Even in the enlightened 21st century, there’s no doubt that we still think of certain professions as being male-dominated. But a wave of female pioneers are challenging that perception and, in the process, breaking down the barriers that have held women back.
Take Penny Mallory. After a tough beginning that even saw her homeless for a while, she turned her life around and in the process became the first woman to drive in the World Rally Championship. She recalls a critical quality she needed: “I have a bit of a fighting spirit, so when I got into a competitive environment, I really liked it. And it was even more satisfying to beat a bloke – and in a car – because men hate being beaten by a girl!”
It isn’t just behind the wheel that women are encroaching on the boys’ turf. Two of the panelists taking part in the IoD’s forthcoming Enterprising Women Summit 2017 are also breaking down barriers in traditionally male-dominated arenas. Gabriella Somerville started out as cabin crew before launching her own venture in the aviation space – a private-jet charter company called ConnectJets. While Marianne Lumb is a successful chef and restaurateur who has seen her Notting Hill restaurant reach number 45 in the Good Food Guide’s Top 100 list.
In addition, many of the UK’s leading engineering and construction companies are now taking on more women, both at entry level and further up the organisations.
But more needs to be done: only 6 per cent of registered engineers and technicians in the UK are women and an additional £2bn could be contributed to the UK economy if more were employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
That figure impacts especially on the technology industry – a sector where the UK punches well above its weight but remains stubbornly imbalanced on the question of gender. Jacqueline de Rojas, techUK president, said recently that to create a digital nation of significance: “We must address the growing digital skills gap. There’s an urgent need to build tech skills and equip our workforces for the digital age – it’s vital for supporting and enabling our businesses to continue to power up the UK economy.”
Belinda Parmar is leading that charge. As founder of the influential website Lady Geek, Belinda has been at the vanguard of a new wave of female coders, engineers and developers who are aiming to rebalance the notoriously male-dominated tech industry. But Belinda – in common with some other game-changers – is pioneering a move away from traditional diversity programmes towards an approach that’s more based around empathy.
“This approach was confirmed to me while running projects aimed at changing the way technology companies market to women,” she said recently. “The programmes that were most effective at improving outcomes for women also improved things for men. Whether we were running internal culture programmes or implementing changes to communications, we saw increased satisfaction scores among both genders. Instead of making a corporation more female-friendly we helped it become more human-friendly.”
Join us at the Enterprising Women Summit 2017 – 16 June
The Enterprising Women Summit 2017 on 16 June will explore this in more detail in our It's a man's world-or is it? panel session.
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