Blog by Kathryn Nawrockyi Director, Opportunity Now
Marin Alsop’s Historic Proms Reflects The Issues Facing Working Women
Last weekend Marin Alsop became the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. As is tradition, she gave a rousing speech to the 40 million people watching worldwide – a memorable moment in Proms history. Her comments highlighted not only the progress that working women continue to make but also served as a reminder that even in 2013 there is still new ground to be broken.
Though the classical music world may seem closed off to many, an interview Alsop gave to the Guardian the day before her performance showed that many of the issues she has faced can be applied to women from all walks of life. She discussed the prejudice that continues to exist towards female conductors, in spite of the increased representation in other parts of the orchestra, as well as the conflict many female musicians face between having a family and building their careers before it’s too late. These experiences are reflected in the struggles many women in a wide range of workplaces face, such as the continuing lack of women in senior roles at board level and the impact motherhood may have on their careers. For example, last month a survey by the law firm Slater & Gordon found half of mothers thought their career progression had been halted and that their colleagues’ attitudes towards them had changed since they announced their pregnancy.
Yet Alsop also talked about the positive experience she gained when she was given opportunities to make her mark – not only was she accepted by initially sceptical colleagues, she managed to win them over through her talent and dedication. That is what got her to the Royal Albert Hall. This focus on ability and hard work remains the basis of Opportunity Now’s work with businesses to help women continually develop their careers and themselves, rather than swallowing up their successes in one-off events.
Every ‘first woman’ is a step in the right direction, and we should celebrate Alsop’s achievement in pushing open the door for more women in high-profile roles in classical music. However, as she said herself on Saturday night, “Here’s to the second, third, fourths, fifths, hundredths to come.” Her words remind us not only of the great strides that Opportunity Now has helped businesses make in supporting women to achieve their potential, but also of the steps that still need to be taken to help those hundredths get to where they want to be.