Until last night I had no idea that so few women in the work place make it as far as the boardroom. And this BBC2 programme, hosted by top business woman and millionaire Hilary Devey, set out to discover why.
After all, we were told girls, now outshine boys academically at GCSE and also at A level and even university. And studies continually show that businesses can become more profitable by ensuring they have a gender balance.
For example, companies which employ an equal number of men and women (but throughout the layers so at the top management levels rather than just the general workforce) enjoy greater profitability. This is because men and women bring different ideas to a business – and combining both female and male brains has shown to consistently work best.
Hilary, who runs a haulage and freight network company – and a self-confessed business woman through and through – drafted in a ‘gender balancing consultant’ who discovered most of the basic workforce in her warehouse was male, the middle management was a mixture but in the boardroom Hilary is the sole female. And some departments, such as marketing, were solely female. She wondered if she could get more women into her own boardroom if it would increase the profitability.
No doubt it would do. But where this programme fell down was the fact that like it or not women don’t seem to want to be in boardroom jobs.
This programme seemed to think the fact that women are not in the boardroom was a problem – and I am sure it is for individual businesses (and even GB economy as a whole). But on an individual basis is it a problem for women themselves?
Although one young woman said she was totally career focused, there wasn’t one other woman (certainly no mum) on this programme who was quoted as saying it was for her personally – or that she longed to be in the boardroom.
This isn’t to say that women who are totally career focused and willing to devote themselves totally to their career don’t exist. Of course there are also families where dad stays at home and mum is the main breadwinner. Whatever we are living in an era of choice.
But the biggest issue is that women physically have the children and most of them end up fitting their jobs around their family. Thus we met two women who were destined for the boardroom until they had children – one, a mum of two girls, had gone part time (so slowing down her fast progression to the top) and the other had given up work altogether to care for her two sons. She cited emotional reasons and childcare costs as why it wouldn’t pay her to go back to work.
However, both of these mums appeared to have enviable lifestyles and be very happy with their decision. The viewer was left with the impression that if they’d wanted to stay working full time all hours and go to the boardroom, they would have done so. But they chose to be with their children.
And in fact a survey out today claims that although so many mums do work these days – mostly because fewer families can manage on one salary alone, a whopping 75 per cent of new mums would stay at home if they could.
The programme seemed to intimate that many women would adore what Hilary Devey has. She told how she went back to work a week after having her son and now has a fantastic business, a huge house and chauffeur driven car.
But I would say many women, given the choice between that sort of lifestyle and being much poorer but caring for their children full time, would choose the latter.
This programme wasn’t about simply going back to work (whether you choose to for money reasons or because you don’t feel it’s enough for you to stay at home full-time) – but getting to the very top. Yet I would argue these days being in the boardroom isn’t necessarily seen by women as a sign of success either? Many women – thank goodness – see bringing up their children successfully as the best job of all.
Then with the advent of the internet many women simply do not have to even go into any boardroom to earn a living and look after their children. Many turn their hand to starting up a kitchen table business, running a company from home. All these little businesses are, I would say, very important to the our overall economy. Those innovative mums might well eventually earn the sort of money they would have been earning in a boardroom job – but they are at home and if their child falls ill and needs picking up from school, then they can do that without problem.
As a mum of three myself running my own limited company I know it is very possible to combine the two – being a businesswoman and always being there for your children without going into any boardroom.
For those who go outside the home to work, flexitime laws mean companies do have to accommodate women with young families.
Perhaps it was because this programme focused on traditional business. But there was something a little 1980s about it. It reminded me of those ‘loads of money days’ with the old power suits with padded shoulders and when women felt guilty for getting pregnant.
However, we have come a long way since then. Nowadays there is far more emphasis on lifestyle. Most of us settle for a middle way – we realise something has to give (perhaps the flashy car) but fit our jobs around family life as best as we can.
If you look at extremes and take a woman working in the boardroom as one and a family living together in a green, self-sufficient and sustainable way as the opposite, some people might feel the ‘green lifestyle’ looks whole lot more more attractive than a bling family where the parents and their kids hardly ever see one another.
Nevertheless, a very watchable and well presented programme. Catch up and watch the programme here or click on the photo above.
Next week Hilary Devey travels to Norway to see what we can learn from their businesswomen.
Did you watch Hilary Devey’s Women at the Top? Let us know your views below…