By Hannah Devoy
The issue of equality between men and women in business and industry has long been discussed and is rarely out of the news. In January, Vince Cable said that boardrooms need more women; in March, the Guardian claimed that efforts to improve the balance had failed, and news hit about studies showing that female graduates are still worse paid than their male counterparts.
Obviously things need to change. But rather than adding to the regular commentary about how awful things are, I thought I would write a little bit about the advantage of being a woman in a man’s world.
Being a woman in PR is not an unusual thing. According to the results of the last PR industry census, 64% of its workers are female. As an agency, however, one of the areas we specialise in is technology, which is predominantly male, with men making up roughly 83% of the industry.
At any given trade show, exhibition or event that we at Fourth Day attend, the likelihood is that most of the other attendees will be men. Rather than feeling put off or intimidated, I think this can be a good thing when networking and making connections. In a room crowded with hundreds, or even thousands of people, anything that makes you stand out should be utilised.
Last week, fellow Fourth Dayer Lisa and I went up to Coventry for the second annual Develop3D Live show. The exhibition included an assortment of companies in the design and manufacturing sectors, with fascinating technologies like CNC machining, 3D printing and laser scanning, as well as CAD and rendering software, taking centre stage. There was a stellar speaker programme with the very greatest from the industry topped by Ping Fu, founder of Geomagic.
I understand that all of this won’t be as interesting to many of you as it is to us, but Lisa and I enjoyed every last second. We were, however, unsurprised to be once again in the minority as women. During Ping Fu’s opening speech with a packed audience, we could only count 7 women including ourselves and Ping. I’m sure there were more that we couldn’t see from our seats, but you get the idea.
In the same week, Lisa attended an event aimed at the banking and financial services industry. Including herself and two other marketing people, she only counted four women – one of whom was a panellist, the other working for the host company. She felt distinctly under-represented, but being a woman was definitely an ice-breaker for many a conversation she held there.
In both of these environments despite the gender gap, being female was and is definitely an advantage. It instantly makes you something of a novelty so both men and other women are more inclined to talk to you. The cynics among you will cry, ‘But no! Those men are not interested in you in a business context!’ to which I conservatively reply, ‘that’s not necessarily the case’ and ‘even if it were, does it really matter?’
Make no mistake, I do not suggest you appear in your tightest, shortest, lowest cut dress, ready to flirt your way into business – that would be ridiculous. But if being female makes someone initially happier to talk to you for whatever reason, then use it to your advantage. Grasp the opportunity to get your message across – you have your foot in the door, now open it all the way.
Perhaps we aren’t typical women. I would much rather have a conversation about the latest emerging technology or a clever new web app, than about makeup or what I’m going to wear tomorrow. I know I’m a geek and that I prefer subjects that are typically more interesting to men – for better or worse — so I suppose that is another differentiator.
If you want to stand out in a crowded room, find what makes you different and push it to the fore rather than being scared by it. If that’s your gender, then embrace it. If it’s your penchant for lime green trousers, then that’s great too. Anything that makes you eye catching means that others will be more interested to hear what you have to say, and will help to ensure that what you said was remembered.
Nikki is a director and co-founder of Fourth Day