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Struggles, Strategies and (Some) Secrets of Success

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How can women get to the top?

In the Seventies and Eighties, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in her prime, I naively thought that the battle for gender equality had been won. After all, if the highest office in the UK could be held by a woman, then surely other pillars of the establishment, as well as commerce, would cease to be bastions of male privilege?

More than three decades later, parity remains elusive. I’ll be chairing a discussion on this on 7 March, as part of the Women@Imperial Week, and I warmly invite you to join in. A survey last year by Grant Thornton, the global accounting and advisory group, showed that a third of businesses across 36 economies have no women at senior management levels. Across the board, around 24 per cent of senior roles are held by women. Even the newest industries exhibit dinosaur tendencies: Uber, the ride-sharing app, is currently mired in controversy after one of its female engineers alleged the company failed to tackle sexist behaviour in the workplace. Women constitute just 15 per cent of the company’s technical staff.

The benefits of a diverse workplace and leadership are well-rehearsed: it reduces the risk of groupthink and is linked to better company performance. The puzzle is that just as many women as men are coming into the system – roughly equal numbers of males and females earn degrees, for example – but that parity evaporates as the sexes scale the management ladder.

The Grant Thornton report makes recommendations to help correct the discrepancy. It asks, among other things, of senior women: “Recognise that you are a role model – and be honest about your experiences of leadership.”

I hope that our event, with its diverse panel, can bring this recommendation to life, and suggest other strategies. But dialogue should never be a one-way street: please come and contribute to this important conversation on 7 March.

Anjana Ahuja, a freelance science journalist and Contributing Writer at the Financial Times, is a double Imperial alumnus (Physics 1990, Space and Atmospheric Physics 1993).

To register for the Women@Imperial IBP panel discussion, please email ibp@imperial.ac.uk.

Follow our conversation on #imperialwomen or live here