I was 33 floors up in Cindy Gallop’s Manhattan apartment when it struck me. We were admiring the fantastic views over New York and sipping gin liqueurs as I talked to two Somervillian women who were both very high up in banks.
Their careers were going stratospherically. They both had children and – crucially – they both had husbands who were taking care of the children.
There’s a shift going on. The percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has more than doubled since 2011, though it’s still only 27.7%. And – at least for the two bankers I spoke to in New York – there are signs of a shift going in family life.
My own husband looked after the children for a while. It was difficult when he did it. I’m delighted that it now seems to be accepted by society. But there is much more to do.
I met alums of all ages in New York; one Somervillian in her 80s, still dynamic and full of ideas, had been on the board of many leading companies. And she did what she could to ensure that she was not the token woman but changed the culture of the companies to ensure that there would be more women on boards in future.
She would say to the CEO and chair: ‘I’m delighted to be here, but I’m not going to be the only woman here – I expect you to be looking out for women.’
Cindy is a great supporter of Somerville and a force of nature. She is really proud of Somerville’s heritage, that we were named after the extraordinary Mary Somerville who taught Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician described as the “first computer programmer”. Cindy fizzes with energy and ideas and has a truly eclectic style. Her walls are covered in beautiful artwork, there are books everywhere, as you would expect from a Somervillian, and some amazing prized possessions like a Gucci crash helmet.
From New York we went to San Francisco to meet our Somervillians living on the West Coast. Over dinner I met a young woman working for Google X. She is trying to prepare for the future, working on Artificial Intelligence. I met another alum who has set up a speech writing business and is much in demand.
Talking to our alumni in New York and San Francisco made me think about a Mary Somerville lecture. I think this would be a great opportunity to tell the world that we are interested in entrepreneurship.
With Brexit and all the other fundamental changes taking place in the world, we are going to be more and more reliant on the ideas and tenacity of individuals rather than big organizations. We have to demonstrate to our young people the potential opportunities that they may wish to explore no matter what subject they may be reading.
We have the Margaret Thatcher development programme, which provides a much wider education for all of our students. I’m also looking at bringing in entrepreneurs to talk about their experiences, and I hope we can dedicate a space where people can go and explore – this was a suggestion from Anthemos Georgiades, the Somervillian founder of Zumper, an apartment search platform. The seed for this idea was sown when queuing overnight to try to secure a student house in his second year at College.
And that gin liqueur we were drinking in New York? That was made by a Somerville entrepreneur too.