Tag Archives: Current affairs

Why women? A few suggestions

17 Oct

Yes – still here,  still blogging and prompted to do so again by noting that there’s a link to the Gender Blog on my new employer’s intranet – so hello, new colleagues from the Women Professionals Portal!

Here I am in my new hard hat,  as handed out during induction on Day One a couple of weeks ago.

My next post will be about what I’ve been up to in recent months but here in the interim is a useful reminder,  courtesy of Forbes Women, as to the value women bring to leadership positions.

List compiled by Magus Consulting.

• “…. Companies with three or more women in senior management functions score more highly on average (on nine dimensions of company excellence). It is notable that performance increases significantly once a certain critical mass is attained, namely, at least three women on management committees for an average membership of 10 people. “ (Women Matter, McKinsey 2007)

• “Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors.” (Catalyst, October 2007)

• “A selected group of companies with a high representation of diverse board seats (especially gender diversity) exceeded the average returns of the Dow Jones and NASDAQ Indices over a 5 year period.” (Virtcom Consulting)

• “An extensive 19-year study of 215 Fortune 500 firms shows a strong correlation between a strong record of promoting women into the executive suite and high profitability. Three measures of profitability were used to demonstrate that the 25 Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting women to high positions are between 18 and 69 percent more profitable than the median Fortune 500 firms in their industries.” (European Project on Equal Pay and summarized by researcher Dr. Roy Adler in Miller McCune).

Women and the 1911 census

28 Mar

If you’re in the UK,  did you fill in your census form this weekend?  I did,  and it made me think … about how much my life has changed in the last 10 years (I got married,  moved to my current house, have done all sorts of things in work terms) and also about what stories my house could tell if it could talk.

It was built in 1909 (here’s a rather wonky photo of the street from an old book of the era)  and so the house would have been quite “new” at the time of the 1911 census.  I wonder who lived here then and what they did for a living? How many people lived in this house and how did they keep warm? What did they wear, what did they eat?

Of course,  assuming that there were female residents,  one thing they couldn’t then do (or, indeed do for between the next seven and seventeen years) was to vote,  given that women were then denied that right and the UK was in the grip of the suffrage movement. My friend Rachel shared a link to this fascinating article from The Times,  published back in the glory days of 2009 when access was free,  which details how some 1911 women used the census forms to make a protest, as part of a coordinated boycott over their continuing lack of the right to vote.

“The documents show how women refused to fill in their names and left comments in the margins. One suffragette taking part in the boycott arranged by the Women’s Freedom League wrote: “If I am intelligent enough to fill in this paper, I am intelligent enough to put a cross on a voting paper.”

“Another glued a poster over the form stating: “No votes for women, no census.” A piece of paper stuck to the form suggests that the women stayed away from households where the census was taken to attend a protest in Trafalgar Square.”

As I often do when considering history, progress and change, this has made me reflect upon the privileged era in which we live. How lucky we are today that we can use the 2011 census form as just that – a tool to capture socio-economic data about the world in which we live.

Desperate housewives?

14 Jan

I love (actually, maybe “love” is too strong – OK, I’m “interested in”) the way that Mad Men’s Betty Draper is now being used by picture editors as visual shorthand to illustrate articles referring to, variously, housewives, stay at home mums and ladies who lunch.

(Similarly, photos of Joan now inevitably accompany an article about “curvy figures”.)

Dr. Catherine Hakim’s recently published report – Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: The Flawed Thinking Behind Calls for Further Equality – which concludes that mainstream feminist thinking is defective and that the UK government should stop trying to promote it (there’s an accurate, if somewhat right wing summary of her arguments here in this Daily Telegraph article) and that women tend to marry for money rather than love – has caused a rash of newspaper reports, published from London to Sydney and (probably) all points between – and the two highlighted here both feature lovely photos of the former Mrs Draper, as does a recent article along similar lines in Grazia.

Tanya Gold’s piece in the Guardian:  

“Inequality between the sexes is not a big deal any more, a new study tells us. That is only true if you are happy for women to have less than men …”

does at least make some fleeting Mad Men reference to the assumptions in the report, commenting that perhaps Dr Hakim’s work is:

“ … based on a weird, Mad Men themed dream she had on Boxing Day …”

Female writers across the world have decided that actually, it’s OK to want to marry for money, to not have your own career or income and to stay at home, surrounded by items from Cath Kidston and Emma Bridgwater (ironically, two women who manage to be married and have their own eponymous businesses). And of course, yes, it is fine, I suppose. But this lifestyle framework is surely only OK if there’s someone to fund it – and what happens if that someone isn’t there anymore – either through death, divorce, a change in their own or their employer’s financial circumstances?

