David Prosser: Success or failure is not about gender

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:04

Outlook: Harriet Harman can't seem to help herself. Having talked utter nonsense earlier this year about Sir Fred Goodwin and the court of public opinion, now she's returned to another favourite theme – how the credit crisis is all the fault of blokes.

The Deputy Prime Minister probably hasn't heard of Blythe Masters, the pioneering JP Morgan banker who invented collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), one of the financial weapons of mass destruction that prompted this crisis. She will know Nicola Horlick, however, caught out like so many others, chasing the impossible returns offered by Bernard Madoff's funds.

What's really irritating about Harman's glibness is that it gets in the way of dealing with a genuine issue. Where women have reached senior levels in the City, they've made the same mistakes as their male counterparts.

Women, like men, sometimes prove to be brilliant and sometimes they turn out to be incompetent or greedy. That, however, is not to say that the glass-ceiling has been shattered. Just 16 per cent of FTSE 100 companies have even a single female board member. The figure falls to 4 per cent if you look at the UK's 2,000 or so largest companies.

We should, of course, be aiming for big increases in these figures, but not because appointing women to senior jobs will mean they curb the behaviour of aggressive, risk-taking boys. No, women deserve a fair crack on their own merits and because that is natural justice.

The Deputy Prime Minister might also want to have a look at her own profession. The Cabinet is hardly an advertisement for equal opportunities, after all. Mind you, it does rather prove the point that some women who reach top jobs are, like some of their male colleagues, more up to the task than others.

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