Tag Archives: women’s rights

Women: big business

30 Jan

Businesswoman

Sometimes I wonder if top female business executives would be better off keeping their mouths shut about the issue of women in the workplace and the challenges they face. Do they actually do more damage to the cause in trying to support it? Hell’s bells, I hate to use the word cause. It shouldn’t even be a cause. Whilst a topic remains a ‘cause’ it will never become normalised. Are high-flying business women really all that inspirational?

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, used the opportunity to talk about the gender stereotypes that are holding women back in the workplace.  According to Sandberg, the more successful men get the more they are liked and the more successful women become the less they are liked.  It seems that people don’t like to see women outside of their stereotypical role of wife/mother and assuming the supposedly masculine traits needed to succeed in the cut throat world of business. So unladylike!

I’m very much with Sandberg in grimacing at this unfortunate by-product of centuries of gender stereotyping. However, in the interest of openness at work (and perhaps with a misguided nod towards the ‘normalisation’ of working parents), she went on to suggest that employers should be allowed to ask their employees whether they want to have children. On this point I have to disagree with her. That’s right, one of the most personal questions you can ask someone and the answer could be scribbled down on your employment record. Perhaps the employer will also tell you openly how many doors will be shut in your face depending on the answer you give. I’m all for a climate of openness and flexibility in the working environment to help parents but I question whether Sandberg’s suggestion would genuinely benefit both parties.

Differences aside, Sandberg did use a prominent stage to champion equality for women in the workplace and for that I salute her. But here I put on my weary face. We’ve heard this a million times before from women – or, more specifically, mothers – in top jobs. These are women who have made it to the top with immense effort but – and here’s the rub – they are also women who are exceptional in some way. Exceptional can mean a whole range of things:  they have voracious ambition (oops – I almost said like men), they have ninja business brains, they have made enormous sacrifices in their family life, they can afford dawn to dusk childcare, their partners have been the stay at home parent, etc, etc.  The list could go on. What I am trying to say is that women who make it to the top of their career bring something extraordinary to the table that (dare I say) ‘ordinary’ women (like me) don’t or can’t.  I would hazard a guess that whatever their unique quality is, it has the power to override any unfair treatment they might receive on their way up the ladder. (To be fair, the same applies to men. Not every man has, as this debate would sometimes lead us to believe, the innate ability to be a CEO just because they have different genitalia.)

Top business jobs do require an exceptionally talented candidate and when you get to such a narrow stratum of the business population is it really such a surprise that you don’t find representatives from every walk of life? Is there debate around discrimination against the unexceptional people in society? Those who are great assets to a business but cannot work until 2am in the morning? The people who say “I want to have a brilliant career and a brilliant family life in equal measure”? Perhaps we should be focussing on letting women get on with their careers and creating their own definition of success so that a woman running a multi-million pound company isn’t constantly marked out as the sole example of success in a man’s world. The women I would love to hear from are the ones who are happy, content and successful in their jobs and who have achieved a work-life balance. There are plenty of stories of women flying high because they’ve sacrificed something from their personal life or are so hard-wired to business that they started turning a profit selling tampons in the school toilets aged 11. I want to hear more from women who have achieved the Holy Grail of a perfect work-life balance – if such a thing indeed exists. That I would find inspirational.

Sexing up women’s sport: is this really the 21st century?

13 Oct

Sometimes women can be their own worst enemy. Take former England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent’s views on how to encourage women into sport in the article Sexing up key to boosting profile of women’s sport which appeared on the BBC website earlier this month. After reading this article I had to check the date – not only to check that it wasn’t April 1st but also to see whether we’d mysteriously travelled back several decades in time.

Ms Rainford-Brent summarises her stance thus: “You want women to be attracted to the sport, but sex sells”. Note the almost apologetic addition of the word ‘but’ as if to make it alright to say “You want women to be equal, but we’ve got tits and bums you know”. She goes on:

“Some of the biggest barriers for young girls playing sport is the image and being sweaty or a bit masculine, so if you can make the sport more attractive for females to play then you will attract more girls in.”

I can imagine that’s an enormous barrier. Women are infamous for not wanting to break into a sweat. The birth rate plummeted when women realised it was near impossible to give birth without a slight dampness of the brow. How Sweaty Betty stays in business I don’t know, such is the image it gives of hairy women in gyms, armpits dripping, whilst around them men recoil in disgust at the sight of such a depraved betrayal of femininity.

