Belfast Telegraph

Ladies, we can't leave the money and clout to the boys

By Christina Patterson

You don't," said the woman with beautifully blow-dried hair, "win in life by playing by other people's rules." What you need to do, she said, is to use your "unique advantage".

Which, if you looked round the room, you might have thought was some very, very high heels. But apparently it wasn't.

Apparently, your unique advantage was the fact that you were "wired to think of the group" because you were a woman.

For example, you could, she said, help to deal with what a director of a big consulting firm called, on the same panel at a conference on The Gender Agenda "attrition" by encouraging women to talk about their strategies for growth.

Their strategies, that is, for growth of their families and how they might, for example, tell prospective employers that they were planning to have four children and still work 100 hours a week.

The woman with the beautifully blow-dried hair was American. So was the woman who talked about attrition. If you want to be a successful businesswoman, it looks as though it might help to cross the Atlantic first.

It might also help to be married to a successful man. "It hasn't escaped me that the real reason I've been asked to speak," said Miriam Gonzalez, who had bought high leopard-print heels for the occasion, "is because of my husband."

She talked about how women could get on. "I hate quotas," she said, with such passion that you could see why the deputy Prime Minister fell in love with her. But she was, she said, a "reluctant supporter" of them on a "temporary" basis.

Quotas. A word to make even the hearts of the uniquely advantaged half of the population sink. But then, so do the figures.

Women make up just 7.8% of board places across the FTSE 250. They make up just 2% of executive directors of FTSE 350 companies.

Half the population, according to recent research, thinks that businesses should "do more to get more women into senior positions", but only a few think the answer is quotas.

Yes, we need more women on boards, but what we really need is more women in business - and more women in business who stay the course.

Women are being pummelled by the financial crisis. As a result of the Chancellor's autumn statement, they're losing almost three times as much as men.

But that's because women are too dependent on the state. We haven't bothered to get the skills that might get us more money - and more clout.

If men have been allowed to rule the banks and hedge funds and FTSE 100 companies, that's because women have let them.

Many women seem happy to leave the big decisions that affect our lives, and our world, to men. Like union leaders, they seem to want the world to stay the same. But it won't.

Unless a miracle takes place and even if the euro doesn't collapse, the state is going to shrink. If women or union leaders want it not to, they'd better come up with a more practical answer than 'make the bankers pay'.

Even the man who says he wants to lead the country doesn't, according to the co-author of a new report, "understand business".

He's "not interested in it", the former adviser told a blogger this week. "He's too academic. We'd have business leaders coming in to meet him, but . . . they weren't impressed."

On this, if nothing else, and certainly not dress sense, I'm with the business leaders. If we want people to have jobs, we can't pretend that business doesn't matter.

We can't just leave it to the (often Right-wing) boys. Ladies of the Left (and also of the Right): it's time to wise up.

And maybe, just maybe, leave those very high heels at home.

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