Nigel Farage: what's really happening in the City?
The Ukip leader's views about working women are hopelessly out of date, says Margareta Pagano.
Margareta Pagano is a former business editor of the Independent on Sunday who now writes columns and business interviews for a range of publications, including the Independent, Independent on Sunday and London Evening Standard.
Wednesday 22 January 2014
Oh, Mr Farage, what a silly man you are. Just when you are doing so well in the opinion polls with male voters, you've gone and blown it with the women. Your careless comments that women taking time off to have children are "worth less" to their employers in the City than men are simply ridiculous.
What's more, the Ukip leader's suggestion that woman can be just as successful as men, but only if they are childless or prepared to sacrifice their family at the altar of their jobs, is wrong. More pertinently, Farage's views are hopelessly out of date – by about 20 years or so – and you can tell that the former broker hasn't worked in the City for a long time.
Carol Leonard, the head of Inzito Partnership, one of London's leading search firms, says Farage doesn't know what he is talking about. "The City today doesn't discriminate against women with young children in the way he suggests," Leonard says. "There are many remarkable women with remarkable jobs in the City and most of them have had one, two or three breaks during their career. But when they take maternity leave, many of them stay in touch with their employers and clients if necessary through email or mobile. As we know, women are brilliant at multi-tasking."
And most financial firms and investment banks want to keep women when they take their maternity leave because it's better for the companies. As Leonard, who hires men and women for some of the City's top banks, says, all the statistics show that having a healthier working environment, with a good balance of men, women and other diversities, is better for business and for profits. Most companies are willing to sacrifice the short-term inconvenience of having women on maternity for the longer-term benefit, she says: "After all, most maternity leave is only a long sabbatical."
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There's another big shift that is changing the City working landscape, and it's coming from the men. Today's "new age" man is much more likely to want and to take paternity leave; there are many single fathers who have to juggle jobs and family; and, perhaps most significantly, a new generation of young men in their thirties have been brought up by working mothers and like what they experienced. They want their own girlfriends and future wives to have good jobs and not to experience the prejudice that their mothers may have had. Now that they are in positions of power, they are doing what they can to make life better for families at work.
Another trend gathering steam over the past few years is the way that so many senior businessmen have thrown themselves into improving the lot of women. Much of the recent impetus to get more women into boardrooms and the executive pipeline has come from business leaders such as Sir Roger Carr, the founding chairman of the 30% Club and Lord Davies, the ex-head of Standard Chartered, who carried out the Government's report into getting at least 25 per cent of board directors to be women. It's not just serendipity that they have bright and ambitious daughters in their twenties and thirties and want to see them treated fairly.
There's still masses to be done to make working life easier for men and women: more work crèches, tax relief for nannies and childcare would be top of my list. If Farage were cute, he would be finding out from potential male and female voters what they would like, too, instead of lecturing them.
The days when women on the stock-exchange floor used to be nicknamed Ann Boleyn or Sweaty Betty – the former because she was so ugly that you had to imagine her without a head and the latter because she wore so much perfume – are long gone. Farage needs to grow up.
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