‘The woman’s cause is men’s, they rise and fall together.’ ?

Christine-Richard right sizeThe equality discussions have been going on for as long as I can remember. Generally we link it to disparity in pay between men and women and this remains true. But does it involve more, or less than this?

Dagenham Girls – a fairly recent film both entertaining and thought-provoking underlined the unfairness of women working in the Ford factory there being paid 7p an hour less than the men doing the same war work. The Government said unless this was rectified they would close the factory and offer the facilities to post-war years the another company. Ford gave in. But over the post-war years the arguments around equal pay have continued.

On the whole, however, I believe the discussion has masked the true issue which is parity of esteem between the sexes. A connection has been made and almost universally believed between the higher earnings of men compared to women thus suggesting men are worth more than women in every respect.

Men tend to be ‘herd animals’ golf clubs, business clubs and high worth job jobs such as banking and major commercial companies. The same applies to politics. As an aside I find it interesting/amusing that in the House of Commons the pegs supplied to hang coats for women members also has a hook on which to hang their swords! More seriously though the numbers of men far exceed women at every level of politics thus legislation is largely geared to the perceived needs of men.

I used to think quotas for women serving as non-executive, or indeed executive directors was a good idea. However since becoming involved with Changing the Chemistry of board members my view is changing. Diversity is just as important in order to produce board members with talent , skills and commitment for companies, non-governmental organisations, third sector organisations and charities.

Perhaps I have been fortunate in my own career in education for over 25 years. Not only was I paid the same as male colleagues but also had the same opportunities for progression to senior management.

My parallel career in politics, however, was much less straightforward. I have mentioned this already but at every except one selection committees, comprising both women and men, tended to favour men. There is still not parity. I remember at one interview for a potentially winnable Westminster seat a female member of the selection committee asked me, apparently in all seriousness ‘if you won who would make your husband’s tea and what about the children?’ Despite this I was selected though narrowly missed winning the seat.

Fast-forwarding to the 1980’s was selected to contest a safe seat at a by-election following the resignation of the male councillor .I won and enjoyed 16 fascinating years and for four of these years I was my group’s leader. There were 23 of us and we were the main opposition party. I always treated my supposed enemies and friends with, I hope, the same level of courtesy and consideration though I was also considered to be tough I think this sounds as if I have a very high opinion of my abilities to get things done using tact and persuasion. Perhaps I do but I don’t recollect most of my male counterparts being concerned with the same niceties. Is this part of diversity or male chauvinism or even irrelevant?

So far in my career I have served on twelve different Boards (all pro bono or ex-officio) I quickly realised the women asked more questions and where appropriate became more involved in the organisations. I know many people believe the role of a NED is at odds with active involvement. Yes, the strategic decisions should be made by the executives but approved by the whole board. Where I did become more involved eg Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh’s Telford College it was with the cooperation of staff and Board approval. In my current board, Friends of the RSA we all help to run the organisation,despite being non-executive.So, I conclude one size fits all is simply not true!

Or was Jane Austen right when she wrote ‘The woman’s cause is men’s, they rise and fall together.’

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