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Imagine a comedy line-up with Sarah Millican, award winning ventriloquist Nina Conti and stand up legend Joan Rivers. You’d buy tickets for that wouldn’t you? Though catching a line up like this is rare, why? Because seeing two female comics on the same night is as rare as unicorn milk.
As a budding comic I would call around venues to beg for five minute slots, I lost count of the times I was given the answer ‘sorry love, we’ve already got a woman on the bill’. The implication was that you could never have more than one female performer on any one night. I’ve no idea what the venue owners were afraid of. Perhaps they feared in protest against the harsh male environment we would all synchronise our cycles and strop at the same time. Though a more likely story explanation was the commonly-held but wrong belief that women aren’t funny.
Rather than admitting this was the reason, they would opt to have ‘a token woman’ on the bill, maybe as a defence against accusations of such thinking. That was several years ago and even now when I watch live comedy, it’s rare to see more than one women on the bill. The comedy world shares a lot of similarities with the corporate world in this respect. More recently Laughology has been working in various organisations promoting and helping to address the gender balance at leadership and executive level.
There are just as many talented women workers out there as there are talented men (and comedians to this matter) but, as the 2011 Davies Report on gender equality in the workplace found, they are still under-represented in the boardroom. The facts speak for themselves. Companies with gender-balanced boards achieve 42 percent higher return on sales, 66 percent higher return on invested capital and 53 percent higher return on equity.
Many studies and reports have shown that balanced senior board teams lead to better corporate performance – yet there simply aren’t enough women at the top of the UK’s companies. What has become clear since 2011 is that the underlying problem of under-representation of women on boards goes deeper than board-level. Companies who simply comply with the recommendations of the Davies Report and only concentrate on putting women into the board room to make up the numbers are merely papering over the cracks. Having the token women on the bill isn’t good enough. The issue is so deep rooted in society and culture that even women can unconsciously carry the deeply embedded mind-set that we have less to offer and cannot match our male counterparts.
When you go to a comedy club and a woman walks on, what do you think? Is this the same in the boardroom? Thankfully things are changing. Progressive companies are beginning to realise that gender balance is massively advantageous and that gender imbalance is not a diversity or equality issue; it is a business issue and a cultural issue. And the solution isn’t simply to promote women solely to make up the numbers. Learning and development programmes aimed at ALL workers to raise awareness and address the issues at the heart of under-representation are essential to change and progression. As the great Bob Dylan mumbled once, the times they are changing.