Working in PR is a fairly female dominated profession, about 60% according to the CIPR. In my old job my manager and line manager were both women. And in my new role as of a few months ago I’m the only man on my team.
So, when a friend suggested I join her at BloomFest, as part of Bloom’s ‘Bring Your Own Bloke’ promotion to get more men attending, I jumped at the chance. How does the world of work differ for men and women? What issues really bother women at work? I want to, and need to know.
Having said that, I don’t think that I was prepared to have quite such an eye-opening and illuminating day as I did.
There were so many fascinating panels and speakers at BloomFest covering everything from equal pay and the gender pay-gap to workplace culture that I can’t possibly do justice to them all. For me some of the more personal take-outs are on topics that I have found uncomfortable, or too uninformed to chat about in the past, namely vulnerability and sexual harassment.
The issue of vulnerability in the workplace was raised both in a training workshop and during a brilliant panel featuring Amelia Torode discussing battling work and home demands and Richard Bradford opening up about his struggle with alcohol. Their panel made me re-evaluate how little my friends and I actually talk about real issues and problems. This is something that clearly carries through to the workplace – can we really be effective and push for change if we can’t be honest with each other?
I found the stories of sexual harassment shared at BloomFest – as well as the sheer number of them – incredibly alarming. There is clearly a huge way to go for us to remove these issues from our culture, both in the workplace and outside. Perhaps a part of the problem is that many men don’t realise how big the issue is - I know I certainly didn’t until my Facebook feed filled with #MeToo. When I brought this up recently with a friend she asked if I have ever felt nervous walking down the street at night, which to be honest I haven’t, because that is the reality facing lots of women every day. That is a wider problem in society in general – but the very least someone can expect is that they shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable at work.
I think that the main takeout for me is that we all need to be more willing to have difficult conversations, whether that is about workplace equality, equal pay, vulnerability or anything else. I have probably had more open and frank conversations with colleagues and friends since BloomFest than in the previous decade. Hopefully I’ll be better able to appreciate this moving forward.
Some brilliant points were made at BloomFest, but the people that really needed to hear it just weren’t there. It’s something that Paul Frampton, the outgoing Havas CEO, said it far better than I can – male business leaders have to be involved in the dialogue if we are going to drive any positive change. That’s why I was a bit disappointed that I was one of only a handful of men in the room on the day. Women make up around 51% of the population, and yet there are twice as many men called John running FTSE 100 companies than women, so we need to make sure that everyone is involved in this debate whether they like it or not.
Let’s have these conversations, make each other uncomfortable for the greater good if need be, and then hopefully everyone will get the message. It is well past time that women were treated fairly in the workplace, both in terms of pay and in creating a supportive environment.
We need to talk with our colleagues, find out what is bothering them and how we can help. That shouldn’t be so hard should it? We do all work in Comms after all…