According to this dubious ambassador for women’s rights, “women’s tennis … [attracts] female crowds because the players look feminine, but they are very sporty.” Really? They can look feminine AND be sporty? I’m grateful here for Ms R-B’s instruction as I had always assumed the two were mutually exclusive. Whatever next? Women can have blonde hair AND be clever? Women can have kids AND a successful career? I know this last one is extreme and every cell in your body rejects it but just imagine …

So why does Ms R-B think cricket is a shining example of what women can achieve?

“Women’s cricket also has a good advantage in that we have very feminine looking and good players, but when we started playing we wore the England men’s kit which was very baggy and heavy and didn’t look great.”

When they painted their nails pink they beat India. When they were first sponsored by Jimmy Choo they beat Australia, considered the best women’s cricket team in the world. But, by god, those heels were a b*gger when running up to bowl. Forget determination, physical strength and skill, clearly women can achieve anything with a little feminine tailoring. Make it pink and they can take on the world.

I’m not kept awake at night thinking about how more women should be getting into sport. As far as I can see, they’re already there. (I think there was something on the TV recently called the Olympics – I recall seeing at least a couple of women taking part and I believe that some even won medals. That said, we managed to detract from some very successful women by prefixing every mention of their name with the phrase “London 2012 poster girl”.)

There’s no doubt that certain sports are dominated by men and that the women in those sports struggle to be taken seriously by sponsors and the media, but is turning every women’s sport into beach volleyball really the way forward? Surely equality is about minimising and not accentuating differences. Women are as physically and mentally determined as men and as motivated by success and money. And if they break a fingernail in the process then I doubt you’ll find many sportswomen at the touch line with a tear-streaked face touching up their mascara.

London to Paris for 56DD return

13 Sep

It’s good to know we’re in the 21st century. An era where we’ve learnt to be respectful of individuals, what they are and who they want to be. Where exploitation is not tolerated and men and women stand shoulder to shoulder – equal. Isn’t that right Eurostar? I see you nodding. THEN WHAT’S WITH THE BOOBS IN YOUR LATEST AD CAMPAIGN?

(Apologies all for the poor quality of the photo. It was taken on a train – me, a sole woman in a carriage full of men, trying to take a photo of some woman’s breasts without anyone noticing. People have been thrown off trains for such offences.)

Eurostar have recently launched a campaign (I admit, a cleverish one) which, as their press release states, “From cricket to the Little Black Dress, … highlights things that are considered to be iconically British but which actually originated in France or Belgium.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that the advert featured here therefore suggests that breasts originated in France. In fact, the reference point is the bra but, let’s be honest, who noticed the bra with those fellas vying for your attention?

And so in the 21st century where on one hand we’re worrying about why there aren’t more women in top jobs, on the other we’re still using near-naked babes to sell products. I should change that to read near-naked boobs, after all the woman around them clearly isn’t all that important. We don’t see her head (what’s the point, there’s probably nothing in it anyway) or the rest of her body (so we’ll never know if she’s actually carrying a briefcase and is simply in the process of getting dressed for her job as CEO of a FTSE 100 company, snapped accidentally by her stay-at-home-dad husband who is getting ready for the school run).

Ah, the humble breast. There are few topics that can excite such debate. Should we keep them in? Should we get them out? (Perhaps keep one in and one out at all times to cover any social situation. This should give you plenty of time to assess the tone of the room and be half ready either way.) If women get them out to breastfeed in public they run the risk of upsetting the bloke on the next table even though they’re doing the most natural thing in the world (what breasts were made for). That same bloke will turn back to his table in disgust, flip open his newspaper at page 3 and ogle the bums and tits unashamedly.

As a society (cue broad sweeping statement), we’re obsessed with boobs as sexual beasts. Arguably, this can be empowering for women. I tell you what though, if the only way I can truly feel and be powerful is by being objectified into one huge boob then I’d rather my chest was as flat as a pancake. I don’t imagine that Hilary Devey’s current television series Women at the Top is going to conclude that women bring something different to the boardroom and that that something different is simply their breasts.

Mayer have a career please?

