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The City needs a quota for men

All together now

‘Top City women say time has come to impose quotas for female promotion,’ reports the FT today. 

The paper polled more than 30 ‘top City employers’, finding just 19.5% of senior roles (managing director or equivalent) are held by women. This is despite ‘a balanced gender intake’.

While the report quotes some senior women in the City who say it’s time to impose female quotas to ensure more women are represented at the top level, the reservations of a junior female City employee are used to represent opposition to the idea.

‘Quotas cause women to question whether they’ve been promoted by merit,’ the 30-year-old is reported as saying. ‘This comes from their peers and from the women themselves, and is hugely destructive.’

Her objection is not a new one when it comes to arguing the toss about quotas which aim to boost the presence of any minority group. Widely held as it is, it is rarely challenged.

So let’s look at this another way, using labels that don’t burden women by calling their achievements into question.

Let’s say an organisation employs equal numbers of men and women, but, as in the FT study, more than 80% of those at the top are male. Using similar logic to that applied by those who fret that quota-filling women will have their abilities questioned, we must surmise that 37.5%, or three in every eight, of the senior men in the City fear their promotions were not merited.

More than this, unless we believe that men are generally more able than women, some such males have indeed been over-promoted, given the equally split male/female intake.

Yet we do not read quotes from senior City men describing a ‘hugely destructive’ sense that they have risen above their station.

What then if Square Mile employers were to introduce ‘men quotas’? Rather than using fixed targets to boost the number of senior women, why not seek to reduce the number of senior men to 50% and remove the perceived stigma from women who, if the FT’s numbers are to be believed, already have enough trouble getting to the top?

Gender equality is too frequently seen as a ‘women’s matter’. Reframing both the arguments and the interventions used to encourage parity may not work. It may be shouted down as semantics. But isn’t it worth a try?

The great curate?

Source: UCL

Once upon a time a curator was a person who worked in a museum or gallery. They were in charge of looking after noteworthy items and displaying them in an appealing and informative way for public consumption. They might even have had a curation qualification.

Today everyone is a curator. Fashion designers ‘curate’ their collections; musicians ‘curate’ records; boutique owners no longer stock up, but, you got it, ‘curate’ their wares. Curation is the go-to activity for those hawking luxury and fashionable brands, but it’s also being applied to less glitzy walks of life like learning and development and human resources.

What to make of this etymological shift?

On the one hand it seems designed to make things sound better than they are; a reconstructed, zeitgisty verb equivalent to a nice polish and buff. As Nicholas Booth puts it in this excellent post, ‘people do it as a form of self-aggrandisement’. And where does this end? Slather some marmite on toast and consider your breakfast ‘curated’?

Then again, there’s something quite apt about applying a word that denotes sorting the wheat from the chaff and making it more digestible. In an information-heavy world perhaps that is why the word has found such popularity.

Besides, according to Mark Macleod, head of The Infirmary museum in Worcester, the term is dying out in the his industry anyway. ‘Really curator is a term used by universities and national [institutions], or traditional organisations and in America. “To curate” is very much in public use now and I guess has been lost by the UK museum and gallery sector for good,’ he observes.

Perhaps it is not only churlish, but foolish to rail against the great curation. After all, it’s a chance for my own profession to boast a new job title: ‘Curator of words’.

Post script -

The OED notes that in 1969 The Daily Telegraph reported, ‘All London Zoo’s mammals were being curated with tremendous flair.’  Wherever you stand in the great curate debate, I am sure we can all agree that this is a pretty splendid use of the word.


Ultra miss

Have you heard of Ellie Greenwood (pictured below)?

Photo: Ryan Allderman

Photo: Ryan Allderman

If the answer’s ‘no’, you are unlikely to be alone. Despite becoming the first British woman to win last weekend’s Comrades Marathon – both billed and widely acknowledged as ‘the world’s greatest ultra-marathon’ – Greenwood’s success went virtually unreported by the UK media.

Only The Independent made the effort to cover the historic victory, which saw Dundee-born Greenwood clinch the gruelling 89km women’s race in the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa. What a shame.

Time is short this morning, so I will leave those interested with the recommendation to listen to Greenwood speaking to the fab Marathontalk, as she prepared for the race. Here’s hoping we will hear far more of this incredible athlete in the future.


A Miller’s scale

The role of Maria Miller’s sex in her continued survival as a cabinet minister has been the subject of much media debate in recent days. It is for the prime minister to know the extent to which he is keeping his culture secretary in post, despite persistent pressure for her to go, because she is one of just four women with a government department to call her own. What is clear is that the UK is a long way from achieving gender equality in national politics.

While that is hardly a revelation, new research suggests the UK is also sliding down the European scale when it comes to ensuring power is shared more evenly between the sexes.

