Christina Patterson: Ladies, we can't leave all the money, decisions and clout to the boys

 

Share

"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, 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, in a world where it's rarer than a rhino, a woman.

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" this week, "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. She didn't suggest that if you were only going to have a chance to peek at them when they were asleep, it might be better to stick to one. She talked instead about things like "multi-dependency" models that might make your business "great".

The woman with the beautifully blow-dried hair was American. So was the woman who talked about "attrition", and so was one who talked about the importance of being "plural", which apparently meant sitting on lots of different boards. If you want to be a successful businesswoman in London, 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 some very 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. Oh, dear, quotas. A word to make even the hearts of the "uniquely advantaged" half of the population sink. But then, so do the figures. Women, said Deborah Mattinson, who was presenting some new research, make up 7.8 per cent of board places across the FTSE 250. They make up 2 per cent of executive directors of FTSE 350 companies, which is the kind of figure that might boost your sales if what you made was "multi-dependency" models of the noose. Half of the population, according to the research, thinks that businesses should "do more to get more women into senior positions", but only a few think the answer is quotas. People under the age of 24 don't, apparently, give a monkey's either way. Perhaps they think that if you want to be in business, all you need to do is audition for Dragon's Den.

Would quotas work? They have in Norway, but then everything in Scandinavia seems to work. People in Scandinavia follow the speed limit (as anyone who's been stuck behind them knows) even when they're deep in a forest. If they're told to get more women on boards, they do.

Sure, 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. We need more women who don't think, as one woman said at the conference on Thursday, a woman who happened to inspire one of the main characters in Absolutely Fabulous, that they "don't want to be on a board" because they "want to be creative". We need more women who understand how money works.

Women are being pummelled by the financial crisis. As a result of this week'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 roost, in banks, and hedge funds, and FTSE 100 companies, that's because women have let them.

Many women seem quite happy to leave the big decisions that affect our lives, and our world, to men. Like the union leaders who have spoken out this week, they seem to want the world to stay the same. 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 one of his former advisers and the co-author of a new report on "why enterprise must be at the heart of Labour politics in the 21st century", "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 leave those very, very, very high heels at home.

The wit and wisdom of Grayson Perry

I've always thought, I'm afraid, that Grayson Perry's little-girl-in-a-party-frock alter ego was a bit silly, and assumed that his work was, too. Having been to his exhibition at the British Museum, I know now that I was wrong. As a boy, Perry thought that the ancient Egyptian model boats in the museum's collection were "disappointing". As an adult, he has assembled some of his favourite objects, and stuck them next to objects he has made. The result is witty, touching and sometimes frighteningly astute. His "head of a fallen giant", for example, which he made to represent Englishness, is, he says, "the skull of a decaying maritime superpower". Not quite the words used in this week's report from the Office for Budget Responsibility, but that, I think, was the gist.

Opera singers should keep their pants on

On my rare trips to the opera, I'm not always absolutely sure what's going on, but I'm usually happy to sacrifice plot clarity for some nice frocks and arias. But on Thursday, at ENO's Castor and Pollux, the cloud of unknowing turned into something more like a fog. In addition to two characters who seemed to take it in turns to be buried, and two women who sometimes turned up in little-girl dresses like Grayson Perry's Claire, there were a lot of people wandering round in Y-fronts. At one point, they practically stuck their naked penises in the audience's face. I have no idea why. The music was beautifully played and sung, but the shenanigans on stage made me ache with embarrassment for the cast. No one minds a bit of poetic licence, but you'd have thought you'd draw the line at a pile of pants.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk / www.twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Production / Manufacturing Operative

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading garage door manufacturer are curr...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software / Solution Sales

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a thri...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the Labour leadership election hasn’t yet got to grips with why the party lost

John Rentoul
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific