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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 Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.