Editorial: Room for equality in the E-world

Editorial: Room for equality in the E-world - The speed and relentless impact of the technological revolution is brought home again as we present our list of the most powerful women in Britain. Three of their number who last year were not even on the list

by RUFUS OLINS
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The speed and relentless impact of the technological revolution is brought home again as we present our list of the most powerful women in Britain. Three of their number who last year were not even on the list of 50 are now among the top 20 - Martha Lane Fox (on cover), co-founder of lastminute.com, Patricia Hewitt, the Government's e-minister, and Julie Meyer of FirstTuesday.

After much deliberation and discussions with head-hunters, consultants and City figures, we made 10 new entries to the Power 50, and the decision to place these three so high in the rankings reflects not only the way the digital economy is shaping our lives but also how women are creating opportunities for themselves at the forefront of this revolution. They are role models for a new generation and a new economy.

Progress for women has also been made elsewhere, so competition for the places was even keener than last year. Again, it is not a matter of drafting a list of women who head important businesses in Britain. There are still too few of those. But the power to influence opinion, events and the boardrooms of Britain's companies comes in many forms. We looked for women who had the power to achieve objectives outside their immediate spheres, through their contacts, results and reputations. We asked whether an influential chairman - or, in fact, a prime minister - would listen to them and act on their advice.

Once it seemed that women had to become ersatz men to get to the top. It was the Thatcher template - one had to be tougher and more single-minded than male colleagues. Today, happily, even among male managers, the vogue is for emotional intelligence, soft skills and team playing rather than management by machismo, so women such as Lane Fox and Baroness Jay are beginning to achieve their ambitions by being themselves. We again face the lamentable fact that Marjorie Scardino is the only female at the top of a FTSE-100 company. But women are finding their place. Indeed, one forecast is for 1.7 million jobs to be created in the next 10 years with 1.3 million of them for women. Women in Britain are at last finding the levers of power within their grasp. It would be nice to believe that the new economy will also usher in working practices that better suit women, now that the trend among imaginative employers is to develop more family-friendly work strategies. The flexibility that is the hallmark of e-commerce could help working mothers in juggling their lives. (Margaret Hodge, the Government minister enagaged on this issue, enters our list this year.) But the cruel fact is that a 24-hour, seven-day business culture isn't going to be a picnic for anyone. In an era when speed is everything - in a world where a new company prospers on the name 'lastminute' - achieving an appropriate work/life balance will remain an elusive goal.

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