(This rather gloomy article from 2008 suggests a potential increase in divorce due to the credit crunch, with:

“… about 80 percent of those surveyed believe that the turmoil — and lower bonus payments — will prompt more women to seek a divorce before their husbands’ wealth evaporates further.” )

Obviously, nobody goes into marriage or life as a stay at home mum thinking “one day we’ll split up or he’ll lose all his money in some huge, unprecedented global melt down and then what will happen to me?”.

But as this cautionary tale, Regrets of a stay-at- home Mom, recently published on salon.com shows, it can happen:

“Fourteen years ago, I “opted out” to focus on my family. Now I’m broke.”

(For more on the wildly radical idea that “a man is not a financial plan”, check out The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up too Much?  by Leslie Bennets on the Recommended reading tab above).

* * * * *

In other news … the flyer I designed for Educators’ Trust India has now been printed up and is ready for use – if you’d like to see what they’re giving out to tourists in Goa in order to raise awareness of the issues of child poverty and of the need for literacy programmes, you can take a look and download a copy from my freelance writing site, Collaborative Lines.

Is Julia Gillard heading for the Glass Cliff?

20 Aug

(c) BBC

Tomorrow sees a general election in Australia, and the two main parties are currently neck and neck at the polls.

Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, is facing a fight to the finish with conservative coalition leader Tony Abbott.  Ms Gillard became Prime Minister in June after ousting her predecessor, Kevin Rudd.

But reports say that she faces a backlash at the ballot box over a range of issues,  including the way she replaced Mr Rudd as head of the Labor party and her policy directions on climate change and immigration.

If the Labor party,  currently just ahead in the polls at 52%,  does lose the election,  what will this mean for Gillard’s career? Will she be left to carry the can and blamed for the loss?  Or will there be an appreciation for the political status quo that she inherited so recently, at a time when the Labor Party’s popularity was sliding in the opinion polls?

Apparently, say the BBC, Kevin Rudd “surrendered without a fight” after realising that his support amongst government colleagues had collapsed.

That sounds like a poison chalice of a job to me – in fact,  it sounds like the roles described by researchers at the University of Exeter in their paper a few years ago as the “glass cliff”,  in which they suggest that senior women are:

“… more likely than men to find themselves in positions associated with a high risk of failure and are correspondingly precarious. … A female candidate is overwhelmingly favoured if the opening is described as difficult and involving a high risk of failure.”

The paper,  entitled “The Glass Cliff: Evidence That Women Are Over-Represented in Precarious Leadership Positions”, summarises the glass cliff position as follows:

  • While men are given safer and more secure jobs, women at all levels often feel that they have been “set up to fail”;
  • Such leadership roles can lead to increased stress for women leaders, and can contribute to larger numbers of women departing senior management positions;
  • Glass cliffs may also have repercussions for organisations, leading to poor communication and decision making

The research,  conducted in 2005 and updated in 2007, was conducted across a range of sectors which included business,  the law and, crucially here, politics. Significantly,  Julia Gillard was not handed the role of Labor Party leader/first female Prime Minister,  but actively sought it out – so in that regard,  the concept of being appointed to  a doomed, risky role does not apply to her.

However,  should her party lose at tomorrow’s election,  the blame will undoubtedly be laid at her door and you don’t have to be psychic to predict that there’ll be a media firestorm suggesting that the Aussie electorate didn’t vote for her due to her gender,  and/or because they didn’t want to have an elected (as opposed to an appointed) female Prime Minister.

Whilst,  as outlined here in this guest blog for Catalyst,  Australia does have a relatively high proportion of high profile, successful women in senior political roles,  the amount of media attention focussed on Gillard over the last two months has been intense and has been largely centred on her gender and personal life.

So, irrespective of whether she strode to the cliff edge herself or was parked there – I see that Australia’s first female Prime Minister is  poised on the edge of the glass cliff at the moment – and only the Australian electorate can keep her there or send her tumbling over the precipice.

