EDITORIAL: Women still achieve against the odds

EDITORIAL: Women still achieve against the odds - There will, in theory, come a time when MT's focus on Britain's 50 Most Powerful Women will become superfluous. The article would then lose any gender references and simply become our unisex power list. Bu

by MATTHEW GWYTHER, editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There will, in theory, come a time when MT's focus on Britain's 50 Most Powerful Women will become superfluous. The article would then lose any gender references and simply become our unisex power list. But when might this be? Would it be when women in Britain occupy 50% of the power slots in the business firmament and run half the companies in the FTSE-100? Or, if this is unlikely ever to come to pass, would it be when women were able to take one of those positions if they wanted to and their gender was no longer the issue holding them back?

We are a long way short of both goals. I admit that when I saw that the number 29 position was occupied by Helen Weir, group finance director of Kingfisher - who has just gone off on maternity leave to have her third child - my first thought was: 'Outside contender for knocking Nicola Horlick off her Superwoman Having-It-All perch.' With eminent political correctness, Kingfisher even put a 'directorate announcement' out about Weir's coming confinement, saying they were 'pleased'.

But was that pleasure unalloyed? Any talented individual who is confined to the touchline for four months will be much missed by the team. And how pleased were the City analysts to read that Kingfisher, which has just announced a pounds 2 billion rights issue, is minus its chief number-cruncher till August? What Weir proves is that really talented women can now call the shots with their employers.

Women remain a cause of tension in the workplace (and you can take that whichever way you want). Despite a lot of discussion about work/life balance issues and how families can juggle children and work, we are still miles away from finding long-term answers. It's possible in one's more pessimistic moments to feel that the current fudge leaves us all worse off: men, women, businesses and, most importantly, children. For all its lip service to family-friendly policy, this Government has done little to ease the difficulties. Gordon Brown is a highly reluctant social engineer. Meanwhile, as the author of Baby Hunger (reviewed in this issue) notes, women's 'career highway as it's currently constructed has all kinds of off-ramps but very little in the way of on-ramps'.

Being male may no longer be quite the bowl of cherries it used to be, but I'm still glad I was born XY rather than XX. It has given me undeniable economic and personal advantages since birth, and I don't have to stay in religiously to watch Sex in the City. Those women who've made it onto our Top 50 list have done so against often very considerable odds. For that reason their achievement deserves applause, and for the same reason we'll certainly do another Powerful Women list in two years' time.

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