Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.

Videos about Work

Live blogs about Work

Michelle Ryan talk

MichelleRyan_portrait

MichelleRyan_portraitIn the fourth session, we come back to ourselves. Michelle is describing how the opportunities for women have made incredible strides, but they [we!] continue to be under-represented in various sectors (surgery, science) and roles (senior management). Try googling CEO images, and you’ll find the first 80 are of men and the 81st is Barbie. [I found one woman at #50, but the point still stands.]

Some argue that women choose not to go into particular roles or sectors, often because of the hours required and the sacrifices that need to be made. Many women say this, and many do opt out before they hit the glass ceiling.

We need to look at these decisions, but also at what underlies these decisions. Why are women less ambitious? Is there something innate about the desire for a work-life balance that women might have? Michelle is presenting some recent research that may shed some light.

So first, are women less ambitious? At the beginning, no, but ambition erodes over time, for students, police officers and surgeons in training. Is it because of the biological clock? Probably not – students are in their late teens, police in their mid-20s and surgeons in their mid-30s. It is more likely to be exposure to male-dominated environments, and perceptions that those who have become successful ahead of them are very different from them. So they will have a lower possibility of success. Are women saying: that thing over there that you say I can’t have, I want it anyway? Or are they saying: I’m not interested anyway?

How one feels about the workplace is at least as important as the issue of time. Surgery involves long and unpredictable hours, being called out in the middle of the night. But so do nursing and midwifery, professions dominated by women.

Feeling similar to those who have been successful before you reinforces identity, that who you have to be at work is similar to who you are at home. It also makes you feel you can be successful in the future, and therefore that any sacrifices you make could be worth it.

One of the biggest differences between men and women in middle-management is that women are much less willing to make sacrifices, because they don’t expect those sacrifices to be rewarded or that the workplace be meritocratic.

The implications are first, that work-life balance is not just an issue for women. All types of people might feel that they don’t belong. So we have an explanation that work-life balance is about identity. Second, working part-time and from home are touted as solutions to work-life balance, but may ironically exacerbate this identity problem.

So we need to encourage the imagination and the view that success is possible.

Vinay Nair talk

Vinay Nair feature

Vinay Nair featureOur first session is about international themes, and our first speaker is Vinay Nair from Acumen.

Five years ago, he found himself in remote NW Mozambique, sitting down and buzzing about budgeting and planning for a social enterprise selling jam, run by women who were HIV positive. They were managing to generate an income, and become active agents in their own futures. One was asked by the Red Cross to set up similar enterprises across the country.

Vinay had a sense that the work was about dignity not dependence, choice not charity. But he’s not a good Samaritan, he’s a former investment banker – his joke! And yet, that experience helped him in the position he is now in, and he wants to explore those interconnections and interdependencies.

A few years ago, he visited Robben Island in South Africa, where he tried to get inside the head of Nelson Mandela. On the way home, he bumped into Gordon Brown at the airport, thanked him for his work on debt relief, and was then surprised when they had a conversation about economics and finance as vehicles for reducing poverty and improving social justice.

Before the financial crisis, Vinay took a sabbatical and spent some time in India. He met Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer in microfinance. He thought initially that microfinance was a silver bullet, but realised that often the goals of social justice had got lost in the push for a financial return. 

So he left the world of microfinance and ended up in Mozambique and then the Clinton Foundation, before studying for a masters at LSE. He got involved in Acumen, and began to work with its founder Jacqueline Novogratz.

Acumen’s model is to take donations, bypass governments and conventional finance, and invest ‘patient capital’ in social enterprises. The returns can then be recycled again and again. It also has a strong focus on ‘how’ it makes decisions, in a difficult and messy area of work. Listening and humility are core, but there is also a need for leadership, audaciousness and accountability.

Vinay found himself back in India, in the rice belt, working with a renewable energy company which was burning rice husks to generate electricity for sale at £1 per month. Because it wasn’t free, people demanded customer service etc – dignity not dependence. There were also improved health outcomes, through not inhaling kerosene fumes, and improved education, through better lighting – not just the financial bottom line.

He’s now leaving Acumen to set up a new initiative in the UK, to tackle poverty and inequality here. There is a need to understand what and how investment can support innovative social enterprise and charities. There’s a lot that can be learnt from Acumen and other organisations, because of the interconnections. As they say in Bantu South Africa: Ubuntu, I am because you are.