Friday, 16 November 2012
Tuesday, 9 October 2012
This afternoon I attended a
Conservative Party Conference Fringe Event. Now I’m not into party politics.
I’d far rather research issues myself and come to my own non-partisan
conclusion than be told what I should think by a bunch of total strangers, thank-you
very much! (That and I’m part of the generation of young voters still suffering
from a total loss of political idealism after the fallout from the last general
But, for those benefit of those who
have never attended any party conference fringe events, many have that lovely
attribute of being about political issues without necessarily being about
particular political parties. The event I attended today was of just that ilk,
it was entitled: The Politeia Women in the Boardroom: Good for Recovery, Good
This event took place in a packed out
little room in the Novotel hotel and it was genuinely good to see, not just
lots of women there, but a fair few men too. The panel was lacking in neither
experience nor status and featured some fantastic, and successful, guest
speakers. The main focus of the discussion was essentially: women on boards –
there aren’t enough, is this really a problem and what should the solutions be?
With a particular emphasis on whether quotas are a good idea or not.
Personally, I’ve always been a bit
suspicious about quotas. I think they are a trifle patronising (a sort of ‘well
you wouldn’t have got here based on your own merit but you’ve done very very
well for a woman sooo you’re promoted!’), build tensions between those who
qualify for quotas and those who don’t (‘she’s only here because she’s a woman’)
and don’t address underlying issues preventing women from aspiring to reach
these positions in the first place. So I can honestly tell you it was a mighty relief
to hear a panel full of actually successful women (and a man) largely sharing
these views. Here’s a brief summary of who said what:
Helen Grant MP: Helen Grant, Minister
for Women and Equalities felt a top down approach like a quotas is
inappropriate but that boardroom culture certainly needs to change. She quoted
an encounter with a member of an all-male board who said of the situation ‘It’s
brilliant, we all think alike, discussions are brief and we usually come to the
same conclusion’. This is precisely why we need more women and increased
diversity – it’s all about getting a variety of perspectives in order to ensure
the best possible practice, put forward innovative suggestions and spot flaws
in the collective plan.
Sarah Sands, Editor of the London Evening Standard: Sarah was also
against quotas, she felt it was a business culture issue that was putting women
off and more needs to be done to address that, not artificially adding women in
at the top. She also pointed out that the rhetoric surrounding quotas was all
focused on boards – she questioned why this was and why not on women running
businesses themselves? (Note: with Marjorie Scardino stepping down from
publisher Pearson there are now only three female CEOs of FTSE top 100
companies). She used a lovely simile to describe the situation of the tough
women currently running businesses: they are like Polar bears, strong and
slightly terrifying but in rapid danger of extinction – we need to protect
their environment and help them survive and multiply or we’ll miss them when
they are gone.
Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton
Investment Management and Founder of the 30% Club: The 30% Club was founded
with belief that a non-commercial organisation was needed to co-ordinate
activities and drive a concerted effort by the business community to balance
their boards. Helena stated that we need business lead solutions, not quotas.
If businesses don’t take ownership of the idea it is doomed to fail. She cited
the 1000s of pages of rules and regs regarding banking and how all that didn’t
stop the economic crisis – if businesses don’t both want and fully embrace
these balanced boards they won’t stick.
Stephen Haddrill, CEO of Financial
Reporting Council: Stephen was the only male voice on today’s panel. He too was
not overwhelmingly in favour of quotas but he did stand by their potential to
provide positive role models. What he did propose, however, was a system
whereby companies have to report the composition of their board, plans for improving
the balance and steps they are going to take to get there on a regular basis.
Helen Brand OBE, Chief Executive of
ACCA: ACCA were the funders of the afternoon’s event and Helen Brand was
exceptionally well versed on the statistics regarding women on boards. She referred
to the Cranfield report which has revealed some interesting things,
firstly that most women on boards have a background, and qualifications in,
finance, whereas this simply isn’t the case for men (suggesting another
potential barrier to advancement for women). She also, whilst against quotas in
theory, pointed out Norway has a 40% female quota for their boards and it seems
Marina Yannakoudakis, MEP: Marina cited
a very interesting debate going on in European Parliament at present. Someone
has leaked a proposal for the EU to create legislation that forces quotas for
female non-executive board members on businesses. Some are in favour, some
against. She (rightly in my opinion) is highly against this measure because: 1)
the EU has no right to impose such a thing in the first place, it’s up to
resident countries and the businesses within them to resolve this issue 2) each
country within the EU has its own unique business culture and using a universal
set of quotas for the whole thing would be like using a very very blunt instrument
in a very delicate operation and 3) why focus non-executive directors? You
know, the kind of director that is essentially there to discuss issues but aren’t
the real power in the debate, what does that say about how the EU views the
role of women in business? Instead she favours more support for women as they
make their journey up through the career pipeline, ensuring that the promising
young graduates of today have the support to make it to being the CEOs and
executives of the future. She particularly mooted the power of mentoring.
