Upfront and personal about women

by admin on June 27, 2007

in Innovation

A post entitled: Girls allowed: a fair deal for women in practice and business by Louise Druce caught my attention. I see comparatively few women putting their heads above the blog parapet in the professional services world so this post was especially interesting. Unfortunately, I believe Louise falls into the trap of creating the impression that the majority part of the problem starts and ends with male attitudes:

The reasons why women still struggle to reach the top are myriad, but there are entrenched attitudes among male executives that still play a large part.

Louise cites some truly cringeworthy examples and on a first reading it’s easy to say: ‘Yes you’re right.’ But to me, that evokes the culture of blame and that | utterly reject. Then she changes tack, asserting:

It is easy for ardent champions of the cause to cast men as the sole, moustache-twirling villains, locking women out of the ivory tower. However, evidence shows that many men know women are a valuable asset to the workplace. It’s the way company culture has developed into a working hours contest that is proving a bigger barrier to progression.

This is where Louise’s argument really falls apart. Her discussion of corporate culture does little more than reinforce her earlier assertion because in a male dominated profession, it is men who are defining culture – ergo – back to blaming men. Louise then does a canter through some research undertaken by Prof Elizabeth Gammie of Aberdeen University which emphasises the working week but doesn’t come out the other side with any clear message.

Needless to say, Louise’s post brought out a few MCPs and I wont dignify their thought by repeating them here except to say I find the reinforcing nonsense some men come out with is truly vomit inducing. Fortunately, Prue Stopford came to the rescue with observations based on many years’ experience:

I feel that many young women in accountancy today take an attitude towards their male colleagues which does not do them any favours. I now come across a type of businesswoman who is aggressive, dominating and determined to out-do “the men”. She is talented and has ability, but I would not want to employ her…But women need to be more relaxed in business, and to adopt an attitude which does not expect special favours simply because of gender. Top positions are earned by those who are truly suited to them, not just those who have the ability.

Hear hear. After I retired from practice, the firm appointed an exceptionally gifted woman as partner who had risen through the ranks by ability. She had earned her place at the partner’s table and richly deserved her position.

Then I saw Susan Scrupski’s A Year’s Summary of Personal Reflection and was particularly drawn to her discussion about gender issues in the blog world and the encouragement she drew from reading Tara Hunt’s post entitled: The insidious danger of danger. She makes a cogent and powerful response to the extreme end of misogyny:

The ACTUAL danger here is not the danger, itself, but the danger of silencing the myriad of voices through the threat of danger. And you know, I’m going to be the ballsy (dangerous) broad I am and continue to challenge every single person who even hints towards the theory that women are less safe than men online. Because, truly, I would rather die for my convictions than live in fear any day.

Susan adds:

That woman effected a change in my behavior. She touched my life and caused me to take a risk I might otherwise not have taken. Now, I don’t really know Tara. I’ve met her, but I wouldn’t say we’re friends, yet I admire her and thank her for impacting my life.

And I think that’s the real point. This is not about women banding together in the way implied by Louise but about learning from one another in exactly the same way that men self organise and learn. Fortunately we have the platforms with which to do that. So for example I regularly read the Deloitte Women’s Initiative. Last week’s installment, The New Normal: All in the family was particularly instructive because it helped identify structural issues in workplace practices impacting everyone. In particular, I enjoyed ‘Diane’s’ assessment that:

This topic will remain on the back burner of business until women in the work environment become a complete partner in business. That means women must move from the “poor me” class, looking for ways to change the system to accommodate their needs, to being in such demand that the workplace will change as a result of their accomplishments.

You might argue this piece is little different to Louise’s but that ignores the subtle nuances brought to the discussion. By taking an inclusive approach, Deloitte has made the argument infinitely more comprehensible. By adding perspective, Diane has clarified how the problem works in ways anyone can understand.

I agree there is a long way to go and there is no denying inequality in the workplace. Our job as men is surely to encourage and learn from the writings of people like Prue, Susan, Tara and Diane. Engage in their conversations. Then take action.

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David Terrar June 28, 2007 at 7:00 am

It's great that you highlight these issues, but there is so much to do to change some of the unconcious forces at work here. I attended Library House's Essential Web conference yesterday aimed at showcasing European innovation and startups. Of more than 50 presenters and panelists only 1 was a woman. Since part of the rationale for the show was pitching to the VC community, most startups put up a slide of their management team, and I can only recall 1 female name in over 15 company presentations. The actual audience probably reflected slightly above the norm for these kinds of event at around 15% women (by my guess). Very interested in hearing from women on what we should be doing in practice to change this.

Dennis Howlett June 28, 2007 at 12:49 pm

I could make a list but it would take all day and then some.

Dennis Howlett June 28, 2007 at 11:22 pm

No. Doesn't work. Ask how it's doing in South Africa (taking a different tack but the same idea around inequality)

David Terrar June 29, 2007 at 1:20 am

I guess what I was really asking was "is positive discrimination the only way of trying to redress the balancce" and is that acceptable?

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