Brain food: Speaking out - Margaret Jay - Leader of the House of Lords and Minister for Women

Brain food: Speaking out - Margaret Jay - Leader of the House of Lords and Minister for Women - Take 70 women and a handful of men. Put them under the Institute of Public Policy Research umbrella, ask Polly Toynbee, Margaret Jay and Mary Francis to speak

by KHALID AZIZ
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Take 70 women and a handful of men. Put them under the Institute of Public Policy Research umbrella, ask Polly Toynbee, Margaret Jay and Mary Francis to speak and you have a recipe for motherhood and apple pie. The subject was 'Women and Financial Independence'. First up was Baroness Jay, scourge of the hereditary peers - though she is a kind of hereditary life peer herself, given her father is Lord (Jim) Callaghan.

What a surprise. Here was another crafted speech in the academic tradition: start with the background, build up with the premise behind the argument before, having sent your audience to sleep, coming out with the fact.

In this case that motherhood, contrary to popular belief, doesn't hold women back in their careers - being female is the limiting factor. According to Lady Jay, the cost to a woman of being a mother in, say a secretarial job, is pounds 140,000 over a working lifetime. The cost of being female in terms of unequal pay is a further pounds 240,000. Motherhood isn't the problem; being a woman is.

Interesting though this is, many had switched off by this point. Why? Firstly, Jay's delivery was relentless, a technique clearly honed to stop some crusty old peer interrupting in the Lords, and secondly her cliched 20-minute talk: the talents of people should be 'liberated and exploited'; there should be 'collaboration with partners'; women are a 'key asset'. And on it went. If only she'd slowed down. Baroness Jay is clearly intelligent and could be a far better, more persuasive speaker.

Key moment: The revelation that in the next 10 years there will be 1.7 million new jobs, 1.3 million of which will go to women.

Key lesson: If your speech has been written for you, edit it to cut out verbiage and cliches.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth?

e-mail: khalida@azizcorp.com.

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