By creating a secret tally, which recorded how frequently their names are mentioned by external parties in meetings, two female co-founders discovered that their male co-founder is addressed 10 times more frequently.
On the 18th July 2021, the three co-founders of a cyber security start-up attended a Zoom meeting with a prospective supplier. Dr. Andrea Cullen, Lorna Armitage and Jonathan Slater collectively run CAPSLOCK: a cyber security education organisation that was recently named the most innovative cyber SME of 2021 by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
For the most part, the meeting was business as usual. Unfortunately, “business as usual” in this context meant that the supplier directed all questions and discussions towards Jonathan, whilst Lorna and Andrea were largely ignored. In fact, Jonathan’s name was said by the other meeting attendees fourteen times in the brief thirty-minute call. Lorna’s name? Mentioned once. Andrea’s name was not mentioned at all.
How do the team know this? Because, inspired by the meeting in question and the many similar meetings which had preceded it, the three co-founders had begun to keep a running total of the number of times their names were mentioned by external meeting attendees. The results so far, if not surprising, are certainly bleak.
The record covers the eighteen most recent meetings the team has attended with external parties. Lorna has been addressed a total of 16 times. Andrea, only 11 times. Jonathan’s name, meanwhile, has been said 117 times in total… and counting.
The trio revealed that this habit of meeting attendees speaking almost exclusively to CAPSLOCK’s male co-founder has been happening since they founded the company. Gallingly, it once even occurred in an internal board meeting. Despite Lorna chairing the entire meeting, her name count was still a measly two to Jonathan’s fifteen.
The results of CAPSLOCK’s tally are concerning, showing the male co-founder is addressed over 80% of the time.
Speaking about the infamous record, which has been internally dubbed ‘The Tally’, Lorna said; “Quite frankly, it makes me feel invisible, disrespected and unworthy. I have achieved a lot in my career, as has Andrea, but it never seems to be enough to merit equal recognition with our male co-founder. We always introduce ourselves at the start of meetings, so people are aware that, as well as being co-founders and running the business, Andrea and I lead on curriculum development and delivery. Witnessing Jonathan receive questions about the learning methodologies we use, or why we chose the certifications we include, is getting pretty tiring… to put it mildly!”
At this point, it’s worth reiterating that all three of them carry the title of ‘Co-founder’, so it’s not as if Jonathan is a more senior member of staff. In terms of cyber security expertise, Lorna and Andrea have been working in cyber for longer than Jonathan has been alive.
So, what now? The team has decided to make the results of their tally public in this article because they want to raise awareness of women being ignored and undervalued in meetings.
“The change has to come from the top,” says Dr. Cullen. “As long as women don’t have an equal voice in these meetings, there won’t be adequate change to the status quo. By coming forward with our findings, we’re hoping to start a few important conversations around this subject. Hopefully, it will encourage people to think twice when addressing mixed-founder teams, and question whether unconscious biases might be causing them to assume the male co-founders are in charge.”
As well as encouraging change from the top, the CAPSLOCK team are keen to increase diversity in cyber at the ground level. Their inclusive attitude to admissions has led to sector-leading diversity, with roughly 40% of their learners being female, and 35% being from ethnic minority backgrounds.
These learners, who are going on to land jobs with the likes of Dyson, ITV and Hargreaves Lansdown, are the future of cyber security. It is hoped that their diversity of gender, ethnicity, neuro-divergence and life experience will ultimately make the cyber industry a more equitable place to work.