Sunday, 2 June 2013

It's not women who need to change, it's the world.

It wasn't an enormously exciting news day today.

The front page of the Observer featured Maria Miller (you know, the women's minister and culture secretary - she replaced Jeremy (ahem) Hunt in the latter job, as it happens, so she's got a lot to live up to), who is, we are told, planning to send information packs to parents of daughters to encourage said daughters to become captains of industry, entrepreneurs and chief executives of FTSE100 companies (possibly not all at the same time).

She says, does Ms Miller:
"Making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy.  Encouraging women to fulfil their potential... ".
What does that mean?  How do you measure someone's potential anyway?  And are you really only fulfilling it if you do so in a way that contributes to the economic benefit of the country?

Because that's what this is all about.  She says so.   A report from the Women's Business Council says that equalising the numbers of women and men in the workplace (which means increasing the women) could increase economic growth by 10% of GDP by 2030.

So to do this, we need more women working, and that means more women at the top, because Ms Miller also believes that the lack of women at the top of whatever industry is a deterrent to other women entering at the bottom.

I don't disagree with that, although I happen to have more faith in women - I think we have sufficient imagination to be able to see something as a possibility (a female chief executive, for instance) whether it exists already or not - but I think Ms Miller, and indeed the report is missing something else.

I don't think women need to change.  I don't think they need to become more thrusting, more driven, more ambitious, more like men, if you will.

I suspect, though maybe it's just me and I'm making the ego-centric mistake of assuming I'm not alone, that lots of women (and probably some men too) look at the magnates and bigwigs held up for our aspiration and think:  "Eh? They want me to do what?  Well actually, no.  He (or indeed she) doesn't look that happy, despite the yacht".

I am (or was) ambitious.  I have probably excessive pride in myself and my abilities.  I have great difficulty doing anything if I don't think I'm doing it well or successfully (one of the reasons I haven't been blogging so much recently).  My parents gave me a genuine belief that I could do or be anything I wanted.

Despite all that I don't have, and have never had, any desire whatsoever to work 23 hours a day, never to see my family and friends, never to have any free time or always to have a blackberry surgically attached to my hand, all for the pleasure of a (very) large pay cheque and the prestige of running Europe's largest manufacturer of widgets, chemicals or financial derivatives.  I don't look at Sheryl Sandberg asking me to Lean In, with her high-profile job and full-time nannies and think "I want that".

I am a child of the late 20th Century and I want, and have been taught to want, other, more nebulous things.  Things which my grandparents wouldn't have dreamed of demanding:  happiness, self-confidence and the ability and space to express who I am.

And I think many people of both genders look at the demands made on top-level executives, and the greater demands made on those who aspire to being top-level executives, and turn away.  If you can earn a comfortable living half-way up the career ladder, and still have time to do the other things you enjoy, why continue the agonising push for the top?  What is there at the top apart from a view?

The world has changed.  We want different things, but we are still going about it in the same way.  We want freedom to express who we are and time to do the things we enjoy, yet we still expect the people who are most successful in their line of work to do it to the exclusion of everything else.

To get Maria Miller's (and my) dream of equality in the workplace, we don't need to change women, we need to change workplace culture.  We need to make it possible to succeed and to contribute economically, for both genders, without being omni-present, without giving up the other parts of your life.  We need to change attitudes to part-time working, so that both genders can do it with pride, and still rise through the ranks of whatever job they do.  We need to be (and we need our bosses to be) like the entrepreneur Martin Bjergegaard,  whose book I haven't read yet, but who seems to understand that we are all most successful, most dedicated, when we are enjoying ourselves, both at work and outside it, and that being at the top of one thing in your life need not necessarily mean that everything else has to fall to the bottom.

I don't think Maria Miller gets that though, however much she contributes to the country.  I wonder if she's happy.


  1. If I have understood correctly, it appears that she is assuming that it's women's fault they are not successful. That we just need to try harder, set our goals higher. I agree that workplace culture needs to change, but I simply can't see that happening. I'm so glad to be out of the rat race.

    1. I think it will, but I think it will because men will get fed up too. I look at friends of both genders being constantly being asked to give more for less and I think that eventually something will snap.

      I hope, anyway.

  2. Replies
    1. No really, actually, you don't. Think how limiting it would be - you'd have to spend all your holidays on it - and the expense of running it, and you'd probably get seasick.

      Poor yacht owners. It must be awful for them.

  3. But I'm just in a funny mood this morning.

  4. Absolutely right, and at the heart of my current internal debate...

    Also, thank you for acknowledging JH and his funny name, I made a flippant comment on his appointment about how handy it was to have a Health Sec who came ready with his own rhyming slang and then had to explain...

  5. The reason I left the first law firm I worked for was because they sent round a leaflet showing supposedly aspirational women. I didn't want any of their lives - one was divorced, two were single and worked 100 hour weeks on a regular basis and the fourth got her trainee to organise her children's birthday parties (actually, that's not such a bad idea....).
    I've come to the conclusion that feminism is about having the opportunity to say that I don't necessarily want the same life as a 'successful' man. I want to bring up my children with my values and do work that I find interesting and fulfilling, not necessarily full time and not necessarily work that would be considered aspirational by Ms Millar.
    Btw, please keep blogging, Ms PlanB - I love reading your posts and if you stopped I'd just have to keep reading the old ones until I knew them by heart which would be a bit sad.

    1. Where do I get me a trainee these days?

      I think feminism is about saying: I want to be who I want to be and I don't want to be limited by anyone else's expectations of what a woman should be.

      That and stopping FGM and having paid maternity leave and all sorts of other massively important things that we're lucky to have, obviously...

  6. Was Living Down Under3 June 2013 at 16:19

    You're spot on Plan B. Until governments and organizations realise that women don't necessarily want what they're offering, it's not going to change. We don't want to play the game the way it's being played. We need new rules, new choices. And it's not just us either, men are increasingly wanting it too.

    And please don't stop blogging. You're actually a terrific writer and I've really enjoyed reading all your posts (I went back and read from the beginning and actually discovered a comment I'd made on one of your posts way back when you were thinking about going for a fourth. It was weird running into myself on the internet... :)

    1. Ooh! How lovely to have you back (as it were) and welcome (again)

      I think you're right about men too - see above. I just want that critical mass to arrive so that something happens.

      And don't worry (and thanks for the compliment). Am feeling re-energised about blogging at the moment so will keep going for the time being.

  7. As usual I find this whole 'we need to help women do X so they can be just like men' thing a bit tired. And patronising. I could do it if I wanted to. I don't want to. And organisations don't want me to, in case I remember I have kids and suddenly develop a conscience about them and become 'difficult to employ' (exact words from a recent head hunter conversation). There's a reason there's a female brain drain at the top of these organisations and until that's fixed you won't get 'role models' because anyone with half a brain (the women) have buggered off. I would suggest that most female politicians on Question Time are a fair example of this being a problem in politics too.

    1. Well quite. Don't forget you have kids though - my lot would miss them.

  8. I love to read about your experiences! You write beautifully about this. changeparts !!! I have enjoyed reading your articles. They are very well written. It looks like you spend a large amount of time and effort in writing the blog. I am appreciating your effort.


I know. I'm sorry. I hate these word recognition, are you a robot, guff things too, but having just got rid of a large number of ungrammatical and poorly spelt adverts for all sorts of things I don't want, and especially don't want on my blog, I'm hoping that this will mean that only lovely people, of the actually a person variety, will comment.

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