Katherine Butler: Women! Do everything and then learn how to shoot clay pigeons


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The Independent Online

Are you a woman aged between 15 and 51? Are you ambitious but discouraged by the failure of talented women like you to be promoted to senior positions in top companies? Are you in possession of a Hermès scarf?

If the answer to that last question was "No, I wouldn't be seen dead in a Hermès scarf", then you may want to question your determination to succeed. Because, apparently, this is an essential prop if you're ever to become a corporate ballbreaker in this country, let alone head the IMF. Other tips? Take up clay-pigeon shooting, gatecrash the Davos World Economic Forum, and, while you're at it, volunteer with a charity so that you can hob-nob with influential people as you fund-raise. Oh, and if at all possible consider hiring a driver.

A shameless 89 per cent of FTSE 350 companies still have no women executive directors at all, and it'll be at least another century before there is anything like boardroom parity, at the rate we're going. This is where your new Hermès purchase comes in. The scarf and shooting advice is contained in a new book, published in the week that Vince Cable tackles the "closed shop" culture of male-dominated boardrooms, as part of his initiative on excessive executive pay. Author Mrs Moneypenny – real name Heather McGregor, a businesswoman who presents C4's Superscrimpers – isn't waiting around for Vince to make a fuss; she wants women to tackle where they themselves are going wrong.

Her Careers Advice for Ambitious Women is not all regressively about professional blowdries (although hair matters, apparently) or carrying a spare pair of tights in your bag. It's also about sensibly saying No, and realising that while you are being ultra-diligent, your less experienced male colleague may be getting ahead by cc-ing the boss and strategically boasting about his own brilliance.

Every woman should be spending at least 5 per cent of her time on her own PR, Mrs Moneypenny claims.This is not, she insists, so much about attending networking events as seeking out "sponsors", or building a "third dimension" into your life, so that when you find you're sitting next to the CEO of Google on a flight, you have something interesting to talk about.

Most women I know are already excellent networkers: it starts in the playground. Where they probably have qualms is about seeming mercenary by asking a contact or connection to "sponsor" their ascent up the greasy pole or using charity work to burnish their public image.

And it seems unfair that women must absorb all the changes required to equalise corporate power. If Mrs Moneypenny is right, we must gain a top-flight education, then bore ourselves senseless taking extra accountancy qualifications to prove we are not a financial liability, and learn to shoot clay pigeons. Only then will we have the confidence to schmooze the people who matter. Are male executives ever sent on courses to learn how unconscious bias works?

Mrs Moneypenny would argue that we have to deal with the world, not some future theoretical nirvana. That certainly isn't coming any time soon, if Lord Oakeshott is correct. He told the FT yesterday that British business still picks its bosses from an "incestuous male gene pool". Maybe get your driver to run you to the Hermès store.

The power of canine intuition

Uggie the wonder dog from the French movie The Artist has achieved Hollywood glory and charmed the critics with his extraordinary scene-stealing. I am not in the least surprised. I accompanied a Jack Russell to the vet's the other day. Ellie, my mother's, is a big dog trapped in a small dog's body; scrappy and pugilistic when she encounters another canine. But she put on a convincing performance in the waiting room. A big rangy rescue dog "highly volatile" his carer kept warning the receptionist, was ahead of us. There was a whimpering labrador and a scared cat in a shoe box who'd been run over by a car.

Mayhem seemed inevitable But the Jack Russell imparted a kind of calm, and all the animals fell silent, like a truce in a UN green zone. Did she somehow communicate that they were all united by one aim: getting out of there alive? Or maybe the other dogs just hoped she might know where to catch a screening of Uggie.