yeah, sure, ok, in a way'. But maybe men should stop going for jobs they’re unqualified for and running the whole f*****g thing off the cliff.”

Networking drinks preceded the seminar and took place after with guests including Ebury editor Clare Bullock, head of PR at Avon Sabah Khan, TLC director Aki Schilz as well as Helen Harradine, senior consultant at Inspired Selection.

Florence Rees, A M Heath assistant and one of the event’s organisers, told The Bookseller: "We were absolutely thrilled by the turnout and the positive energy in the room. It was amazing to see women from all areas, ages and stags in publishing come together. Deborah was a perfect first guest speaker: warm, wise and hilariously spot on about some of the issues faced by women in publishing."

Many took to Twitter to congratulate the event’s organisers. Khan said: “Such a fab evening with #Conduit - thanks so much to @AMHeathLtd and the phenomenal @DeborahFW for a hilarious yet powerful talk on being a woman in publishing. Hopefully the first of many."

HQ editor Clio Cornish tweeted: "Loved Conduit's first event last night - a genuinely inclusive atmosphere and could listen to the wise and wonderful @DeborahFW for-approximately-EVER. Huge props to all involved in the organising @AMHeathLtd - sure it will be the first of many packed-out nights."

Schilz echoed this sentiment, revealing how she enjoyed the discussion around conversation at work and in networking events. She tweeted: “Confidence according to @DeborahFW is about 3 things: 1)  experience, which builds skill and competencies - an expert ball juggler *will drop balls* 2) ability to communicate to the room that you trust yourself. 3) how much the room signals to you that you should be good at this.”

She added: “Thinking about this a lot in the context of gendered perceptions of success, achievement and competency. Vive #Conduit and women in publishing!”