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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Are women succeeding in business?
Women are still failing to fulfil their potential in the male-dominated world of business and technology.
In recent years, a handful of women have succeeded in making it to the head of the boardroom table at the big financial and technology companies.
However, those who have made it to the top of their professions are still rare exceptions.
Are women failing to live up to their potential in the business world? Who do you think is the most influential woman in business? Do you think that women still face formidable obstacles to doing well in their careers?
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This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I would say that the only obstacle that women are facing is their obsession in trying to become "equals" to the male gender. We are not equal, we never will be (biologically speaking and taking evolution into consideration). So why can't we all just let it go and move on? As a woman, I aim to do the best I can in my professional life, rather than try to live up to a long-term myth.
The thing that is the most aggravating to observe in today's society, is that the feminist fight of the early 20th century tried to push women into the male dominated world, but not the other way around. It is time for women's professions to be equally valued as those of men. As soon as the rules of business are changed from being male oriented, women will be part of it.
Why do men always get suspicious when a woman is doing her work well? Without making too much noise, without taking the credits, without making useless interim reports about other interim reports, a woman does not stand a chance. And then there are the men who can easily judge if a woman is suitable for her job: she must be tough and definitely not emotional - no better look for a male candidate again.
I have a part-time job that I thoroughly enjoy and am respected and appreciated for, get to spend time with my son for half the working week, spend time with my friends and mum during the day. Who isn't fulfilling their potential? I've never been happier. My husband leaves for work before 8am and returns after 6pm. He can be on call and has to deal with problems all day! Yes, he is vastly better paid than me, but he often says he would swap places. Why is that considered as 'doing better'?
Keep your high flying career - I'm doing just fine!
I agree that women do have to push harder. But most of the women bosses I have been around tend to be more difficult and prickly to work for; they seem to get more power crazy than men.
Since starting work 14 years ago, most of my bosses have been female and I can honestly say that having a female boss is far better than having a male one.
Women have never had it so good. The problem is that they are never satisfied, and whatever men do it will never be enough for them!
I am a British Woman working as a Computer Engineer in Northern California. I got tired of constantly having to work to excess to prove myself in IT departments in the UK, so I moved to the USA. It was like a breath of fresh air! Here, they are not allowed to ask you about your family life in interviews and the men seem to work just as hard in raising their children. There are still not very many women working in IT, but they get paid the same and have the same opportunities.
I would happily stay at home and be a house-husband so my wife could further her career. Unfortunately, she studied archaeology and so has no career. People looking for equality should try the academic environment. Even in my field (physics and engineering) people are judged on intelligence and ability, not gender.
I think the biggest obstacle to women's careers is people's attitudes. Society expects women to take the responsibility of looking after the family, while men earn the bread. Imagine if it was the norm that men stayed at home to take care of the children and do the housework. The topic of debate nowadays would be 'men and their careers'.
I am sure a lot of women don't want to be leaders. But if a woman wants something she'll go and get it.
I will know that women have succeeded in business when I hear a man express genuine concern about how he is going to balance his family and career.
I'm 30 and entered the business world with no opinion on whether a man or a woman was more suited to a particular role. I worked for several years in an American corporation and the senior management roles there were equally split male/female - it was a non-issue. Where I now work is very different however - a large steel firm, senior management is all male and in their late fifties, women are viewed as administrators and secretaries only and often referred to as "girls".
I then changed jobs and was faced with having to prove myself all over again to an extent that a man just wouldn't have to. I'm faced with the expectation that I just won't be as good as the men on the team.
Now I'm so disheartened with it all I'm planning to change career, to something more woman friendly.
A few of the posters here have suggested we should define success. Patience, folks; we're only going to have to wait a few more years to find out. If both parents worked and their kids shove them into an old folks home because they owe their parents nothing, will the mums who stayed home with their kids and who, along with their spouses, are kindly, lovingly treated in their old age because of the strong bonds that exist, be the successful ones? It will be interesting to watch. I stayed home with my children and, even though I am far from old yet, I am cared for with loving kindness now and have no expectation of being put on an ice floe to perish any time in the future.
The only people who succeed in business are the shareholders and the fat cats who sit at the top of the ladder.
I'm not sure that it's a matter of choice anymore - I think that for a brief, glorious, moment, it was, and the choice was made. That choice is now firmly embedded in house prices, the workplace, the complete lack of a culture outside work (OK, except for those with very young babies). For most women now, there is little option but to work.
The most successful person in Britain today is the authoress, J.K. Rowling. Not only has she made pots of money in a very short time she has bought please to millions around the world, and like Enid Blyton, will be remembered for a long time.
I work in manufacturing and the women I really admire are the ones brave enough to take on traditional male blue collar jobs. We see a number of female lorry drivers and I'm talking seriously big lorries and I cannot tell you the admiration I have for them
Whilst women of around 30-45 years of age are of that generation where they felt they had to "have it all" and success is measured by career progression, I think women just starting out in professional life of my generation will make quality of life choices. We have realised the goal in life is happiness which is gained by finding your true potential and achieving it, not "getting to the top at all costs".
I think more than a few women are having an easier time of it moving up in the corporate world. But, in spite of this there are women who cannot break out of the secretary/ admin role and move up the corporate ladder. "Once an admin, always an admin" still rings very true out in the business world. I think it's who you know, not what you know that helps.
