Misogyny at the hands of male colleagues
Why are women still not being taken seriously at
This has not been a great week to be a working woman. A mushroom
cloud of retro-sexism appears to have bloomed in England, as though the
derogatory attitudes we thought had been left in the 1980s have simply
been simmering underground, waiting to re-emerge, all along.
Heidy Rehman, founder and Managing Director of Rose &
Photo: Geoff Pugh
How else to explain the belittling of leading human rights counsel
Amal Clooney by a government minister; the exposure of a City trading
company where women were rated as sex objects; the misogynistic abuse
and death threats engendered by young barrister Charlotte Proudman's
public complaint about a senior lawyer's leering email?
Indeed, it is impossible to ignore the results of the Labour Party's
elections, which failed to return any woman to a leading role (Leader,
Deputy or Mayoral Candidate) - nor the appointment of any woman to what
are (traditionally) thought of as the most senior offices of state:
Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, or Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Even though the outstanding candidate for the latter position -
Angela Eagle MP, formerly exchequer secretary to the Treasury in the
Brown Government and later shadow chief secretary to the Treasury - was
far more qualified than any rival.
Women have been told for years that we must achieve on merit; having
done so, it turns out being the best is no longer be good enough.
As Mrs Clooney might well wonder. Despite two degrees in law from
Oxford and New York University, and an illustrious pre-marital career
working for the International court of Justice, the UN and the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, she is only
in constant demand for 'high profile cases' on account of her Hollywood
husband, according to Justice Minister Edward Faulks QC.
Lord Faulks has now heartily apologised for his comments, but there's
no doubt he's not the only one to hold such opinions. Last summer, the
Associated Press described her in a tweet as: "Amal Clooney, actor's
Shadow business secretary and first secretary of state,
Photo: Yui Mok/PA
When it comes to hard-fought-for workplace equality, it's hard to
escape the discomfiting sense men are now moving the goalposts.
An apt idiom, as this week also saw Clarissa Farr, high mistress of
St Paul's Girls' School, in London, attack private boys' schools for
turning out young men with sexist attitudes - revealing her former
pupils are quitting top jobs with "some of the most sought-after
companies in the country" in order to escape a laddish culture including
endless football banter and sexist remarks. Workplaces, perhaps, like
investment bank Jefferies International Ltd, where Dalal Belghiti, a
female trader claiming £3.5m for sex discrimination, alleges bankers
made 'bids' for good-looking women and labelled those deemed less
attractive as 'offers only'.
These attitudes are more prevalent in the workplace than one might
like to think, confirms a new survey of 2000 British women by Stylist
magazine, which will be debated at their Stylist Live event, next month.
It found two in five women have been expected to make the tea and
endured sexist innuendos from colleagues, a third have had their
appearance commented on or been accused of being pre-menstrual, and a
quarter have been joked about in a sexist way or patronised in
meetings.Most staggering though, 87 per cent believe - perhaps Angela
Eagle MP among them - they have been passed over for promotion because
of their gender.
For Heidy Rehman, a top-ranked financial stock analyst in the City,
this was what finally drove her to quit the large American investment
bank where she had worked for 13 years, to set up Rose & Willard, an
ethical and feminist British womenswear brand in 2013.
"My boss told me I was his best performing analyst," she says "Yet, I
knew I was being paid less than my male peers, and I was passed over for
promotion. It was so frustrating."
Human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, met with national
authorities on behalf of Nasheed whose jailing for 13 years
following a highly controversial terrorism conviction in
March sparked widespread international condemnation
Whenever Rehman brought the issue up, she was told, "Next year's your
year." But she admits, "I thought, 'I can't keep doing this. What can I
do in another year that I haven't already achieved?'"
Rehman was already well versed in having to stand up to casual
sexism. "If I answered a colleague's phone - which we all did,
regardless of gender; you don't want to lose a client - I could expect
to be treated as a secretary because I was a woman. That drove me up the
wall, and I often called men out on it.
