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

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week