Choosing between childcare and… well, not leaving the house.

I read an excellent article on LinkedIn today, I’m afraid the original text is not in English, but here’s the translation from the LinkedIn post:

Professor Sydney Engelberg, was unfazed when the child of a mother at his lecture on organizational behavior began to cry. The embarrassed mom tried to leave the class, but instead, the father-of-four and grandfather-of-five scooped the kid up and soothed him in his arms – without missing a beat in the lesson. He allows the mothers that attend his masters’ lectures to bring their children and even breastfeed. No mother should have to choose between a child and an education!

And a link to the original blog (not English)

The comments on this, were almost all incredibly positive, praising the professor for his empathy.  It seemed such a clear but brilliant idea to me – a real win for everybody, as a noisy child didn’t interrupt the lecture (hardly ideal for anyone attending) but this woman wasn’t excluded either.

I wouldn’t normally blog about childcare, because not having children, I feel rather under-qualified to have an opinion.  But, I am a woman in the workplace.  I see talented women leaving, or taking jobs significantly below their abilities, in order to get a better fit with the rigours of child care.   I hear “jokes” often about “let’s hire a man this time – we’ve enough people on maternity leave at the moment” (ha ha – always funny, because if it wasn’t a joke it would be illegal).

But this one struck me, because also this week, I saw this article by Caroline Criado-Perez in New Statesman about how a more radical approach to closing the gender pay gap is required – citing factors such as part time work which are often directly linked to child care.  My one criticism of this article is that it doesn’t go on to say what the more radical approach required is.  How can we measure, monitor and then enforce something with so many variables?

Childcare was also something I noticed a lot while in Cambodia recently.  Women were working everywhere with their children – whether that was babies in papooses or children working and playing nearby, in fields, in markets, in local industries.  In the National Parks, frequently the female rangers were accompanied by their children of pre-school age – and why not?  The ranger is there to support tourists and protect the Park, and why can’t they do this with their children nearby?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offering poverty as a great solution.  There are health and safety and education issues.  But perhaps there are some ideas to be taken here.

Maybe the answer is that we’re over-complicating this issue.  Perhaps the simple answer is the best.  Perhaps less division between “work” and “private” lives is the answer?  Perhaps moving away from the idea that children should be invisible in our work lives.  That career progression shouldn’t be dependent on invisible children – on a “who can best pretend they aren’t a parent” competition. This has previously been dismissed as a very middle class solution – it’s easy for those blackberry-wielding professionals to arrange their schedules how they wish.  But maybe it could work in so many more ways?


Sexism, clothes and judging women

There was an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour today.  It was a challenging interview, which touched on the racism that was faced by Batmanghelidjh, which is good.  But they didn’t touch on the sexism that she faced, which I think was an important factor.

This idea that she “mesmerised” people stinks of old fashioned “witch” accusations.  Surely if she’d been a man, she’d have been talked of as charismatic?

The interview touched on her clothes, and the influences from Iran, and the racism that she faced, but didn’t talk about her appearance, and whether a woman receiving “so much tax payer money” was part of the problem.

A man’s appearance can be commented on – I’m thinking here particularly about Boris Johnson – but somehow it’s not seen as indicative of whether he can actually perform his job.  Their clothes are seen as an affectation, a vanity, an eccentricity.  A reflection if personality perhaps, but not as reflective of their abilities.  Whereas I’ve heard more than once that “one look at her and you could tell she shouldn’t have been managing multi-million pound budgets” in reference to Batmanghelidjh.

This is bothering me particularly this week, as I shop for a couple of new outfits to start my new job (I do acknowledge the privilege inherent in this dilemma, but that’s something for another post).  One dress in particular, is awesome.  It’s black with flashes of bright orange, the skirt will be comfortably below the knee even when I’m sitting, the straps are wide enough to cover my whole shoulder and won’t show bra-straps.  So far, so professional.  And I love it.  But boy, it shows a whole lot of cleavage.  If I get impassioned and lean across a table, you could see straight down my top.  So I have this nagging feeling “is this how I want to be seen”?.  Which is driving me crazy.  I know how I’m seen in my profession – I’m capable, well known, full of good ideas.  One dress shouldn’t have any impact on my decade-plus in the sector.  And yet, I’m still having this persistent thought that people won’t see or hear me if I wear this dress, they won’t see anything but cleavage.

And while sexism is still alive and well, this issue is important.  The fact that the more senior people are, the more likely they are to be men influences this.  I know that the majority of people I come in to contact with will see an awesome dress.  But what about those people that know me less well?  Is this the first impression I want to leave them with?  Will they hear what I say, or will they just be thinking that I think my boobs are the most important thing?

For now, I’m going to fall back on asking my Mum about this dress.  I can count on her to give an honest opinion on whether the dress works, or whether the first thing that she sees is my cleavage.  But I wish we lived in a world where this wasn’t such a big deal.  Where our clothes are noticed – maybe even commented on – but not seen as a reflection of our ability.  A man’s world.


Goodbye, and thanks

I know that a lot of people I respect cheering goodbye to Thatcher. I know that for those on the left, the damage inflicted was unforgivable  And I know that Thatcher was not a feminist icon – rather than taking the chance to lead the way, she chose instead to argue that women were rubbish, but she was exceptional.

But my life, and my feminism have been hugely affected and inspired by Thatcher, and I’m grateful for that.

I was born just two weeks after Thatcher was elected. I lived my entire childhood with a female Prime Minister. I realised at 11 and a half that my world was going to change. That we were going to have a man as Prime Minister. I remember so clearly, writing in my diary a rationale about all the ways I thought a man as Prime Minister was a really bad idea.

Thatcher was an inspiration. I grew up with a strong belief that I could do anything, be anything. I knew that my Mum had had to make sacrifices to have a family.  But I could do anything – look at Thatcher. I know the reality was different. That actually Thatcher had received the keys to the executive bathroom, but was not only closing the door behind her, she was nailing it shut. But as a child, she represented possibility. A woman on the world stage – as important as Reagan and Gorbachev.

Since then, women have fallen out of sight in British politics. As a child, I looked up to Thatcher – the Iron Lady, the one with the Poll Tax, and Edwina Curry, the one with the eggs. And now for female politicians (if the papers are to be believed) we have the one with the shoes and the one with the cleavage.

How could I have been anything but inspired by the women leading our country, being taken seriously as politicians, being claimed as a product of the finest Universities.

I know that I have some seriously rose-tinted spectacles on here. I know that actually, if I’d been just a little bit older, I would probably have been joining in the cheers at her downfall. But just for now, for me, personally, I want to tip my hat.

To a woman that inspired me, that taught me that I really could do anything, become anything. That there wasn’t an opportunity beyond my reach. That I could not be held back by my gender.

Thank you Mrs Thatcher.

Female commentators, boys clubs and quotas

It’s not news that women are hugely under-represented when it comes to news commentary, professional panels and conferences – anything where expertise is valued. The excuse so commonly given is that the organisers just don’t know any women who are experts in x,y or z.  Which is why I am so thrilled to hear about @theWomensRoomUK, who are setting up a database to ensure that the media can always find a female expert.  Getting rid of the easiest excuse – that they just can’t find a woman – ensures that at the very least, organisers are left with just two options: to come out and admit to their misogyny, or to admit their complete lack of knowledge of their subject.

Which is exactly what happened to the organisers of a fundraising summit recently.  Fundraising has a good track record, with many incredible women achieving great things, and heading up well-known organisations.  So when challenged about why organisers couldn’t find women to speak at their summit, Giles Pegram stated it was because women weren’t the “thinkers” in Fundraising.  Which shows a brilliant lack of knowledge about the fundraising sector, along with a healthy dose of misogyny.  Is it any surprise that the event had to be cancelled – or did Mr Pegram really think that female fundraising directors would take a break from their tea-making-duties to come along to listen to what the men thought of their profession?

I have a feeling that the reaction will be written off as “hysterical” women and a problem with social media rather than fundraising.  But I do hope it gives pause to the next organisers of a conference.  Not “believing” in quotas is an easy thing to say when you’re represented.  It’s not so easy when you’re on the outside.  It can be very hard to know when you’re part of a club.  You may think of yourself as an outgoing and approachable person.  But if this cancellation can encourage organisers to look around at their panels, perhaps they will start to see that they are looking at the same faces over and over again.   Maybe when they realise this, they will look for a practical and simple solution – such as that offered by @theWomensRoomUK.

So I’m singing the praises of The Women’s Room in two different ways.  Removing the easy excuse, which will hopefully prevent laziness.  And making it easy for those that want to challenge a boys club to find a way to do it.  What a brilliant idea.

Diversity or best for the job?

This week, Marketing Week had me bashing my head on my desk over this article – an inconvenient brand truth.

They took a survey which shows that having diverse boards will improve business performance, then looked at Super-Brand Apple with only white middle-class men on the board, and leapt to a whole bunch of stupid conclusions.
Here are the two reasons they are stupid.

One – an anecdote isn’t evidence. Just because Apple is doing well with an un-diverse board doesn’t mean diverse boards don’t work.  It’s not like they took two Steve Jobs,  gave one a company with a diverse board, and one a company with a board that looked just like him, and studied the results.  You cannot use one anecdote to refute a survey.

And Two – diversity isn’t something you do because “women bring different skills”. You do it because that way you get the best.  The whine-y comments underneath that it’s not fair on white middle-class men as the poor scraps can’t get a job any more only underlined this. Once you force boards to look for more diverse candidates, they suddenly realise that actually, people who don’t look like them can be even better candidates than those that do.

Diversity doesn’t penalise white men. Diversity creates a level playing feel, and then, what a surprise, it’s not always white men that come out top.

I’m not refuting the article’s conclusion that Apple is an exceptional brand, that has always operated in an exceptional way.  But why is this prompted by a survey about equality?  This article could have focussed on innovation, doing things differently, standing out from the crowd.  By choosing to focus on equality and diversity, the author reduced himself to simply being a white, middle class man moaning “what about teh menz” and completely missing his own point.  Poor journalism, based on the idea that a cave-man rally cry will get extra headlines.  Why couldn’t the article on equality have prompted Marketing Week to look at itself and the industry more widely?  Maybe start introducing a diversity audit for it’s own panel discussions and events?  Or have a think about why all their columnists are white middle class men?

This is the inconvenient truth – that pedalling and celebrating old stereotypes isn’t what drives anything forward.

Keeping women in the kitchen hardly helps us reach the boardroom

So Cameron’s latest bright idea to help women is to give tax breaks for hiring domestic servants as this will free up lots of time to help women reach the boardroom.

Let’s set aside for now, the fairness agenda – giving tax breaks to people who can afford to hire domestic servants.  I’ll leave that for other bloggers to comment on.

I’m not quite ready to set aside the fact that this only helps wealthy women, at the expense of poorer women.  Because really – does Cameron think that this time around, domestic servants will be male?
That poorer women can take some domestic responsibility from wealthier women, is hardly going to remove the assumption that domestic work is women’s work.
Hiding women in domestic situations, is hardly helping the feminist cause.

And this is the bit that is really filling me with rage: Cameron’s base assumption that domestic work is women’s work – and so help with domestic work will help women.

The problem with the glass ceiling isn’t that I don’t have time to smash it as I’m too busy at home cleaning my oven.
The problem is that men assume I’m not as committed to business as men, because I’m more interested in getting home to clean my oven.
So telling society that oven-cleaning is women’s work, but the lovely government will help me with that is hardly the best way to solve the problem that women are seen as responsible for domsticity.

Here’s a news flash Cameron – women aren’t responsible for the running of the household.  It is this message that women ARE primarily domestically motivated that causes problems for us in the workplace.

I welcome the news that you have acknowledged that a lack of women in the boardroom is a problem.  But reinforcing our domestic role is hardly the way to help.

Emphasise our abilities, emphasise the fact that excluding 50% of the population from boardrooms isn’t helpful, emphasise the fact that an old boy’s club run the boardrooms, and they keep recruiting people that look just like them.

Don’t emphasise the fact that really, women should be in the kitchen

Ooh look, women think they can do business

As of today, ‘Mumpreneur’ has officially made it into the Collins dictionary.  It’s always been a word that makes me really angry, but actually adding it to the dictionary, giving it the official “this is an acceptable word to use” has made me really rage today.

We don’t have seperate words for men in business depending on whether they have children or not.  Most of the time we don’t know if they have children or not, and interviews certainly aren’t based around how they manage to juggle business and a family life.  It’s just not that important compared to their business skills.

And yet, women can’t just be in business.  They can’t actually be entrepeneurs.  Instead, we get this horrible and cutesy ‘Mumpreneur’.  Like they’re not really in business, and don’t take it too seriously.  This word actually finds a way to tie even the most brave and dedicated business women back to the kitchen sink.  Don’t be threatened guys, don’t worry, these women aren’t serious competition.  They’re just women playing at business to stop the childcare getting too boring.

But the bit that makes me really angry, is that words like this have been created by people who like to say “I’m not a feminist but…”.  It’s both excusing and justifying traditional gender stereotypes, while at the same time taking for granted all the things feminists have fought for over the last 100 years.  It’s a way of not taking women seriously, without actually coming out and saying that women shouldn’t be in the workplace. 

Except this is EXACTLY what this word suggests – women are mothers first, and entrepenurs second.   Mumpreneur isn’t a cutesy phrase that does no harm.  This is a word that is seriously undermining and undervaluing women’s position in the workplace.  And telling me it’s so well used and well understood that it should appear in the dictionary – well that makes me angry.