Tall, white and male

Friday 1 June 2018

CAROLE"I don't think women fit comfortably into the board environment"

"There aren't that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board - the issues covered are extremely complex"

"Most women don't want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board"

"Shareholders just aren't interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?"

These are some of the quotes that were published this week from the Alexander Hampton review about women on FTSE boards.

I think we should be grateful that these comments were put into the public arena as they demonstrate the real challenge facing women, not 100 years ago, but today in the 21st century.

Yes, we have a statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square and we have a female prime minister for the second time.  I accept too that for women the UK has moved on since my grandmother’s and mother’s time.

But I don’t think much has fundamentally changed since I grew up in the 60s and 70s.

I grew up instilled with the expectation that those in power would be men - white and, for some bizarre reason, usually tall.  As a woman, I would be able to have an education and would be expected to be quite clever but never quite clever enough to sit round the top table, where the issues are “extremely complex”!

I was also ingrained with the idea that how I looked would be the first concern of everyone who met me and that I would only be taken seriously if I conformed to the beauty norms of the time.  As a result, I believed that my brain was always of secondary interest.

As an “older” woman I still struggle to shed myself of these assumptions because they go very deep.  But what pains me more is that young women today are struggling in the very same way. Given the views reflected in the quotes about women on boards, however, it is not surprising.

We need the media, employers and the Government to really believe and also demonstrate that they believe in the value of diverse work forces and of sharing power with women.  I don’t think – and these quotes confirm my fears – that many men get this yet.  This is confirmed too when I attend events about the gender pay gap or women in the work place.  Most men are striking by their absence and I applaud the few men who do buck this trend.

We will continue to debate the pros and cons of quotas and targets for increasing the number of women in the workplace and in parliament.  Meanwhile, we need to have more conversations with men, so that we can understand how we can change their view of women, why they don’t want workplaces and other institutions to change and what we can do to persuade them that it really is in everyone’s best interest.  Only then will we be able to achieve true equality.