However, on a lighter note,  just as we had Paul the Octopus making (ultimately) successful forecasts during the World Cup last month,  Australia now has psychic crocodile Dirty Harry making election predictions. Of course,  given that crocodiles are a bit more vicious and unpredictable in their behaviour than are our eight legged “friends”,  the selection protocol is a bit more feral:  this time,  Harry has to indicate the electoral winner by lunging for some raw chicken hanging below images of Gillard and Abbott.

Watch the video link here to see who he picks – and may the best crocodile win tomorrow.

World Cup fever …

12 Jun

I guess it’s my week for writing about contraception.

Following on from my earlier blog about the Pill,  I was amused to receive a press release from none other than Britain’s major (something like £1 of every £8 spent in the shops of the UK is spent here) supermarket chain, Tesco.

They have leapt onto the World Cup bandwagon with alacrity and are urging us to “Lie Back and Think of England” with this cut price condom offer, “Won Sixty-Six”,  which they “hope will be a winner”.

Oh yes.  And there’s more:

“The excitement won’t stop after England finish their matches so we’re doing our bit to help it go through the night.

We chose the £1.66 price [for a pack of condoms] because we want to restore England supporters’ pride and help them to remember it is possible to go all the way, as we did when we won the World Cup back in 66.”

OK, then!

Moving on from contraception,  but still on the football theme (isn’t everything this week?),  the admirable pinkstinks campaign team have come up with an alternative take on the usual WAGS (“Wives and Girlfriends”) acronym with this alternative and amusing WAGS logo, available on t-shirts and tote bags.

Check out their fund-raising shop here.

Women of Britain: please vote!

6 May

Rocking the vote in Florida, 2004

Whatever you do,  wherever you are today,  please go and vote; a hundred years ago,  you wouldn’t have had the option.

A hundred years ago,  women died, were imprisoned, starved themselves in prison, so that we, their future daughters,  would have the right to go to a polling station and exercise our vote alongside our husbands, fathers and brothers. 

Voting,  particularly for women,  is not only a right,  it is a hard-won privilege. 

If you think that “politics doesn’t apply to me”,  as I have been told so many times by so many women – then think about all the things in your world, in your life,  which do apply to you:  the environment, education, hospitals, employment, medical care, crime.  By voting today,  you are  using your voice to make a conscious choice about how your country is run and by whom.

Please – make time to vote today, whether it’s because you want to have a say in how UK plc is governed for the next five years or in memory of the brave suffragette fighters who suffered so terribly so that we would have the rights which they were denied. 

Here’s an extract from the 1909 diary of suffragette Laura Ainsworth,  in which she describes being force-fed:

“They hold your arms and legs … You have a towel wrapped around you. One doctor kneels at the back of your right shoulder and forces your head back.  He forces your mouth and the other doctor pushes the tube down your mouth about 18 inches. You have a great tickling sensation, then a choking feeling and then you feel quite stunned.”

(For more on these brave women and the debt owed to them by 21st century women,  check out “The Ascent of Woman: a History of the Suffragette Movement” by Melanie Phillips).

Spring is springing …

2 May

…. and the Gender Blog is back up and functioning,  after a brief April hiatus, which saw me spending ten days in France, having a multitude of interviews for all manner of global diversity jobs (at last! Finally! Is this proof that the economy is on the move,  if companies are once again prepared to invest in senior level diversity roles? I think so) and agreeing to undertake some gender balance writing work for leading Australian company Emberin.

(Emberin founder and CEO Maureen Frank,  the woman I have previously described as “so charismatic she could found her own cult”,  has just published an updated version of her bestselling book “You Go Girlfriend” and has sent me some review copies – so I’ll be reading and reviewing it later this month and offering up a couple of copies to anyone who … OK,  I need to think about that.  But anyway.  Free books,  imminently).

Whilst in France,  I spent a week at this magical place,  the Circle of Misse, on a fiction writing “boot camp” course. Although I’ve been blogging and writing non-fiction for years,  the last time I wrote a “story” was at school and so the disciplines and techniques of writing fiction were a complete mystery to me.  But I came back from Goa a few months ago with a story and a host of characters who just wouldn’t go away – what was I to do with them,  how could I bring them alive on the page?  Just as I was wrestling with this,  I received an email flyer offering a 10% discount on the Circle of Misse “Get Writing!” course and,  before I knew it,  I’d signed up and committed myself to sending through a sample of 3000 words of fiction to the tutor ahead of the course start date.

