The feminist cause endures

Like most lists, our Most Powerful Women feature makes for great reading.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Every time MT publishes its Most Powerful Women list, it is customary for the Editorial to make the point that there must come a time in evolution when the feature becomes superfluous. We think this might occur when women either occupy half the power slots in the world of British business or maybe run 50% of the companies in the FTSE 250. We are still a world away from both, so we plan to continue with the list for the time being. Like most lists, it makes for great reading.

This year's line-up emerges during the course of one of the ugliest industrial tribunals involving allegations of sexual discrimination of recent years.

Stephanie Villalba is fighting it out with her former employer Merrill Lynch in Croydon and she is seeking £7.1 million in compensation. This is a major battle, with big guns being flown in from New York and Ms Villalba accusing Merrills of 'institutional sexism', a phrase that implies parallels with the McPherson report into racism in the Metropolitan Police.

I was at university with a young man who joined Merrill Lynch. He was quite the wildest, most dissolute, substance-abusing person I knew: good fun and incredibly clever, but troubled. My abiding image of him is watching as he jumped from a window to the tune of the 'Ride of the Valkyries' from Wagner's Ring. Anyway, he was probably the friend least in touch with his feminine side - whatever that is. His eventual divorce was legendary in its acrimony.

Investment banking is a very particular type of business - tough, macho, laser-focused on money to the exclusion of all else. There are many other walks of commercial life - and I would especially include media - where gender equality is hardly news and we are all the better for it. Nevertheless, the war between the sexes continues. When Helen Weir, who appears in the MT list at number 12, was mooted as a possible FD for Lloyds TSB, there were mutterings about her lack of sector experience.

We suspect this was code for her being female and the mother of three children, the last of whom, the Telegraph noted, netted her £31,600 in maternity pay.

We received a big response to the competition inviting readers to translate the Latin inscription on the plinth of last month's cover. (The answer was, of course, 'local boy does well', or in football commentators' language, '... done good'.) However, of those who responded only a tiny percentage were female. We cannot believe that classical scholarship is a male domain.

So, this month a bottle of champagne will be sent to the first female reader who accurately translates the following (answers to ... Tandem feminae justum proelium vincunt.

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