"You have to deal with these situations assertively. But I knew it
would have been futile to go to HR about pay inequality; complaining
doesn't go down well."
Monarch of assertiveness, of course, is Karren Brady, now Baroness
Brady, whose response to a disrespectful junior became legendary. When
the then 23-year-old managing director of Birmingham City Football Club
was challenged by one of her own footballers on her first match day, who
said: ''I can see your t--- in that top'', she retorted cheerfully:
"Well, don't worry - when I sell you to Crewe, you won't be able to see
them from there."
Perhaps the shortage of women like Baroness Brady in senior roles -
currently there are only five women that are FTSE 100 CEOs and female
representation only accounts for 23.5 per cent of available board
positions at these companies - can be ascribed to institutionalised
misogyny, as new research from Columbia Business School in New York
concluded earlier this year.
The study killed off the myth of women known as Queen Bees -
jealously guarding their positions from usurpers of their own sex.
Instead said the team, the most likely explanation for the failure of
more women to reach the boardroom is down to a desire among men to lock
them out: "Women face an implicit quota, whereby firms seek to maintain
a small number of women on their top management team, usually only one,"
the authors concluded.
Charlotte Proudman has received misogynistic abuse and death
threats, since going public with a 'sexist' message she
was sent on LinkedIn
One of the key problems for women taking up leadership positions,
warns Katie Lee, Managing Director of communications agency Gravity
Road, is that "we are expected to earn respect when we are appointed,
whereas men get respected because they have been appointed. That can be
Another subtle point is that Lee, like many senior women, is an
inveterate note-taker in meetings: "Every female director I know turns
up with a Moleskine notebook and a pen, whereas men grab a sheet of old
paper on the way in or don't bother at all.
"This puts women into the role of administrators or secretaries. Yet,
it seems supremely unprofessional to me that you wouldn't take notes on
everything your client is saying. I train all my junior staff - both
genders - to take notes all the time, and I can feel some of the men
As Rehman points out, pay inequality is the clearest quantifiable
indicator that sexism is still alive in the workplace. According to the
Fawcett Society, the overall pay gap stands at 19.1 per cent (2014)
measured by median gross hourly pay. Actor Sienna Miller highlighted the
problem last week when she revealed she had turned down a role in a
two-person play on Broadway, as she was offered less than half her male
colleague's pay. In a new interview with Vogue, Miller said: "The
producer wouldn't pay equally. He wouldn't pay me within a million miles
of what the male actor was being paid. The only way is to make a stand.
We are going to have to make sacrifices to make change. I want to turn
up and feel dignified."
A struggle Sacha Romanovitch, new CEO of Grant Thornton, and the
first female boss of a major City accountancy firm, recalls from her
early days of training. "At networking events, you'd walk into a room of
200 men, with just a scattering of women, and be aware you were being
looked up and down," she says. "It was really quite intimidating, being
assessed for something which wasn't about my workability, and I think it
still does happen to younger women.
Baroness Brady has no trouble asserting herself in the
Photo: Clara Molden
Rehman believes change will come, but more effort needs to be focused
across business into improving talent 'pipelines' - channels that take
female graduates from first jobs all the way to the director's
office.Now an MD herself, she finally has the chance to put her morals
where her mouth is: "I don't want to perpetuate the domineering
stereotype: the idea that women bosses are either weak or bitches, and
there is nothing in between. I hire and promote women on merit."
Fiona Hathorn, a former investment director and senior asset manager
for Old Mutual and Hill Samuel, who now runs the social enterprise Women
on Boards, believes these recent bursts of retro-sexism are, in effect,
growing pains - reflecting women's steady gains in the workplace, and
men's unease at suddenly having to compete harder to get to the top.
"Many companies today like Lloyds, RBS and PwC have set targets for
gender diversity at senior manager, executive director and board level,"
she says. And while she acceptssome perceive unfairness in such quotas,
she counters: "Disgruntled men are misinformed men.
"Seventy per cent of new FTSE board appointments are still going to
men. Yes, it is probably more competitive for men today - but so it