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Women in business still have to work harder than men for same recognition.

With the Davies Report published last year, gender diversity has never had a higher profile. The weight of public opinion and threatened legislation are starting to fracture the glass ceiling that has kept women out of the boardroom.

But a major finding of new Ashridge research is that not much has changed for women in business over the past 30 years. The study exposes that organisational attitudes towards women frequently impede career advancement, and also outlines what steps women can take to make sure that they are best placed to be considered for top jobs.

Women in Business: Navigating Career Success, based on a survey of over 1,400 female senior managers and directors, reveals that 48 per cent believe it is harder for a woman to succeed at work compared with male colleagues, while 49 per cent think men and women are treated differently in terms of leadership and behaviour.

The continued existence of the old boys' network and male senior teams who recruit in their own image, being fed up with "playing the games" that go on within boardrooms, having personal commitments outside of the workplace and lacking belief in their own ability, often lead to women turning their backs on the corporate ladder. Plus poor line management, managers taking credit, bullying and ‘macho’ behaviour are all factors that block women’s career paths and fuel inequality.

Company culture and stereotyping remain issues. Negative perceptions of assertive women abound, and females with drive and ambition are often regarded as aggressive and dominating.

Having children remains one of the biggest hurdles to career development. A culture of long hours and extensive international travel can affect some women's ability to fill certain roles. Other issues for executive women include being perceived as being "soft and fluffy" by colleagues and struggling to earn the same level of respect as a male leader. Age and physical attributes can also be a hindrance – being  either too old,  or too young. One interviewee said: "being young, blonde and female has not always been helpful."

Evidence suggests that women have to work harder to get respect. But women shouldn't become like men. They must maintain their own authenticity and approach to doing business. It’s not about slogans, logos or slickness. It’s about realism, confidence and self-belief delivered in an energetic way.

Fiona Elsa Dent is the Director of Executive Education at Ashridge Business School, and co-author of Women in Business: Navigating Career Success

Games for boys, Getty images

Fiona Elsa Dent is the Director of Executive Education at Ashridge Business School.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.