Monday's forum at the Cambridge Union SocietyChris Williamson

Building on the success of last term’s BBC 100 Women event, Cambridge University’s Women in Business Society (CAMWIB) collaborated with the Cambridge Union Society on Monday to host a forum on the problem of institutionalised sexism in business.

The panel was made up of four women from the worlds of business and academia: Bella Vuillermoz, the founder of Sky’s ‘Sky Academy’ initiative; Ines Wichert, a doctor of Organisational Psychology who has written on the role of women in the workplace; Pinky Lilani, owner of Spice Magic, and lawyer Charlotte Proudman, who rose to prominence last year after speaking out about her experiences of sexism on LinkedIn.

Much of the discussion was oriented around the challenges and obstacles faced by women during the course of their career, with Vuillermoz characterising women’s career ladder as a “jungle gym”.

Speaking of the difficulties faced by women in the workplace, Proudman talked about “imposter syndrome” – the feeling of not being good enough for your working environment – while Vuillermoz spoke of the tribulations associated with being “an ambitious workaholic with perfectionist tendencies”.

Throughout, the panellists related their individual experiences to the practicalities of the business world, speaking of the importance of mentoring those below you whilst looking to senior colleagues for advice and support. Lilani, related personal anecdotes from her life and argued that we should not follow other people’s blueprints but instead create our own.

With the topic moving to the issue of a ‘work-life balance’, Wichert argued that we should really be talking of ‘work-life integration’, stating that the two are indistinct. She added that women’s place in the workplace will not change unless male attitudes both at home and in the workplace change. With regards to the question of whether women can ‘have it all’, Wichert suggested that this was a personal question that needed to be defined by each individual for themselves.

A lively discussion followed relating to increasing the number of women in senior roles in business through quotas, with arguments that more women in senior roles has positively impacted on the running of businesses and concerns that change may not happen if it is not enforced. Throughout, the audience was encouraged to combat sexism by pursuing their goals with single-mindedness and determination, and that women should never be afraid to ask for what they want. As Lilani expressed it, “the only thing you get in life without asking is an infectious disease.”

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