This week, I had the great pleasure of participating at Geneva’s Webster University Media Trends 2011 Conference, themed this year around Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and organized by Webster's own Tammy Rosso. The panel I joined was incredibly impressive, and included talks titled “Disney Princesses: Damsels in Distress?” by Hollywood Producer Rebekah Jorgensen, and a keynote speech I will never forget titled “Fighting for Women’s Rights in Egypt”, by the illustrious Ambassador and former Egyptian Minister of Family & Population Dr. Moushira Khattab. Dr. Khattab reminded us that even in times of great turbulence – such as the ones Egypt is experiencing now- the security of women’s issues must be held at the forefront of consciousness, and that it is the media’s responsibility to partner with the promotion of these.
Gender equality is a subject dear to my heart- especially as it applies to the workplace. As the audience was made up in large part by young female students now choosing their preliminary career path, I chose to speak about the fight for an expansion of Feminine Professions. Titled “Why we don’t all need to work at VOGUE”, my talk centered around the roads less traveled by women: fields such as finance, medicine, science, and our own industry: Technology.
The slides to the presentation may be found here:
Women are notably drawn to fashion magazines and creative positions and industries in general. Perhaps, I hypothesized, it is the media’s (and especially Hollywood’s) glamorization of the media industry. Or perhaps it is an innate inhospitable environment for women in other fields. This may be. Upon a close look – women at the top of corporate America and corporate UK are (VERY) few and far between, and reasons cited vary from lack of mentoring and support within these organizations, to lack of role models for such positions outside the organizations (from women’s peers to media icons).
It is also widely held as a result of many studies on this topic, such as one done by Catalyst in 2003, that women do not fit the male work model: they care much less about office politics, and much more about getting the job done. This study correlated this with a lack if interest in sports – which has women unaccustomed to dynamics of team and hierarchy which speaks directly and naturally to men.
I cannot conclude for sure. I can only hypothesize. I always wanted to be a part of the fashion and media world. I like writing, I love fashion, I was always susceptible to media imagery-and most of all, I am most at ease in the company and brilliance of women.
It is precisely for this reason that I revel in having crossed over into technology. With more women in the above “unvisited” industries, we have a chance to truly make a mark and to charge ahead.
It is time for women and for the media to hold more important and relevant role models than even the justly revered Anna Wintour. Women like Natalie Massenet, founder of Net a Porter, women like Marissa Meyer of Google, or like Pepsico Chairman Indra Nooyi– these should be in the limelight.
Ms Wintour already gets that, regularly featuring such women within the pages of VOGUE and even on her covers. I hope it will not take long for mainstream media to catch on. Even if it’s a little bit more.
For those of you currently thinking of starting your career, or even just re-invigorating your caree: take your skills and consider a new kind of company.
I promise you – you will reap terrific benefits and become more visible. You will challenge yourself. And best of all: you will help to blaze the trail farther.
The other participants at Webster’s Conference spoke of issues that were quite different, but all related to the power of media to shape the perception and position of women. In conclusion, panel moderator Lara Srivastava, fittingly said: “Every step advancing women is a step advancing mankind.”
I think that’s true.