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Kathryn Jacob and Sue Unerman, Authors of 'The Glass Wall'

51% of the population is female and yet only 26% of FTSE100 company boards are composed of women. The highest earning 2% of men earn over £200,000 a year; to be in the top 2% of women the figure is £70,000. These are some of the statistics Kathryn Jacob and Sue Unerman’s book The Glass Wall fights to change. ‘It’s not about the money,’ Kathryn tells us. ‘It’s about us having a developed sense of self.’


On 16 November OxWIB was delighted to welcome Kathryn and Sue as our final speakers for Michaelmas Term. They spoke to us about their experiences and the process of co-authoring The Glass Wall, a book designed to help unlock ambition and develop resilience to build better workplaces for all. Both women have lived extraordinary lives and extraordinary successes. Kathryn is the CEO at Pearl & Dean and has worked at the Daily Telegraph and Virgin Radio. She is a member of the Government Expert Group on Body Confidence and the Advertising Association Council, ex-President of Women in Advertising and Communications and is on the Development Board of Women's Aid. Sue Unerman is the CSO at MediaCom. She is also a Council Member of the Open University, sits on the University of Oxford Public Affairs Advisory Group, was on the Advisory Board of the Government Digital Service and is on the Corporate Development Board of Women's Aid. When asked about the inspiration for The Glass Wall, they told us: ‘When we started out in the 1980s, my boss was a woman, the prime minister was a woman; people thought women were coming through, that in a few years every other CEO would be a woman. But then we turned around and thought, what happened?’ And so Kathryn and Sue set off, conducting extensive quantitative research and gathering anecdotes from a range of both women and men in the UK, US and Russia. Kathryn shared one such story with us, about a boy called Peter (names have been changed). Each year, Peter along with his twin sister and two other families would go on an Easter egg hunt. The first year Peter was old enough to join in he ran and found a golden bunny. ‘I’ve won!’ he told the adults. ‘I found the golden bunny!’ No one had ever ‘won’ the hunt before, and there was more than one golden bunny. But nevertheless Peter’s father told him, ‘You’ve won! You’ve beaten all the girls. Well done, Peter.’ The story goes to show how early the gender stereotyping begins: would Peter’s father have praised his twin sister had she run up with a golden bunny? The Glass Wall is not a feminist manifesto but a rule book of pragmatic feminism. It tells you about the existing situation and how you go about solving it. Part of it is your own attitude and self-confidence: ‘Don’t ever say you’re lucky enough to work somewhere. Men never say they’re lucky. It’s not a raffle - you did the interview and you passed it.’ Compassion and anger can be very powerful: ‘Take your emotion and turn it into energy. They didn’t employ a version of you without emotion; they employed you.’ ‘Maybe some of these stories will be reminiscent when you’re forming your careers,’ they tell us. But Kathryn and Sue coin the term ‘glass wall’ rather than glass ceiling, because it hits you at any level, not just once you’ve reached management rank. Wherever you are in your career, The Glass Wall provides simple and effective strategies to help us smash the glass together.

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