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Women in business still have to work harder than men for same recognition.

With the Davies Report published last year, gender diversity has never had a higher profile. The weight of public opinion and threatened legislation are starting to fracture the glass ceiling that has kept women out of the boardroom.

But a major finding of new Ashridge research is that not much has changed for women in business over the past 30 years. The study exposes that organisational attitudes towards women frequently impede career advancement, and also outlines what steps women can take to make sure that they are best placed to be considered for top jobs.

Women in Business: Navigating Career Success, based on a survey of over 1,400 female senior managers and directors, reveals that 48 per cent believe it is harder for a woman to succeed at work compared with male colleagues, while 49 per cent think men and women are treated differently in terms of leadership and behaviour.

The continued existence of the old boys' network and male senior teams who recruit in their own image, being fed up with "playing the games" that go on within boardrooms, having personal commitments outside of the workplace and lacking belief in their own ability, often lead to women turning their backs on the corporate ladder. Plus poor line management, managers taking credit, bullying and ‘macho’ behaviour are all factors that block women’s career paths and fuel inequality.

Company culture and stereotyping remain issues. Negative perceptions of assertive women abound, and females with drive and ambition are often regarded as aggressive and dominating.

Having children remains one of the biggest hurdles to career development. A culture of long hours and extensive international travel can affect some women's ability to fill certain roles. Other issues for executive women include being perceived as being "soft and fluffy" by colleagues and struggling to earn the same level of respect as a male leader. Age and physical attributes can also be a hindrance – being  either too old,  or too young. One interviewee said: "being young, blonde and female has not always been helpful."

Evidence suggests that women have to work harder to get respect. But women shouldn't become like men. They must maintain their own authenticity and approach to doing business. It’s not about slogans, logos or slickness. It’s about realism, confidence and self-belief delivered in an energetic way.

Fiona Elsa Dent is the Director of Executive Education at Ashridge Business School, and co-author of Women in Business: Navigating Career Success

Games for boys, Getty images

Fiona Elsa Dent is the Director of Executive Education at Ashridge Business School.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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