What’s it like to run a business with a black person? A disabled person? An old person? No one would ever ask that, would they? Yet somehow it’s perceived acceptable to ask what it’s like to run a business with a woman.
Today marks International Women’s Day and despite being a century on from the British suffragette movement, how much progress has really been made on parity if questions as stupid as that are still posed?
Victoria Ruffy and Henry Griffiths are equal partners at Little Red Rooster and have witnessed first-hand how sexism is still rife. However, they have a clear idea of how to combat it and believe PR is actually relatively progressive.
With a man and a woman at the helm, the firm has always waved a flag for gender equality and this puts them in an envious position compared to many other companies still dragging their heels in the Dark Ages. Here’s what they had to say:
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
Victoria: It’s not women working for women’s rights; it’s men and women working together to make sure we’re equal.
Henry: We all have to work together for gender parity. To put this in context; ‘What’s it like to run a business with a woman?’ What a weird question. It shows just how backward we still are.
V: It’s utterly ridiculous and makes me feel completely patronised. What do you expect someone to say? ‘Well, she’s a bit emotional…’ or perhaps some stereotypical answers about soft and hard skills. ‘Oh, she’s really good at dealing with HR issues and I’m a man so I’m really good with the numbers’.
H: The first thing I think about Vic isn’t that she’s a woman. She is my business partner and a good friend who brings incredible drive and passion to the company. If anything Vic’s more of a bloke and I’m more of a woman. I’m definitely not your typical man and I don’t want to be, I don’t aspire to that macho b*******, but weirdly you are…
V: Quite ballsy…
H: And I’m definitely softer. It just goes to show how ridiculous stereotypes of women in business are.
V: It’s what can a person bring. Male, female, gay, straight, black, white, whatever – and any age as well. Are they the right fit for Little Red Rooster?
What examples of everyday sexism do you encounter?
V: People assume Henry is my boss and speak to him first. He’s very good at saying this is my business partner and that dispels things, but I still see it and usually get a raised eyebrow.
H: They assume Vic might be my assistant.
V: They’re even more surprised when I tell them the story of how I set up the agency seven years ago and then Henry joined as 50:50 business partner a year or so later.
How unusual is an equal gender split in PR?
V: Women dominate it up to a certain point. Little Red Rooster is 60:40 female, which is unusual, but once you get up to board level in PR it just drops off a cliff with far more men at the helm.
H: Something at some point up the career ladder stops the parity that exists in PR and that’s because everyone running it is a bloke. People employ people who are like them and they can’t see past themselves as an excellent role model.
So sexism is still rife and it’s holding women back, but how do you combat it?
V: It starts at home. Henry is an active participant in home life, he’s got three children and runs a business, but there’s a strange dichotomy whereby if I have a job and I’m a mum, no matter how much I do at home I’m always the career mum, not a good mum. If you’re married, even if your husband only does a tiny amount, he’s a good dad. So this idea of behind every great man is a great woman, it’s vice versa too and gender equality has to absolutely start at home.
H: When you’re starting a family the assumption is the primary carer will be female. Then suddenly someone becomes the child carer and somebody becomes the breadwinner. The longer this lasts, the more entrenched these positions become. From my wife’s point of view, when we got married she was earning loads more money than me, she used to pay my rent and she had a great career. Then we had kids and all of that knowledge, all of that experience got thrown out the window. That’s where the split starts.
What sparked the #MeToo debate at Little Red Rooster?
V: When the scandal broke I was very dismissive and to me it seemed easy that if you’re uncomfortable you should just tell someone to f*** off. However, I’m in a privileged position, I run a company and would sack a client if they did… and I have. Why didn’t women in Hollywood speak up sooner? Because they are weak, they’re going up against power and scared of the consequences.
Then we spoke to our team. A situation had arisen where somebody connected to a client at an after work party was speaking to me quite dismissively, so I told him where to go. My team were taken aback and said if a client did something to them they wouldn’t know how to deal with it.
H: So they might not tell a client to stop unwanted advances because they felt it might cost them their job and that’s all about invisible power structures. People in positions of power get away with it because they’re in charge.
That’s no different to the Hollywood or parliamentary sex scandals…
H: And if it happens in those places it’s happening all the time in every industry.
How is this linked to the gender pay gap and #PressforProgress?
V: It’s all linked to power.
H: Why is it men are paid more than women? The people paying are probably men and it’s that innate, in-built thing that people align to people like them.
V: It comes back to girls are bossy and boys will be boys, so a woman can be less confident asking for a rise. I hate to say it, but at the start of my career I was fearful of appearing too forceful. That’s linked to when you’re growing up and always told to be quiet.
H: It’s about home life. I’ve got three kids, two are girls and at some point everything they wore became pink and their toys were really girly. It was forced upon them and it wasn’t their decision.
V: I didn’t want my daughter Grace to have a dolly because the first thing you get taught is to have a baby and look after it. As soon as you can stand you’re pushing a mini pram. I want to bring her up to say yes if she means yes and no if she means no. I want her to call it as she sees it without fear of being told to pipe down.
H: If there isn’t equal childcare it all falls apart. Little Red Rooster wants to accelerate gender parity. We fully support #PressforProgress and our company thinks, acts and is gender inclusive. There is no glass ceiling here. It is simply about how good you are regardless of gender, age, race and sexuality.
How does Little Red Rooster support home life for its staff?
V: If someone is right for the company we’re entirely flexible with childcare. When I was pregnant Henry said to me you never know how you’re going to feel until you’ve had the baby. That’s why there are these strict guidelines in place about an employer asking when someone is going to return to work. It can be an emotional, hormonal time.
H: Every baby is different and you have to adapt differently.
V: Now we have a few team members with kids. They get paid an extra day every month, no quibble, to pick stuff up in their own time so works around home life. There’s more we’ll do as a company as time progresses. That has all absolutely come from Henry and not me.
H: We’re a family first company and I know first-hand how important a proper work/life balance is. Equal leave for both parents is crucial otherwise one becomes the primary child carer and that’s where a lot of workplace equality issues stem from. If both parents contribute early on one isn’t labelled as breadwinner and the other child carer. We need to have flexible, inclusive working cultures so we don’t lose skills to the workforce that has been years in development before a couple have kids.
How does PR rate when it comes to gender parity?
V: It’s quite far ahead and a great career for women because once you’ve earned your stripes you can pick things up again part-time whenever you want and it’s still well paid.
H: In some industries female voices aren’t taken as seriously as male voices, but in PR they are.
Does this reflect on the clients you work with?
V: Intelligent brands have come to the fore, like B&O PLAY, that do things in a way that wasn’t happening 10 years ago. It makes products that are gender neutral. I wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of pink headphones.
H: Social media has democratised an industry that was run by a hierarchy of men who were the voice of an industry. It has blown it apart and given everyone a voice and an equal footing.
Could the wider business world learn from the PR industry?
V: Yes, possibly.
H: How we are as a business comes from having a male boss and a female boss. At LRR we look for people with the Rooster DNA regardless of gender, age and background. We’re after a wide-ranging set of skills and life experiences. The company would be so much poorer without them.
V: So how do you make sure your staff can speak up in a threatening or troubling situation? How do you attract the right people to your company? How do you ensure a 50:50 split? Everybody, male and female, needs to be feminist. Feminism isn’t ‘girl power’, it’s gender parity and it will never change if it’s only women driving this. It 100 per cent has to be men and women acknowledging there is nothing fundamentally inferior about a person because they’re a woman. Just like there is nothing fundamentally inferior about a person because of their skin colour.