Benny, UK ex-pat
Modern business demands a wide range of skills. Many of them are the 'softer skills', which women excel at. If people really want to make it (whatever that may mean), men or women they can. However there is a price to be paid and maybe fewer women are prepared to pay it. My wife is a successful senior manager and we have two small children. However, it is very hard for both of us to juggle work and family. The options are there for everyone and it is up to them to make their choices.
Several of my friends got good jobs after leaving uni, then got married, then got pregnant. They all took full maternity leave with full benefits and then quit their job as soon as they were legally required to go back to work. Such blinkered action gives massive amounts of ammunition to the 'boys only' club.
When we see women being lead out of the office in handcuffs, like the execs at Adelphia, then we will know they have made it.
I think there is some truth that mothers are less likely to be promoted due to the amount of time they have to spend dealing with their children. Personally, I don't think the business community can change that - it's home life that must change. Men should be given a few months off after a child is born, just like women get.
James Millar, England
If a woman thinks that being female is automatic justification for a boardroom position, perhaps it's time they considered the millions of men who also don't get the top jobs either. At least women have the choice to revert to a more traditional family role - what choice does the average man have?
Surely it depends on how you define success. None of the women I know have risen to the dizzy heights of the boardroom, but I would not call the majority of them failures, since most of them lead varied and fulfilling lives. Maybe more so, as they don't have to spend their time point scoring at endless tedious meetings!
I agree with the comments of Pads, UK. It's really time we moved on from judging people's worth by the job they do or how much they earn doing it.
Ben Drake, York, UK
When I left university a couple of years ago I lost count of the number of times I was asked about my plans for a family by male interviewers. I work very hard and am determined to achieve everything I want out of my career, but I feel that if children were such an issue for employers when I was 22, I feel their assumptions on this issue will become more detrimental as I approach my late 20s.
Tridiv Borah, Germany/India
It's interesting to note that it's the men in this column saying women don't have a problem. My experience has shown that it is very hard for an intelligent and self-confident woman to climb the ladder in the same way a man does. I work in the technology field and the discomfort that men feel with my knowledge and skills is quite obvious. Just the fact that it is still women who must choose between career and children says that we have not reached parity.
Lesley, I too work in technology. It always irritates me when women complain they don't have a chance in these industries and that men are holding them back. In my experience women are not interested in computers or technology. Here in Britain there has been a considerable drive to get more women into software and engineering but it doesn't seem to be working. The interest just isn't there.
If you think it's biased in business and technology, you should look at transport. A 50:50 employment policy is impossible to achieve in our industry. I want to end up as a boardroom member and will go head to head with anyone, black or white, male or female to achieve that goal. We've had female prime ministers, CEOs, astronauts, fighter pilots, doctors and professors. There is no longer any excuse. If a woman wants the same job as I do, she'll have to compete against me for it. If she's good enough she can have it.
I have worked in the IT industry for six years. I manage a team and earn more than most men in the department so I think the opportunities are there. The problem is that a lot of women think they can't do it, so they don't try.
There are fewer women at the top because they still take the lead role in bringing up children. Hopefully this is because they choose to and not because they feel they must. I suspect househusbands are just as rare as businesswomen.
Nicola Lagan, England
My team leader is a woman of whom I have the greatest respect - she doesn't whine or moan about her sex, and she knows her job. She is a great example of what can be achieved by hard work and the ability to affect her career by her actions and communication skills. Less whining, more action please!
Men and women are different and excel in different fields. But if a woman decides to give all her time to her career she must forget about a traditional family. In Albania there are no differences in the wages, so a man and a woman can have the same wage for the same work. It may be because we come from a communist experience in which there was almost a full parity between the two genders. However, even though we are a poor country, this is a good example for the wealthier nations to take.
Women go on and on about needing to be equal to men at work. You don't to the same extent however see men leaving a firm for six months to have babies, with all the damage it does to a firm's intrinsic productivity base. A fair salary for a fair performance, I say.
Only a few weeks ago we were told equal pay for women is still very much a myth in the UK, despite all the legislation. There are few incentives for us women to rise to the top. If I was a senior executive and still only earning 80% of my male counterpart's salary, I'd wonder why I bothered.
The obstacles for working women are not just in industry; you try taking a child for vaccinations, checkups or to the dentist outside working hours. You have to take time out of work. There is very little childcare for before/after school and if a child is ill, there is nothing a working mother can do other than take time off work. The government wants us to return to work, but will not help to set up an infrastructure that allows it.
Of course women succeed. Marie Curie in medicine, Mother Theresa in charity, Florence Nightingale in nursing, Cecil Frances Alexander in hymn writing, Elizabeth Fry in prison reform etc. All useful activities. I could give a list of men who have recently lost millions of pounds of other people's money of whom several are now in prison. And yet these men are deemed to have succeeded in business.
The most influential woman in British industry must be Patricia Hewitt; however that doesn't necessarily make her the best role model. Business people don't tend to be well-known outside their own environment so it is unsurprising that so few business women are house-hold names: how many FTSE-100 CEOs of either sex could most of us name?
Can we please stop this "Women are so hard done by" nonsense? Men and women are different and excel at different things - face it! It's like a woman saying "When it comes to growing moustaches we have been dealt a bad card - men have it so easy"!
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