Harriett Baldwin MP : Harriett brought
her experience from being on the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee
to the table. She too citied the need to support women much nearer the
beginning of their career journey. She referred to measures already beginning
to be put in place – e.g. the move to universal credit aiming to avoid the
catch 22 situation many working class women find themselves in whereby they
would like to work over 16 hours a week and advance in their career but it isn’t
financially beneficial to do so. She also stated her support for the idea of
forcing companies to give employees the option of splitting maternity-paternity
leave in order to balance out the perceived risk of hiring a young woman over a
young man, especially in smaller companies.
So after the speeches were made we moved on to a question and answer round. Most questions were interesting and on the topics outlined above. However we were soon given a swift reminder why, far from being quite obviously common sense to all, these issues still need debating. The first question was from a fellow from the Campaign for Merit in Business (in the interest of impartiality you may view his blog here:http://c4mb.wordpress.com/ …I assume you don’t need me to elaborate to gather what my views on this are...)
His question was ‘where is the evidence that women are good for boards?
Because I have some here that I will hand out at the end which shows that women
are bad for businesses and bad for boards’. The panellists dealt surprisingly
well with this odd comment, doubly odd because many of them had, in fact, been
citing studies during their presentations. Helena Morrissey swiftly responded
with citing no less than six reports but, rather graciously in the context I
thought, freely stated that, actually whatever your hypothesis, causality is
notoriously difficult to prove – are these boards featuring higher numbers of
women performing well because there are women on the boards or are there women
on the boards because the companies in question are more progressive and
innovative? It’s near impossible to tell, but they certainly seem to be doing
In summary this afternoon’s event was pretty great really. It got me
thinking about issues I hadn’t considered, such as the current debate in
European Parliament and just whose responsibility it is to make sure boards are
more balanced, and got me wondering about my own future and where I see myself ending
up. It’s also made me regret that this is probably the only fringe event I’m
going to be able to attend this conference, tomorrow being the last day it’s in
town. So for future reference then readers, whatever your political leanings,
next time there’s a conference in town pick a few topics you’re interested in
and go see what you can find out. I can’t comment on all fringe events but this
one was definitely fun.
Saturday, 1 September 2012
A worrying trend is gripping the nation - lone men making inappropriate comments to young women is now so popular it could be it's own Olympic sport.
So far this month when walking home/to work/around town on my own in broad daylight I've had the following comments hissed at me by various lone men aged over 30 with personal space issues:
'oh yes darling'
'I'd like some of that'
'smile for me beautiful' (to anyone who doesn't see the issue with this I would like to remind you that women in no way exist purely to look atheistically pleasing to some random BO scented creep)
And a man making a kissing noise.
I'm not a stunner, I dress modestly and my 'tits' far from being 'cracking' struggle to fit a b-cup.
Now this isn't a new thing, the leery perv is a fairly common figure in most cultures, but there are quite a few things giving cause for concern with this behaviour:
1) I look very young. I might be 22 but I have (far too regularly) been informed that I look like I'm in my mid teens. When dressed in my casual clothes these guys probably think they are making these comments to a teenager.
2) These guys are getting a private kick out of making these comments. These aren't groups of lads showing off to each other (not that that's anymore acceptable) - they are on their own - there must be some weird personal gain going on.
3) No man in his right frame of mind could seriously think that making sexualised comments to a stranger could be taken as a compliment. Especially when said stranger is almost a foot shorter than them, clearly lacking upper body strength and walking alone. It's the kind of behaviour that makes me want to employ a 7ft tall body builder to return the 'favour' and follow some lone perv up the street he lives on complementing his arse. Something tells me they wouldn't like it very much.
Whatever this sleazy repulsiveness is about, it's not about charming women. In fact the only conclusion I can come to is that it is some desperate omega male attempt at asserting dominance over women. They must like making girls afraid of being followed home and enjoy the look of mingled fear and revulsion they inspire. There may be some that genuinely are so thick they mistake utter disgust for fathomless desire but, unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that really this sort of behaviour just gives them a good old shot of superiority.
In short, this sort of behaviour should be unacceptable in a country that ostensibly believes in gender equality. Women being frequnetly being treated like objects in the street by total strangers does not sound like a happy clappy equal society to me.
To put a male perspective on this, this weekend I was having one of my regular 'but objectification of and discrimination against women ARE still issues in the UK' conversations with my unconvinced boyfriend. Then, after on each successive occasion we went out TOGETHER I received comments from lads/beeps from vans, he said 'what the hell?! Do you get that a lot?' I answered 'Well I'm a young woman. So yes'. His response? 'that's horrible, I can't believe there's still that many men like that'. Unfortunately, there are a heck of a lot.
And for those who will probably say 'well the way girls dress nowadays they're basically asking for it' 1) bullshit, 2) today I was wearing a large cardigan, thick tights and glasses while carrying heavy shopping bags, how alluring.
So in summary, please dear god if you are one of, or are friends with any of, these men who behave in this way set the record straight: it is in no way shape or form ok to talk to women like this. Stop it now. Seriously.
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Friday, 6 July 2012
|Potential Conservative Candidate|
|Potential Conservative Candidate|
Yvonne Mosquito, Labour Party Deputy
|Bob Jones, Labour Party PCC Candidate|