24 Jul

Mums get it in the neck. Sometimes they just can’t win. Debate is raging around Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, and her assertion that she’ll only be taking a few weeks of maternity leave and plans to pretty much work through it. Naive? Yes. (A newborn is bloody hard work.) But with lots of cash to throw at the situation? Well, yes, maybe it is possible to resume your career the day the baby and mother are booted out of the private hospital followed by a gaggle of muslin-clutching nannies ready to mop up every posset. Three cheers for the woman with a successful career! Hooray for the woman who’s having a baby! But a woman trying to have a career and a baby at the same time? Boo hiss!

Marissa Mayer is an amazing example of what a woman can achieve in business. What? Even wearing heels and lipstick? Well, yes. Patronising as it may sound to mark her out as something extraordinary, that – unfortunately – is the world we live in. Women at Ms Mayer’s level are still an exception rather than a rule. It’s still odd. It is even more odd – as the debate around her comments would suggest – that a woman could choose to have a baby and choose to continue her career at the expense of the precious time that not being at work allows a mother and her child.

Yet if you’ve already made sacrifices and worked flipping hard why would you want to give up any elements of what you’ve achieved? You’re still a mother regardless. Your child still needs you and in amongst the conference calls and PDA tapping you’ll make sure you meet that need. Many women don’t get the chance to spend a long maternity leave with their child and for reasons very different to Marissa Mayer’s. She may not need to go back to work for the money but plenty of women do and need to do so quick smartish – a sad reality, like it or not, of a world driven by filthy lucre.

A woman shouldn’t have to choose a career over parenthood (or vice versa). The midwife doesn’t send you out of the hospital with a placard saying “I’m a Mother and I aspire to nothing but burping my baby”.  Equally, if/when you do return to work you don’t wear a badge saying “Opting out – I’m just here for nappy money”. But  in a society where women are still the primary carers for children, making sacrifices (intentionally or otherwise) is inevitable. Even when you attempt to strike a work/life balance it can, speaking from experience, feel like you’re failing at both. Should you be able to have your cake and eat it? Of course, but for most ordinary women it isn’t possible to be Superwoman – and let’s face it Marissa Mayer isn’t ‘ordinary’.

Marissa Mayer would probably love to take a year off if she knew for sure that things wouldn’t move on without her and set back her achievements. Bringing up a child alongside the pressures of her career will be another achievement that she can be proud of. To me she doesn’t sound like a woman who would do things by halves.

Wanted: new knickers

26 Nov

I received a tweet today from the lovely Mammasaurus asking where the nelly I’ve been and whether I’ve lost my ‘mojo’. I feel like my bra strap has been twanged. Rightly so – my blog has been sadly neglected for a couple of months. At the moment I don’t even feel entitled to call myself a ‘blogger’. I’m more like a ‘blogged’. As for my mojo, well I’ve had a peek and I think it’s still there (unfortunately only in the blogging sense). I’ve felt a couple of twinges anyhow.

Trouble is, I’m a lazy little blogger. I sit and wait for inspiration for strike. This approach is probably quite effective unless, like me, you’re so knackered that inspiration would have to knock several times with a sledgehammer before any brain cells flickered into life. Much of my inspiration comes from people I know or have met and, when I wasn’t on maternity leave, office life. The problem is, this has enormous potential to offend. There’s been many a time when I’ve been itching to put fingers to keyboard but concluded that the likelihood of offence far outweighed the amusement value. I live in a small city where seven degrees of separation is six degrees too many – I rarely speak without checking over my shoulder and certainly never venture an opinion on someone as more often than not it will turn out I’m talking to their closest friend.

Looking back at topics that have inspired me in the past, I could blame the below for my silence (although somewhere in there should be demanding children and Twitter addiction):

  • I’ve accepted that the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 is an insufferable mix of high and low brow, I can’t do anything about it and I’m tired of ranting about it (lest I should turn into the type of ranty person who calls into his show – god forbid).
  • I’ve accepted that keeping pink and princesses out of my 3-year-old’s life is a losing battle. Bring on the sparkles, I can handle it.
  • The weather’s turned cold and women have stopped getting their boobies out in the name of women’s rights. Shame.

Is my blogger’s block therefore because I’m too accepting? Perhaps I need to go back to what I do best – getting my knickers in a twist. And if I want to go from ‘blogged’ to ‘blogger’ then I’d better find a big pair.

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