Underachievers please try harder
I was made an honorary sister on Friday, by the kind people at Barclays, who invited our founder Lucy and I to their International Women’s Day event here in Newcastle at the wonderful Hilton. I then drove to Leeds then Stoke on Trent to see a client then family and spent most of the journey reminiscing about all the fantastically talented women I’d worked with, and it moved me to write a blog.
I first entered the world of work in 1986 on a Youth Training Scheme and have been surrounded by successful, dynamic, empowering and inspiring women ever since. My first ever boss was female and my current, and hopefully final boss, is female too. I have worked for more female leaders than male. I also have a very successful twenty four year old daughter making her way in business and lots and lots of very successful female friends scattered across the world who are management consultants, partners of law and accountancy firms, running their own businesses or even consciously opting out of work to raise families and support their children and partners.
I am not suggesting that gender discrimination no longer exists but I have personally never seen a female colleague held back by a male leader. I may have been extremely lucky, it may have been a fluke, but every single employer I’ve had has promoted and developed both men and women equally, with women triumphing most of the time in a two horse race for a big job. I have been lucky enough to work with people like Sandra Hill, MD of Page Personnel and the late great Muriel Findlay, one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, these ladies were successful because they are astonishingly brilliant and worked harder than anyone I knew.
This got me thinking, and I think I may have reached a contentious conclusion. With just a couple of notable exceptions all of the successful women I have worked with (and most men for that matter) were very fortunate enough to have been born into relatively stable or semi-stable homes with at least one parent encouraging them firstly into higher education and then on to greater things. Unfortunately, I can count the number of successful women I’ve worked with from less stable and poorer homes on one hand, but it is quite the opposite with men, men born into poverty seem to have a much better chance of building a career and/or being successful. I don’t know why that is, but if you are a woman born into a low-income household you have your work cut out to make something of your life. Most of the male friends I left school with didn't have any qualifications but they now have large property portfolios and successful businesses, often formed around a “trade” and that trade seems a to be a huge “get out of jail” card for most working class men, a chance to rectify your poor school career, or lack of interest in education. However, I’m sure you’ll agree, achieving this level of success is a big task for a female without any qualifications or with limited or no access to education.
So these days perhaps the problem isn’t discrimination against women, its discrimination against what constitutes poor women, those from low income homes, those not born with that mythical silver spoon but born into an environment where every penny counts, where mum hid from the milkmen or window cleaner, and school skiing trips were a pipe dream and higher education was never even on the agenda.
There will always be exceptions to the rule, but just imagine how hard a girl born into a low income family has to work to achieve parity with her wealthier peers. It doesn’t seem fair, and it doesn’t seem right at all.
What I’m talking about is living in world one day where both men and women have the right to start from a level playing field, where people are not judged by their socio-economic background, their class or their level of education, where we have equality of opportunity, able to progress their career whatever their circumstances.
An equal right to succeed should be a basic human right. You can opt out if you wish, not everyone wants to be a big cheese, but it would be nice if everyone had that choice.