Three reports came my way this week; an article, a radio interview and a small news item. Separate issues, but clearly linked.
In Financial News, with the headline “Davies shuns quotas to address gender imbalance”, is an article about Lord Davies and his research into women in the boardroom. He suggests that women should be allowed to rise to top roles through merit alone and that quota systems will not enhance the place of women at the top table.
During Monday’s BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Jenny Garret was interviewed about her new book, “Rocking your Roll”. It sets out to go beneath the surface of what it means to be a female breadwinner, aiming to “drag women kicking and screaming out of the closet”. She says “I want society to change its attitudes to female breadwinners and stay at home dads. I want women to be able to celebrate their achievements to leave a lasting positive legacy for the next generation”.
Finally, there was a ridiculous, but perhaps quite revealing comment made by the author Tony Parsons who said that ‘his penis literally would have dropped off’ if, in a long-term relationship his partner earned more than him.
Women at work is the obvious link but there needs some further unpicking.
Perhaps Lord Davies is right and quotas are not necessarily the best way forward – so how will improvements be made to the numbers of women on boards and in senior managerial positions? Whilst men like Tony Parsons make comments such as his, the chance of change is remote. His view is not unique to him; it is representative of the views of many men, some of whom will be responsible for promoting and appointing into senior positions.
Jenny Garrett makes comments in her book that reinforces the current state of affairs. She suggests that some women like to maintain the status of their husband or partner as the provider for the family, in order that they can “hold their head up in the pub with their mates or with their families”. Joining the debate was Dr Caroline Gatrell of Lancaster University’s Management School who offers an additional comment “a woman being the main earner in a family has an impact on a man’s masculine identity”.
So what is really going on here? Contemporary words and rhetoric point to women being wanted in the boardroom and on the journey through senior management, but too often it appears to be one step forward (upward) and two back (down). If a man genuinely feels that his masculinity is being challenged by his female partner being the main earner in the home, then this will undoubtedly create an unconscious bias in his decision making about a woman’s hierarchical level in the workplace or on the board.
Men, Tony Parsons included, need to address their issues. We now live in a supposedly equal society. Women work as do men, and sometime they will earn more than their male partner: get over it!
Perhaps what we really need to be addressing is what goes on in management hierarchies that too often keep women south of the glass ceiling. There is a testosterone club where certain behaviours are tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Women find it hard to gain membership and may not even want to join when invited. Perhaps you are a current member of this exclusive group; are you in a position to influence the joining rules or acceptable behaviour.
Lord Davies is right from an ideal perspective, but the ideal is fully dependent on men being more accepting and welcoming of women as equals or superiors; they must be ready and willing to change. Equality Edge has developed “Men in Management” a workshop or coaching programme to help men understand how their maleness and its associated behaviour impacts on others, particularly women, at work. Through it, men are enabled to relinquish some of their power, without it being a slight on the masculinity.
Oh yes, and by the way, when the woman is out earning, there is an opportunity for the man to share in the household chores too!