Sunday 28 July 2013

How shall I spend a summer’s evening?

There are many ways one can enjoy a summer’s evening – standing in brilliant sunshine with a glass of wine in the Tower of London was not one that I had thought about before. I was attending the summer reception of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment at its new headquarters – the Tower of London.

It is the most decorated of all British Army regiments, with 57 Victoria Crosses. There are three PWRR battalions, two regular and one territorial and it is the latter that the Needlemakers Company has a close association with - the Third Battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (3 PWRR). (Known as the Tigers, the Regiment has a long, distinguished history, having been involved in virtually every theatre of war since the Battle of Tangier in 1662.)

Members of this TA Battalion are soldiers who take time out from their civilian “day” jobs. Any thoughts that all this involves is weekends yomping around the countryside couldn’t be further from the truth – they support the regular army and have been in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest.

It is a complicated situation in the current economic circumstances – it is no mean contribution for a small/medium-sized company to allow staff this leave of absence (protected by law): in return they get a member of staff who has had additional training, received invaluable experience – especially in people management, team work, team building and managing under pressure.  For the soldier – it can be tough integrating back into the day job coming back from the front line.  I have to think that anything that develops a member of staff (especially at someone else’s expense) has to be valuable to the organisation as a whole but it isn’t simple.

On a very superficial level I had a super evening, renewed acquaintance with some former members of the regiment and met some new ones – and was given a tiny tiger pin which I shall definitely wear with pride. 

If you want to read a bit more see my blog from last year about The Albuhera Dinner.  Rereading it I see that I mentioned some of the same issues as I do again – they still remain.  See below for the view of Tower Bridge against the evening sky as I was leaving - how lucky I am.

Friday 19 July 2013

Muirfield, Whites and the men’s loo!

What do all the above have in common – no prizes – no women allowed! Muirfield can choose not to have women as members - I have a big problem with staging the Open there.  Unsurprisingly I don’t particularly want access to the men’s loo – although my former workplace had unisex loos which seemed to work fine. (All closed stalls in case you were wondering although we did wash our hands at adjoining basins.)

The Reform Club – apparently a haven for Tory boys is now also a haven for Tory girls as well – when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister they were stumped– how could you not admit the Prime Minister as a member?  Women didn’t flock in although I believe there are some now.  Similarly the City Livery Club which had been an all-male bastion was somewhat flummoxed when the late Mary Donaldson was elected as the first woman to be Lord Mayor in 1983 and was forced to change the rules.  As a Liveryman I am entitled to be a member and have been for a while.  If elected we will have our second woman to be Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, towards the end of this year – again not a rush, it has taken thirty years.

It is not that I object to single-sex organisations – I could hardly do that as I am on the Board of the UK branch of the International Women’s Forum. One could argue that the origin of many of these networks is to provide a forum for women, particularly in male-dominated workplaces.  Women are woefully underrepresented in many positions of influence from government to company boards and elsewhere in the public sector (see the latest report from the King’s Fund Why aren't there more women leaders in the NHS) but this isn’t the moment for that discussion.

What happens at Whites or any of the other “gentlemen’s” clubs or even male only golf clubs?  Is this is where deals are hatched, appointments are offered – and is it any different from corporate entertainment involving lap dancing or strip clubs?  It keeps women out (and I hope some men!) and that is where my problems start.

An anecdote that proved to be more telling than it first appeared.  I was employed by a start-up in the City in 1981 – a small investment bank.  I was the third employee pre-launch – the others had been identified but not yet handed in their notice.  Two of the directors (to be) worked for the same brokerage.  They came into the office one morning as we were unpacking furniture and Andrew said – “David and I went to the loo this morning and agreed we would both hand in our notice today” he turned to me and said “that’s why women don’t make it in the City as all the important decisions are made in the men’s loo!

Ha Ha – except how many times in subsequent years did a couple of the men excuse themselves for a bathroom break and you knew when they came back that key discussions had taken place.  This wasn’t necessarily to exclude me but if we were on the same team – it did.  A long time ago and I am sure it is all different now..........

Monday 8 July 2013

Goodbye to weekend magazines

Things change gradually and one day you suddenly realise that something you have always thought or felt is no more.  I used to look forward to the weekend newspapers for the magazines. I also used to love reading other magazines and even subscribed to a few.

As I flicked through this weekend’s crop I realised that they are now so irrelevant to me that – apart from the occasional article - I won’t miss them. Yay for the British fashion industry and I am sure that it attracts much attention and many jobs but jackets in the thousands of pounds, handbags similarly priced are completely irrelevant to me and, if the high street is anything to go by, millions more. 

I am vaguely interested in fashion, jewellery, furniture etc and read the FT How to Spend it with the same detached interest as I do the catalogue of the National Gallery. I don’t expect to able to afford it, to own it or indeed to spend it – but enjoy the view.

Some years ago, when working with (charity) cause-related marketing, I learned something about how clothes are presented in catalogues.  Even though the catalogue is aimed at those over 60 – the models are all in their thirties but with slightly old-fashioned hairstyles.  Apparently that is “aspirational” we still think of ourselves as younger, perhaps wore those hairstyles and have a misty-eyed view which will induce us to think that we will look 35 in the Damart track suit (I am not knocking it – the cosiest and warmest thing for working from home in winter). 

Back to the Sunday magazines – they are now beyond aspiration – they don’t send me out to the high street to see if I can replicate it for less money; I can’t buy a new beauty product every week and have abandoned keeping cuttings of interesting looking products in case I need some gloop when my gloop runs out. In any event – beauty editors are not exactly unbiased – it isn’t that they are paid to promote products unless you count gifts in kind......

I hope this is wisdom kicking in.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Successful women don't have to save the world as well

I hate it when publications have pay-walls (and I am not interested whether this is a rational view or not).  Every now and then I read an article that is so good I want to share it – and if it is in The Times I can’t.  If you can grab a copy today – read Caitlin Moran in the magazine “In Feminism Quilt Club we don’t expect one woman to sew the whole thing”.

I hate to try and summarise the article as it is well worth reading but in essence she is saying that we are critical of high achieving women because they are not perfect and they don’t save the world as well.  She adds that men don’t expect other men to do everything but when a woman succeeds we load all our expectations on her and pounce on the few things she doesn’t do. 

I am reminded of the early days of Breast Cancer Campaign when I was talking to scientists to start to put together a research strategy for the charity.  One of the eminent scientists I spoke to told me that if his research was successful he will have been able to do the equivalent of adding a few bricks to the Great Wall of China. It was a sobering thought which taught two things – the first was that research is a cumulative process (hence the jigsaw piece that is the logo) and secondly – there are no instant results.  Let’s celebrate the pieces of the jigsaw our successful women do put in place not the ones they don’t.

Finally – I have no idea if Julia Gillard was a good Prime Minister of Australia or a bad one, whether I agree with her politics or not (no idea what they are) but she needs to be celebrated for this brilliant speech on sexism. I listen to it from time to time Julia Gillard on misogyny and sexism.