From typewriter to the top
Wednesday 18 June 1997
"I left school very young and had my first job at 16. I'm not at all sure that I was particularly pushy: I just felt very strongly that I had something to give, and I just wanted an opportunity to prove that."
This was the early 1960s, when it was difficult for women to move away from the secretarial slot. As Agran recalls, it was often a case of "Why not offer her a bit more money or a holiday, and maybe she'll shut up and toddle back to her typewriter."
"Things are improving now for women, but the men that we have dealt with and continue to deal with are, I'm afraid, very old-fashioned. They are constantly talking about the fact that minority groups must be represented, yet they never see that the lack of women at senior levels is also representative of a lack of understanding of the opportunities that should be created.
"One of the good things is that the majority of women I know who have made it, have made it by leaving the system and forming their own companies."
Her advice to today's young women seeking to advance their careers?
"Don't type letters, and don't make the coffee! Make it very clear where it is that you want to end up ... Find a woman within the organisation to befriend, and use them ... And don't sleep with any man. I think a lot of men still see the workplace as a kind of general pulling area."
Four O-levels and a Pitman's typing course got the 16-year-old Franks on to the staff of Petticoat magazine as a secretary. After a spell at Freeman's catalogues and failed attempts to break into journalism, Franks was asked by the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett to promote her new business: "I got an old car, an answering machine and worked out of my kitchen for four clients." Building on its success in the early Seventies, Lynne Franks PR became the PR outfit of the Eighties before its owner sold the firm in the early Nineties, moving on to sitcom notoriety and a life of self-discovery.
Her brief and distinctly unglamorous career as a chorus girl living in Soho over, young Betty put in her hours at the typewriter for the Road Haulage Association. Secretarial and research positions for the Labour Party in the Fifties followed, notably for Barbara Castle, leading to a two-year job as Legislative Assistant to a Republican Congressman in the US. Having contested her first by-election in 1957, Betty has been the member for West Bromwich since 1973 and Speaker of the House of Commons since 1992.
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