(c) Circle of Misse, with grateful thanks

In the context of A Room of One’s Own – I discovered that maybe I can write,  a bit. The course, hosts and setting were fabulous; Aaron and Wayne run writing, painting and cookery courses at their beautiful house in the Loire valley and I whole heartedly recommend the Circle of Misse experience for anyone interested in those disciplines who wants to perhaps do what I did – take a kernel of an idea and run with it – and see where you end up.  In my case,  I arrived with a concept,  a few characters and my 3000 words,  and left with closer to 20,000 words,  a fully formed plot and a far greater understanding of the techniques of novel writing.

(I think I’m still rubbish at writing dialogue,  but at least I now know that and can focus on improving those skills.)

Of course,  whilst I was away,  we had VolcanoGate and yes,  I got caught up in it – although it did mean that I still haven’t flown Ryanair,  which perhaps isn’t so bad after all. In common with thousands of other people,  I was stranded in France when my flight back from Tours was cancelled and so we (me and N, the guy from my course) had a highly improvised journey home consisting of a five hour car journey to Le Havre, courtesy of the C of M team, a NINE hour ferry crossing and a two hour drive back to London. And,  although the ferry crossing was e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y slow and it was frustrating to have that “so close but yet so far” feeling,  from a writer’s point of view, it was a fascinating experience. 

Subsequently,  I described the boat as a ship of stories, because I heard so many tales of life on the road from people squashed onto the upper deck with me.  The ferry was absolutely heaving with a vast cross-section of travellers,  who had quite literally ended up there from all over the world.  I chatted to one family of four (this was on a Sunday evening) who had left Florida the previous Wednesday, expecting to fly Orlando to Gatwick, change there and fly home to Edinburgh. Five days later, they had flown Orlando to Detroit (?), Detroit to Amsterdam, caught a train from Amsterdam to Brussels,  another train to Paris and then hired a taxi to get them to Le Havre. After we disembarked the ferry,  they were collecting a hire car in Portsmouth and then driving through the night to get back to Scotland.  They hadn’t seen their cases since Florida,  they had only what they were wearing or carrying as hand luggage and Mum reckoned that this “adventure” had cost them in the region of £2000 – more if you add on the fact that their dog had had to stay in kennels for a further 6 days! 

I also met a very dishevelled Irish man in a suit,  who’d flown to Frankfurt the previous Tuesday for a 48 hour trip (he sold sandpaper … but I expect that that was the least of his worries) and who had hitchhiked, trained and bussed his way across Europe to Le Havre; from Portsmouth,  he was catching a cross-country train to the Welsh coast from where he would catch another ferry back to Ireland. So I guess that N and I got off very lightly,  all things considered,  although I am still c. £200 out of pocket and will doubtless remain so unless and until Ryanair cough up a refund for my cancelled flight.

Apart from getting news updates from TLS on volcano and travel related issues,  I was in a complete news avoidance bubble whilst I was in France and I’m still catching up.  It’s a mere four days to the UK’s keenly anticipated General Election and,  in some ways,  nothing much has changed:  the debate is still between three main parties,  led by three white guys,  who all still use the sound bite of “hard working families” (yes, Lib Dems,  even you) at every opportunity.

The Labour Party’s campaign has been challenged by one woman, namely Mrs Duffy from Rochdale – and the current shape of the media is indicated by two things: Mrs Duffy has her own PR rep and the Tories are streaming their anti-Brown Twitter feed onto a moving billboard on London’s A40 (westbound,  just before Hanger Lane,  if you should happen to be stuck in traffic there this week).

And mentioning Twitter …. check out the hilarious #nickcleggsfault hashtag on there … he’s responsible for everything, apparently, according to the right wing press,  including having been spotted poking an Icelandic volcano with a stick in early April.

Busy guy.

Meanwhile,  the Fawcett Society’s What About Women? campaign has been doing a sterling job of keeping women’s issues and concerns front and centre,  even if the all-too-frequent references (not by Fawcett) to this election as the “Mumsnet Election” serves to enrage those of us who aren’t mothers and,  as pointed out in this extremely tart and on-point Guardian column … “reinforce gender stereotypes”  by making women’s concerns focussed on childcare …or Sarah Brown’s footwear.

The Gender Blog  is now streaming to a newly established website, Missive, which has been set up to bring together women who write about politics.  The two founders, Caroline and Sarah,  aim to make it a way for women who write about politics to reach a wider audience.  If you can think of any female bloggers who ought to be on there – please let me know via the Comments function below.


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