Last week the Bank of England Governor, Sir Mervyn King, announced that Sir Winston Churchill will appear on our £5 note from 2016. Whilst there are few people who would dispute that Churchill is an excellent choice; there is an unfortunate consequence of this new selection. Churchill will replace Elizabeth Fry and therefore leave us with no female representation on our currency. In fact, there has only been one other female, Florence Nightingale, on any of our banknotes previously. So is there a danger the population might believe that there are no women who are worthy of such recognition? There are actually 20 women on the list of names suggested by the public for use on banknotes; but on a list of over 150 names the ratio of publicly considered noteworthy women to men is still disappointingly low.
Is this a true reflection of the number of women that meet the Bank of England's selection criteria of having made an 'indisputable contribution to their field of work?' Are there some significant female role models that have been left off of the list? Or do we simply not have enough amazing women to choose from? Whilst there may have been numerous remarkable women who did not receive the notoriety they deserved - it is also true that many women may well not be realising their full potential and step back from their careers or aspirations too early.
In her recent book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, debates why women's progress in attaining senior leadership roles has stalled. She suggests that women don't "sit at the table" and that we internalise social stereotypes that see women in management roles as "bossy" or "bitchy" as opposed to their male counterparts who are considered as strong leaders.
So what can be done to make more women 'Lean in' and to rise above the social stereotypes so that we have more female role models and ensure that the list of future contenders to appear on our bank notes has a 50:50 split? It is important that women understand that they are not alone in feeling some of the deep-rooted fears and social biases that they experience in the workplace. Women who have managed to overcome problems, have faced issues head-on and still managed to succeed must share their experiences. I would never advocate positive discrimination, we must succeed on merit and merit alone; but we have to stop the haemorrhaging of female talent from middle-management that is caused by social barriers, choosing family over career or feeling that we are somehow not as good as our male colleagues.
The forthcoming First Woman Awards, held in association with Lloyds Banking Group, recognise pioneering UK women who have opened up opportunities for others. Previous winners have been trailblazing, often unsung, women across manufacturing, science and technology as well as iconic leaders. Perhaps this year's shortlist of finalists will offer up some potential candidates for the Bank of England's list? Or maybe they will inspire other young women to stretch themselves that bit further and achieve something which they never previously dreamed was possible. But even if we only manage to motivate more talented women to stay in the workforce for longer and not sell themselves short, then we have made a more significant contribution than simply achieving in our own field of expertise. I definitely intend to continue 'leaning-in' and I encourage more of my fellow female leaders to do the same.
Dawn Elson is shortlisted for the 2013 First Women Awards.
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The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 12 June and is hosted by Real Business in association with Lloyds Banking Group.
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