New research from the European Institute of Gender Equality aired in Brussels last month found that the UK was one of two EU countries, alongside Lithuania, to see women’s share of power decline between 2004 and 2013.

At first glance it could be worse. The UK falls just short of the EU average ‘power index score’, where 100 equals parity between men and women, as shown here:

slide 2 jpeg

But it’s this graph, detailing the changes in each member’s score between 2004 and 2013, that really does the talking:

slide 1 jpeg

The power score is calculated, essentially, by totting up the number of women occupying influential positions in each EU member’s national institutions: government, parliament, central banks and company boards.

The raw data for the UK are not currently available. But Thérèse Murphy, EIGE head of operations, told me that the following were all part of the picture which paled in comparison to other EU member states:

- 2004: 26% women ministers   >>>   2013: 18% women ministers

- 2004: 18% women MPs   >>>   2013: 23% women MPs

- 2004: 13% women board members   >>>   2013: 18% women board members

Also consider that in 2004 a third of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee was female: Rachel Lomax, Kate Barker and Marian Bell. Today each of the interest-rate setting body’s members is male.

Murphy promised an updated, more detailed analysis of the comparative data later in the year. ‘We will be looking for extra variables to demonstrate at country level how people are doing,’ she said of institute’s quest to map gender equality across the region.

What Miller’s job will be by then remains to be seen.





‘City’, meet ‘Fringe’

On Monday, Jules Birch wrote a post questioning George Osborne’s choice of venue in which to claim the economy is ‘turning a corner‘. Was, Birch wondered, a luxury development on the edge of the Square Mile, arguably dependent by degrees on debt-fuelled government schemes, wealthy overseas buyers and ‘life support’ interest rates really symbolic of the ‘tentative recovery’ the Chancellor declared it to be?

Illustrating the point that the development, One Commercial Street, is more likely a sign of overseas appetite for prime London property than a resurgent UK economy, was this image from the scheme’s marketing campaign:

commercial st pic


The glossy, contrived picture – for all Osborne’s talk of ‘an aspirational society’ so distant from the lived experiences of most Britons, let alone those at the sharp end of coalition policies –  is a succinct visual representation of fears that Britain is returning towards a precariously balanced economy in which wealth inequality is given free rein. Yet the work done by this image does not stop there.

Equally striking are the gendered messages it transmits. On the left we have the immaculately groomed and clad young, implicitly able-bodied, white male. He stands afront a skyscrapered backdrop, gazing with quiet assurance at the opportunities which everything about his appearance tell us are his for the taking. This man, the slogan states, is ‘City’. (No pressure gents).

His opposite number is ‘Fringe’. Fringe, the dark shadows of her image suggest, comes out to play at night – presumably when City, pictured in broad daylight, can take a break from all that fiendishly complex finance-type work. We don’t know what Fringe gets up to during the day, but what is clear is that once darkness falls she doesn’t seem to need to wear clothes. Some strategically placed jewellery, some slap and an elegant hair-do are all the adornment she needs. Those and an alluring pose.

It is easy to dismiss iconography that portrays gender stereotypes as unimportant,  so removed is it from most of our realities (as Birch infers). Yet public awareness and opinion cannot remain untouched by the proliferation of such images, whether or not we are in the market for whatever they are selling. This example is particularly pernicious given the powerful combination of juxtaposed imagery and the taxonomy of its slogan. The latter provides a blunt reinforcement of unbalanced gender relations, identifying the man with ‘City’ – denoting wealth, power and status – and the woman with ‘Fringe’, suggesting ‘peripheral, decorative and marginal’.

Such powerful effects are among the reasons to query another blog post which appeared this week: Ed West’s defence of ‘Princess Pink’ toys for girls. West pits ‘ideology’ (as espoused by those who challenge gender stereotyping) against ‘business plans’ (‘capitalism has no ideology’, apparently) to argue that there’s a market for gender specific toys because most little girls like feminine things. ‘You can’t buck human nature,’ reads West’s provocative conclusion.

There are various problems with his argument, not least the failure to consider gender a social construction rather than a ‘natural’ given. Our ideas about gender and human nature come from somewhere; they are regenerated and reinforced by images like the one above – particularly when drawn to our attention and sanctioned as a positive economic symbol by a senior government figure. Likewise, West’s ‘business plans’ are not created in a vacuum. After all, the people designing, financing, marketing, selling and buying the toys are not immune to the countless ‘City meet Fringe’ messages that surround our daily lives and have their roots in centuries of ingrained thinking and socialisation as ‘men’ and ‘women’.

Just as Birch is critical of the Chancellor’s choice of the place ‘Where City meets Fringe’, so too we must move beyond a blind acceptance of the surface messages which constantly shape ideas about gender and, ultimately, our society.