As I See It

A year when women chipped a hole in the glass ceiling

Terry beardIt has been described as the year of the storm, and the beginning of a new and chilling phase in the war on terror. Some, noting how Caitlyn Jenner made the front cover of Vanity Fair , say 2015 marked the move of transgender into the mainstream. There are certainly grounds for declaring it the year of the woman.

Women’s rights, or more precisely lack of rights, have been horrifyingly exposed in the suppression and violence against them in Syria and Afghanistan. More happily the 200 women kidnapped in Nigeria in 2014 were rescued in May.

At home, inequalities between the sexes persist, not least in pay, but there have been a number of notable successes and breakthroughs for females during the past year.

The proportion of women picking up the most senior awards in the 2016 New Year honours list has risen, with top businesswomen – including the EasyJet chief executive, Carolyn McCall, and the Net-a-Porter founder, Natalie Massenet – named among a number of new Dames.

Half of all heads of state are now female and Time magazine’s prestigious ‘Person of the Year’ title was given to a woman for the first time since 1986. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is the fourth woman to be bestowed the award outright, and the first to win since it was changed from ‘Man of the Year’ in 1999.

Scotland’s parties have been led by a number of women in recent years and Kezia Dugdale became leader of Scottish Labour, to maintain a domination by females at Holyrood.

Before Christmas, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party elected Arlene Foster as its first female party leader, replacing Peter Robinson, who stepped down from the role and as First Minister.

In business, the CBI got its first female director general when Carolyn Fairbairn succeeded John Cridland. She used her first speech to criticise midweek black tie dinners for being “not very inclusive” as she had often been forced to leave early to attend to her children.

The European Confederation of Directors Associations, which represents 55,000 business leaders across Europe, elected Turid Elisabeth Solvang of Norway as its new chairman – the first woman to occupy the role. Lady Barbara Judge, the first female chairman of the UK Institute of Directors, said it was pleasing that the organisation was leading on the “vital issue” of increasing boardroom diversity by electing its first female chairman.

“With each extra appointment, Europe comes closer to smashing the glass ceiling we have done so much to crack in recent years,” she said, following Ms Solvang’s appointment in November.

In the same week, Susan Deacon, a professorial fellow at the University of Edinburgh and previously professor of social change at Queen Margaret University, was named as the first woman to be elected chairman of the Institute of Directors in Scotland.

Jackie Waring 2Women have moved more confidently into the previously male-dominated investment world. In July, Investing Women, Scotland’s only female angel group, led by Jackie Waring (right), marked its first major investment by leading a package of support for biotechnology company TC BioPharm.

Women’s football, for years regarded as the poor relation to the men’s game, has emerged as a mainstream sport and is now regularly televised.  The Women’s World Cup final in Canada was the most-watched football game ever in the United States. The match, in which the US beat Japan 5-2, was seen by a record 25.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data.  Despite England’s semi-final being broadcast at 12.30am, it attracted 1.6m viewers at home, while 2.6m watched England’s previous game against Norway on BBC Three, the channel’s highest viewing figures since the London 2012 Olympics.

“Women’s football is now the fourth-largest participation sport in the UK,” said Mat Goff, adam&eveDDB’s managing director.

In the 22 years since the Football Association took control of the women’s game, participation has exploded. At that time there were just 80 registered girls’ teams and now there are almost 3m women and girls playing football on a regular basis. Liverpool Ladies footballer Fara Williams was appointed an MBE in the New Year Honours.

So, is equality truly in sight?

Progress in business has been evident, although tempered by a continuing grip on top positions by men.  Lord Davies, who led the campaign to increase female representation in the boardroom, announced that his 25% target for females on FTSE 100 boards had been reached, enabling the target to be raised. Four years ago just 12.5% of directors at the100 largest listed companies were female.

However, much of the rise has been attributed to more women being appointed non-executive directors. Only six FTSE 100 chief executives are female.

More worrying news is that the pay gap is likely to persist for some considerable time. According to the World Economic Forum, it won’t level out for 118 years.



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