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The missing women

· Coaching,diversity,Management

I went to a really lovely networking event the other night run by Hubdot in Petersham Nurseries. To be honest, I went precisely because it was in Petersham Nurseries, which gets a great write-up from everyone I know. I wasn't sure what to expect, particularly because I don't often have the opportunity to go to networking events run by women for women. The worlds I've worked in have been predominately male and that's what I'm used to and know how to navigate. I often resist the all-female events, if I'm honest.

The format is an interesting one. It's like a an open-mic night, where people have 5 minutes to get up and tell their story or make an ask. We heard woman after woman bare her soul about awful things they'd experienced or seen, from extreme child poverty in Cornwall, through early menopause, nursing partners through brain tumours to problems having children and losing jobs. Every single woman had turned that experience into a business idea and was asking for support for her small business, charity or start-up, with an aim to change something about the thing she really believed in. One brave man also spoke. More of him in another post - watch out for it.

I was a bit uncomfortable about all this soul-baring if I'm entirely honest with myself. I've had my share of bad stuff, but I don't really want to stand on a platform and tell a bunch of people I don't know all about it. But I admired their bravery, their courage, their commitment and their determination to do something to achieve change and prevent other people from suffering.

I questioned my own reactions and I've been trying to figure out since then what conclusions I could draw. Actually, the conclusion I've landed on is anger and frustration, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. All these women have opted out of the 'normal' workplace, the 9am -5/6/7/8/9pm workplace with its structures, hierarchies, frustrations, feeling that you can't change anything and that you're just working for the shareholders in the end of the day.

What a giant, enormous loss. Businesses have invested in training these women. They've benefited from their skills, experience, a different take on the world, but for whatever reason, they haven't been able to keep them. They haven't been able to harness the energy of half of the population to build better, stronger, more diverse businesses. I'm exaggerating here of course. I do that. There are some glowing examples of great businesses that value diversity and look after everyone. But you wouldn't have thought it at Petersham Nurseries.

What a tragedy. If women were customers of the business, rather than employees, leaders would be going out of their way to engage them and keep them onside. Yet, as employees, women seem to be dispensible. Businesses are not generally going out of their way to keep them onside. I don't get it from a financial perspective. Why would you lose all that investment?

I guess the answer is that until there is an equal number of men who want, and fight for, flexible working, more time with their kids, sabbaticals, 3-day working weeks, it just won't change. So, all you men out there. Here's a call to action. If you'd like to spend more time with your kids or work more flexibly...go and ask your boss. Your wife (and women in general) will thank you for it!

CoachingConsultants is a partnership of accredited coaches with significant management experience, working with CEOs, and rising stars to empower leaders and deliver results for businesses. Contact us for more information about our one-to-one peer coaching and our interactive training packages for new leaders. +44 7462 226623