Editor-At-Large: Women have brains as well as babies, and they're going to waste

There is little more job equality than 30 years ago, and the number of female executives is declining. What went wrong?
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The Independent Online

As a schoolgirl, I was desperate to have a successful career. Young women today are riveted by Kerry Katona and Katie Price and the lavish rewards that surround their every move. They want fame, cash, kids and limited responsibility outside the home – and who can blame them?

There's a lack of female role models who don't have big breasts or telly shows as their main source of income. The Government talks of equality, but fails to put policies into reality. The big initiative for working women – maternity pay for nine months and the chance to take up to a year off work with a new baby – has had a detrimental effect on the number of females in executive jobs.

Discrimination against women who say that they plan to have a family might be subtle, but it exists in spades. When it comes to true equality in the workplace, depressingly little has changed since female-phobic Ted Heath was running things more than 30 years ago. At the current rate it's going to take 55 years for equality at the top of the legal profession and 73 years for there to be as many women as men on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.

A new report shows that, far from chipping away at the glass ceiling, and in spite of consistently doing better than boys academically, the number of women in top jobs is declining.

I don't buy the crap about women "choosing" to stay at home and bring up the kids – do you really think that wiping up baby sick and choosing what colour toilet rolls to buy is more rewarding than running a successful business? Only for some – most brainy women like power, just like men do. Just because they've got a womb doesn't mean they choose to amputate their career aspirations – and yet these figures prove that many women opt for second-rate jobs that don't stretch their capabilities because they can't face the struggle in a working environment run by macho men. Women are the single biggest resource this country fails to utilise. Why?

The answer lies at the heart of government itself. If you want the perfect example of an organisation run along antediluvian male lines, look at Parliament. Silly uniforms, meaningless committee meetings, pompous titles and a standard of debate reminiscent of Tom Brown's Schooldays.

In spite of feeble attempts to reform the hours the House sits, becoming an MP has about as much female appeal as snogging Lembit Opik: that is, zero. It will take 200 years to achieve equality in Parliament at this rate, and we rank 70th in the world. In the rest of Europe, it's so different – more than half the Spanish cabinet is female, as is a sizeable chunk of Berlusconi's in Italy – both societies that we regard as macho. President Sarkozy has appointed women to a whole raft of high-profile jobs – including the Justice Minister Rachida Dati. Ms Dati – the first Muslim woman in a cabinet job in France – refused to name the father of the child she is expecting last week. The Spanish Defence Minister managed to do her job while pregnant, not a situation likely to be repeated over here.

The irony is that the current economic woes – high fuel costs and food prices that have risen 10 per cent in the past year – are problems that smart women can solve standing on their heads. We run family budgets, we know how to scrimp and make cash go further. If half the Cabinet had been female, including our Chancellor of the Exchequer, I doubt the current recession would be turning into a catastrophe.

Redheads have more fun. I should know

I've always hated my natural hair colour – boring beige – swapping it for electric burgundy several decades ago. My trademark burgundy comes straight from a bottle and has an unfortunate tendency to turn common orange in bright sun – luckily that has not been a problem this summer.

Popular myth dictates that redheads are supposed to be stroppy, but my choice of hair colour has not done my telly career any harm. High profile redheads in the fickle world of fashion aren't too numerous – there's gorgeous Karen Elson, who this month was only the seventh to feature on the cover of British 'Vogue', and Lily Cole is another. Fellow supermodel Linda Evangelista has been an on-and-off redhead, and Marcia Cross remains a huge hit as all-controlling Bree in the new series of 'Desperate Housewives'.

My favourite redhead, who exhibits all the individuality and fearlessness of Queen Elizabeth I, the original Titian-haired power female, is Tilda Swinton. Vivienne Westwood's demented, dyed ginger locks aren't that regal but remain in keeping with her wayward image. 'Gingerfest', an exhibition celebrating redheads, has just opened in Wolverhampton, with the photographer David Rann talking of "victimisation". Utter bilge.

Hockey mom vs private mum

Whatever the pluses and minuses of the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin might be, can someone talk me through the morality of using your entire family as part of your pitch for the job of running a country?

The Palin family looked like the line-up for a new reality show after hockey mom's big speech last week. The unfortunately-named Bristol was grimly clutching the hand of the redneck who got her pregnant – what kind of message does that send out to young voters? And Sarah clutching her Downs Syndrome baby like a mascot just made my stomach turn.

Whatever Gordon Brown's shortcomings, I applaud the decision he and his wife Sarah have made to keep their two sons out of the bear-pit of modern politics.

DJs and booze are a lousy cocktail

Pompous former DJ Andy Kershaw whingeing about his self-styled year of hell (including a spell in jail for harassment) smacks of maudlin self-pity.

Fact – he was, and may still be, a man known for his love of drink who cheated on the mother of his two children. It's telling that his ex-wife is too dignified to tell her side of the story, putting the welfare and privacy of their kids first.

Meanwhile, the BBC denies that radio presenters such as Chris Moyles "celebrate" excessive boozing on air – in one exchange he urged chef Gordon Ramsay to drink more than he wanted. Recent government-funded research indicates that there's a worrying amount of chat about getting slaughtered on commercial stations and the BBC.

Looking at Chris Moyles, I'd say that overeating might be more of a problem. With several chins, he's hardly a role model for a healthy diet.

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