The Great Gender Debate

Published: 24 Sep 2019

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The Great Gender Debate was hosted by Aviva and Partner Network Group GIN (Gender Inclusion Network), on 24 September in London, featuring Marshall Bailey OBE in conversation with broadcaster, author, Government advisor and retail expert, Mary Portas.

The second half of the evening was a debate, presented by Debate Mate, an organisation that coaches young people from diverse backgrounds in the skills of persuasive argument and presentation confidence. Carrying through the theme, the House motion was that ‘Senior Roles in Financial Services Should be Offered to Women.’

The event was opened by Johnny Briggs, Global Head of Talent Acquisition & Inclusion at Aviva. He introduced Marshall, citing his many Board roles and insurance experience, congratulating him on his recent OBE. Mary Portas took her seat and for the next 45 minutes, held the audience in rapt attention as she spoke animatedly about her life and career experience drawing on the content of her new book, Work Like a Woman:

‘I believe that the world and its business has been created by men, for men where Alpha male behaviour is rewarded. It’s about not showing weakness and the pursuit of profit and GDP. Success is not measured by the skills women have which are negotiation, caring and collaboration.’ Mary went onto add ‘The feminine has been supressed, there is an imbalance in the world. We need to change those codes of business and put the power of the feminine at its heart.’

With Marshall’s clear empathy for her points, she acknowledged that there are many men who are already enlightened and on board with this progressive business ethos shaped kindness. With references to her book, she expanded on how and why her career journey had shaped her views, with hilarious anecdotes peppered through more serious observations about how Boards in particular can seem to demand a certain type of behaviour that can be at odds with disruptive ideas and ‘feelings’ about what customers really want.

‘We are moving into an economy that is radically and seismically different – the kindness economy is the next thing’ and she left the audience with the thought that ‘All of the toxicity of Trump and #MeToo has opened the door, but it’s women who have to keep pushing against it, collaborating and connecting to bring about lasting change.’

Even through Mary Portas is a hard act to follow, the stage presence of Debate Mate CEO, Scarlett McCabe easily rose to the challenge as she explained how the organisation was founded by her barrister mother to give young people from diverse backgrounds access to a skill which is rarely taught outside of public schools.

The audience was treated to an extraordinary demonstration of polished debating talent as the Proposers and the Opposers of the Motion of the house battled it out for audience votes. The six debaters, (one of them wearing school uniform), took turns to speak for and against the motion before their team mates summed up expertly. The proposers won the day, but more than the motion of the House, what the audience took away from the evening was an appreciation of the fact that the skills of debating can be learned if you have the right teacher, and that a lack of confidence is one of the most critical attributes that holds women back in business.