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Learning from leading ladies

08 Mar 2020  |  Kathryn Jacob OBE 
Learning from leading ladies

From fashion to activism, the silver screen is a well of inspiration - so it makes sense that we should look to Hollywood when it comes to lessons in diversity, writes Kathryn Jacob

A recent study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film said a record 40% of 2019’s highest-grossing US movies had female leads. This is up 9% on the previous year. Moreover, movies with female leads are earning more at the box office, and films such as Colette and The Favourite were some of the most successful from last year, while Margot Robbie and Renée Zellweger both garnered praise for 2019’s box office hits, Bombshell and Judy respectively.

Clearly, studio bosses are taking note of the pulling power of female talent in the film industry. However, that recognition is still trickling too slowly through other creative industries.

In business, there are more women than ever in the FTSE 100 but still not enough of them reaching the top. A third of all board members are women, but there are still 28 companies in the FTSE 100 where less than 30% of the boards are female. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)’s Diversity Study found that the creative industries reflected this low penetration, with 32.7% of C-Suite roles in ad agencies occupied by women. There is still a lot of work to be done.

It is up to all leaders in the C-Suite to proactively develop and encourage female talent from an early age to shape a more balanced work culture. Female leaders have a big role to play. Representation matters, and younger staff members can only aspire to what they see.

The role of female leadership is to set the necessary boundaries for female talent to succeed. This includes implementing and living a work/life balance that often seems skewed in favour of male staff. A survey from PwC revealed that 37% of women did not take full maternity leave due to career pressure, and 48% were overlooked for career advancement because they had children.

Female leaders don’t just need to mirror acceptable behaviour – taking their full entitlement of leave, demonstrating and living their own career development plans – but put these opportunities in front of more junior staff. This includes encouraging younger female talent to explore the potential of shared parental leave or taking up training opportunities that will allow them to re-join the workforce after having children, on an equal footing to their male peers.

Encouraging both leaders and upcoming talent to look outside their own organisations for support is also crucial. Learning from others in the industry about how they are tackling gender and pay imbalances, or how they have made it to the top and transformed their businesses into places where diversity and inclusion drive the agenda, is a powerful tool in advancing their own careers. Organisations such as Creative Equals or SheSays among many others are valuable resources and partners for change.

As human beings, we mimic what we can see but we cannot copy what is not there. For perhaps the first time, we can now see strong, powerful female figures represented at a significant level in popular culture. It’s time we took that inspiration and applied it to our reality, beyond the Hollywood gloss.


Kathryn Jacob OBE, is CEO of Pearl & Dean

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07 Apr 2020 

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